How to Separate Work and Home When Working from Home

Dad working working and his daughter playing with him

You adjusted as best as possible to working from home. The transition felt originally jarring, but you finally settled in. While it might not be how you originally envisioned your day-to-day in your career, you actually don’t mind the changes too much. 

At this point, your biggest problem isn’t with the work environment, it’s with there not being enough separation between your home life and your work life. You want to feel like you’re at work during the workday and you’re home when your work is complete. But right now, both worlds are seeping into each other. The overflowing laundry basket mocks you while in work clothes, and the piles of paper strewn all over your dining room table make it impossible to eat dinner as a family. 

Good news — even though it feels impossible to find a separation, there are ways to make this more manageable.

Here are a few suggestions to keep your work “at work” when you’re working from home.

1. Know your needs

Before you even begin making adjustments in your home, you need to identify what needs to change. Do you need help with childcare or housekeeping? Will restructuring your workday or your physical workspace help you find a separation between work and life? Once you’ve determined your needs, then you can take steps to find ways to improve.

In an interview for this article, Mari Anne Snow, CEO Sophaya and The Remote Nation Institute says, “Things are really complicated right now. Some employers allow for more flexibility, some do not. Some people are homeschooling, some are not. Every situation is totally unique so candid conversations upfront are vital.”

2. Dedicated workspace

One of the best ways to reclaim your life outside of work is to create a dedicated workspace where you can close the door behind you at the end of your workday. If that’s not a possibility, try purchasing furniture with storage space to keep work items out of view. There are even Murphy-bed-like desks that can be folded down to work and store on the wall when not in use.

Snow says, “Having a dedicated workspace allows a remote professional to more easily shift to and from work mode. An actual home office is nice, but not practical for everyone. Our research shows just dedicating a space, even something as small as a corner table, makes a big difference. We’ve seen people get very creative — attics, basements, kitchen, kids playrooms, or even a dining room table. One colleague likes to work from her couch so her two little dogs can sit with her while she works.”

3. Set boundaries

“Get very clear boundaries right away with your boss, colleagues, and family members (yes, even your children),” says Snow. Boundaries could be as simple as a daily schedule posted to the refrigerator or an image of a stop sign that you hang on your office door when no one can enter.

According to Snow, “If you are working at home with kids and your significant other, then the adults in the household need to build a plan that allows them to work in partnership as much as possible.” This might include alternating availability to help children with their schoolwork or varying times available for video calls so one parent is always available.

Snow continues, “The best scenarios are ones where everyone flexs to the extent they can so the load is shared. Once you have these boundaries in place, then everyone can work together to plan.”

4. Determine a schedule

The time you spend working greatly influences whether your house or apartment will feel like a home or an office. One way to regain control is to set schedules for your working hours and then make sure to stick to them.

“Anyone with small children knows the importance of set schedules,” says Snow. “Schedules provide predictability and predictability provides comfort. It gives folks a sense of control when so much is outside our control and it reduces anxiety for everyone. Also, it helps you refocus when you get distracted by something or life pulls you off track. Use the schedule to prioritize and refocus when that happens.”

It might feel overwhelming to find the “perfect” setup, but know that nothing is “perfect” for all…it’s what works best for you!

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