I must admit that I was staring for a couple of minutes while my brain started to connect the contradicting points. My colleague was sitting in the office, I could hear her clearly, but she was emerging and disappearing from the room. There was a background sound: the road. She was in the car. A passenger on her way to deal with some property issues. She had been in the car for 3 hours and had a couple more to go.
It was a good meeting. Nothing seemed different to how it would be in a remote office.
But that meeting left me thinking – what are the boundaries of our work now in the shifted realities of pandemic? What are the boundaries of job that needs to be done?
In group psychotherapy, boundaries are one of the most important elements that make work possible. Within the boundaries of a work group we understand contract, the space where the group is working, time, task, composition of the group, roles the group members have and so on. Therapy is possible only if these boundaries are well managed. It is the same with groups working on all working tasks. Boundaries are needed so that group can complete the task. In addition to that, we also need personal work boundaries (for example taken job role, work tasks, accountabilities) to complete our own work.
So, coming back to that car. Lots of things have shifted during the pandemic. What effect this can have on our jobs, our teams and organizations?
- As some of boundaries we were used to have disappeared or shifted, the ones that are left might be attacked. The phenomenon of breaking the boundaries usually sneaks in little by little. Therapists know it well, it starts somewhere and if it is not dealt with, not managed it will continue and develops. I think we can see parallels with what is happening with us, our groups and organisations. For example: At first we are happy we do not have to commute to work in the mornings, if working from home. Lots of time for morning rituals. Great. Then we start to get up later. Then we do not bother to dress up properly. Then we start not using the cameras during team meetings. Then we stop attending group meetings. If changed, boundaries need to be renegotiated. Redefined. They can never be unattended.
- It is possible to manage boundaries only when they are defined, communicated, and agreed. Boundaries and rules existing in your head are not obvious and natural for others. If you want to live them and manage them, they need to be shared.
- The other interesting question is, who should manage boundaries now? Yes, ourselves, our managers, peers in groups. Organizations. What I also notice in my conversations with managers and people working in organizations is a great pressure to manage our own boundaries. So that we can perform our work, so that we can pursue every day routines further. People with great self leadership find their ways to do this. Those who need more of the “external boundaries” to function professionally face much bigger challenges. Those who cannot manage the setting up and sticking to the boundaries face difficulties too. “Oh, I will go to shops now, work more in the evening”, then working late night “oh I will start later tomorrow”. After such a muddling of boundaries we function in, we risk either not to perform or start being totally exhausted. As neither – nor qualitative work, nor good rest is possible. Manage boundaries. Help others to manage boundaries. Stick to them. If they do not work anymore, redefine. Renegotiate.
- Do not forget that besides technical tasks we are also completing emotional tasks in organizations. In usual working environments, offices, even not very well managed, there usually were some “natural” spaces, travelling in a lift with colleagues, after meeting, going for coffee, chatting with someone in front. New ways of working – remote working and hybrid teams, made these spaces unavailable. So. If you are a manager – where are you inviting your team to complete The emotional task? Where is a space to share affection, feelings, strengthen relations, wind down, calibrate your emotions and feelings. The same as with regular working tasks, boundaries need to be ensured and managed for emotional tasks of individuals and teams to be completed. We need to create spaces for our own emotional tasks to be completed. Be proactive in defining them and adhering to.
So. Define, redefine, agree and manage. If you see others breaking the boundaries – find the way to speak about it. Be curious, investigate the shared meaning. If you notice behaving like this yourself – reflect upon it – what is the meaning of it?
Easy to say. Not so easy to work with. But definitely crucial for job to be done.