Whether we’re talking a lone independent contractor or a multinational corporation, businesses thrive on rules and routine.

By clearly establishing what you (and others) can and can’t do, boundaries free up time and increase overall productivity. Even those working from home need to have some sort of structure to avoid distractions and procrastination. Knowing how to create good workplace boundaries is a skill that scales to businesses of any size.
Of course, to build effective boundaries in the workplace you first have to understand what good boundaries are. From there, you can apply the principles of creating positive boundaries to businesses of any size and employees in any position.

What Are Boundaries?

First up, a definition: Workplace boundaries are the things that provide concrete definitions on the job.

Part of this includes the rules for what you do on the job and what you aren’t allowed to do, but boundaries do more than that. By defining the specifics of roles and spaces within the workplace, boundaries create the structure on which your business thrives.

Sometimes, boundaries are physical: Consider the break room, or the partition that creates a home office or the designated parking spaces for employees at a restaurant. Other times they relate to how employees interact or how much break time you get after working for a set period of time. Ideally, the various boundaries within your workplace should work together to create a positive work experience for everyone involved.

What Are Good Boundaries?

The words “good” and “positive” have been used several times in discussing boundaries so far, and there’s a reason for that.

Good boundaries are the ones that help to increase productivity, employee morale or otherwise have a positive impact on the workplace. These are boundaries that ensure that employees (yes, even you) aren’t “on the clock” 24/7, that serve as a reference when job functions are in question and that ensure you have a safe and secure place to work. These boundaries aren’t meant to be restrictive, but instead serve a real purpose within the workplace.

Are There Bad Boundaries?

If you’ve ever had a bad manager or boss, you know that bad boundaries do exist.

These are the boundaries that don’t seem to make sense, the rules that feel like they were put in place just to create a new rule. These are restrictions that interfere with normal job functions, excessively complicated rules that are difficult to comply with and regulations that change frequently so you aren’t really sure which version you’re supposed to keep up with. When establishing boundaries at work, these are the kind that you desperately want to avoid making.

Creating Good Boundaries in the Workplace

Good boundaries are important in the workplace, regardless of whether you work for a large organization or are a small independent contractor working from home.

Some quick tips to help you set and keep these boundaries in place include these:
  • Define roles and various aspects of the job itself without trying to micromanage everything
  • Draft a schedule that clearly shows starting and stopping times
  • Establish offices, zones or other work spaces
  • Set limits related to what can—and should not—be discussed in the workplace
  • Clarify what is and isn’t required of the specific job
  • Let the employee do the job within those guidelines, even if you are the employee.
  • Make sure that the employee knows what happens if he or she goes out of those boundaries, and take steps to get them back in line as quickly as possible

You don’t have to be aggressive or overly restrictive to make good use of boundaries, and your business productivity will thank you for it.