A reader writes:
I need your help in reclaiming my home. I am an employee at a small consulting company (my boss plus three employees). We all live in the same small town and I often see my boss and coworkers at social functions around town. We each work from our homes and there is no central office.
I live in a very convenient location right downtown, and this has led to my house being used as the central location for the business. For example, my home functions as a place for people to exchange work materials and a place to meet up and park vehicles before working out of town. If my boss wants to meet in person, he invites himself to my house. He does Zoom calls from my house because I have better internet than he does. He also makes me store large pieces of equipment (when I pushed back against this, he said it’s because I have a large house and garage while he lives in a small apartment). I had to train a new hire in my dining room (a five-day endeavor).
One of my colleagues (who I considered a friend before she was hired here) has started imposing even more by asking me to make her coffee, asking to borrow clothing from me, and storing personal belongings at my place when we go on work trips. She’s also using my bathroom twice a day, a few days a week (when we meet at my house to start at a day of work out of town, and when we get back after the workday to pick up her car). I am not a monster that will say no to her when nature calls (she arrives after a 45-minute drive from her house). This isn’t her fault — it’s my boss who has set up the situation that my home is the base for the staff members. But on other days when she works alone, she has asked if she could pop by throughout the day to use my washroom when she’s driving around. I said no to that and suggested she use local businesses (not great for her). I wish I were more welcoming, but it forces me to hide my medications and do a quick cleanup before she gets there, which I’d rather not do. Plus, when she’s in the house she asks if she can have a cup of coffee.
This all makes me feel self-conscious about my house, imposes on my privacy (and my spouse’s privacy), makes me feel taken advantage of, and even annoys my dogs.
I have dealt with some of this by occasionally saying no or coming up with excuses such as “my husband is napping so you can’t come over” or “I ran out of coffee filters so let’s meet at the cafe instead.” I also suggested that my boss rent a local coworking space but he said it was too expensive.
My boss and colleagues aren’t getting the hint that I want my house to be off-limits to them. Now I’m considering having a meeting with my boss to set some boundaries. Ideally I would not want anyone at my house anymore for any reason. I am happy to have my own home office where I complete my work, but I don’t want my boss or colleagues to be at my house anymore, period — not even for non-work reasons at this point. How do I graciously set this boundary without seeming rude or unwelcoming? This has been going on for about 1.5 years. I have started job hunting but in my small isolated town there are few opportunities.
Yeah, this is way too much! If it were just your coworker using your bathroom before heading out on a long drive together or someone occasionally picking up materials, I doubt it would bother you as much — but there are so many boundary violations happening that I can see why you want to put a stop to all of it.
It’s not reasonable for your boss to assume your house can function as a central office hub. It’s not reasonable for him to assume everyone can park their cars there, or you’ll store equipment there or hold a five-day training session there. It might be reasonable for him to ask once, politely — but if you said no or even sounded unenthusiastic, he needed to back off and pay for actual space, like most businesses do. (Speaking of paying, I assume you’re not getting compensated for any of these cost savings you’re providing.)
Your coworker is also crossing boundaries — borrowing clothes and asking to drop in to use your bathroom on days you’re not working together?! But I suspect that stuff is complicated by the fact that you were friends before you worked together. These are all things one might reasonably ask of a good friend, and she likely sees it through that lens instead of a coworker one.
As for how to handle it, you have two options: You can be very direct, or you can come up with an excuse.
The direct option would be saying something like this to your boss: “We’ve been using my house as a central hub, and I need to let you know I won’t be able to do that anymore after this month. (Give a time period so he has time to come up with another solution.) It’s not working for me and my husband to have people coming here so frequently during the day or storing company equipment in our space. Going forward, we’ll need to do meetings somewhere else — or virtually if that’s not possible — and I need you to move the XYZ so we can regain use of that space.”
If he pushes back and cites your large house, you can say, “We need that space for our own things and can no longer loan it to the company. I’m giving you a month’s notice so you have time to rent a storage space or find another solution.” If the date you give him approaches and there’s no indication of movement, at that point I’d just make up a conflict that he’s more likely to respect — like “We have furniture arriving on the 15th that will need to go in that room, so it must be gone before then. If I don’t hear a different plan from you by Friday, I’m going to need to have it shipped to you since it can’t stay here any longer.” It sucks to have to devise an excuse, but if he won’t respect the request without one, then it’s the most practical option to reclaim your home.
Speaking of which … it’s possible this will all go over better if you have a reason beyond just “this is my house and I want to reclaim it.” To be clear, “this is my house and I want to reclaim it” should be enough! But realistically, some people will push back less if you give them an excuse they understand. You have a really good one in the form of your husband (and I am a strong believer that being able to throw each other under the bus when needed — with each other’s permission — is one of the benefits of marriage). So maybe your husband objects to all the comings and goings and asked you to stop it, or maybe his job is cracking down on confidentiality and says he can’t have visitors in the house while he’s working, or maybe he’s now working the night shift and can’t have visitors at your house at all because he’s sleeping. If you didn’t have another person living there, you’d have to get more creative — maybe neighbors are complaining or your homeowners insurance threatened to cancel your policy if you’re found to be conducting business there or on and on.
Again, it’s ridiculous to have to use a cover story. It also might make your life easier if you do. Judge based on what you know about your boss and coworkers.
Speaking of coworkers, you’re going to need to do some boundary-setting there too. It’s pretty hard to deny someone the use of a toilet after a 45-minute drive, so if you really don’t want your coworker using your bathroom you’re better off meeting in a public place on the days you’re driving together. Beyond that, you can just say no when she calls from the road asking to use your bathroom (“sorry, not a good day for it” or “I’m swamped and can’t have visitors”) or asks for coffee (“I don’t have time today; we’ll have to catch up later”). But it might be easier to just have a forthright conversation about it, especially since you’re friends: “I’ve started to feel like my house belongs to the company and I’m going to be setting better boundaries, which means not letting anyone drop by to use the bathroom or grab coffee or do meetings here.”
One really important thing: You wrote that you don’t want to seem rude or unwelcoming. But it’s not rude to want your house to be your private territory, and it’s okay not to be welcoming when your company and colleagues are violating your (very sensible) boundaries. Of course you want to maintain warm relationships with people, but saying “my house can’t be our office” isn’t chilly and shouldn’t be relationship-killing; it’s a really normal and reasonable boundary to assert. There’s often a bit of awkwardness or unhappiness when someone asserts a boundary that they hadn’t been asserting previously — but reasonable people (even partway reasonable people!) will adjust pretty quickly. Make sure you’re really clear on that in your head, because the more your tone and attitude convey “of course you will understand and respect this very reasonable thing I am saying because I know you are a reasonable person,” the more likely they are to respond that way.