The number of people working from home, coupled with technology that offers immediate communication, is creating a dangerous work environment in which people are expected to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These expectations can wreak havoc on a person’s physical and emotional well-being.
Unlike many who are telecommuting today, I have spent the past decade operating primarily out of my home office. And while I was building a company and brand, I worked 14 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week. I sacrificed parties, vacations, gatherings with friends, and family time, to focus on achieving my goals. I was available to anyone at any time.
It was only after maintaining this lifestyle for more than 10 years that I realized the importance of setting boundaries and creating a work-life balance. And that has been my modus operandi ever since. I learned the hard way the value of separating these two worlds and of taking time for rest and rejuvenation.
This past weekend I received a reminder of how important this work practice is.
Late Friday evening, a colleague submitted a project to me via email with the request for confirmation. Before shutting down for the weekend, I saw the email, but I knew it was not an urgent matter and, therefore, elected to view the content on Monday when I returned to work.
Because I did not immediately address the email, the person texted me at 11:58 pm on Saturday night, waking me from my sleep. Imagine getting a text message at midnight about a non-urgent work matter! I then received another text message Sunday afternoon alerting me to the fact that the original email had been resent two more times!
After the second text, I recognized that this person wasn’t giving up and that I needed to address the situation and establish a boundary. I replied, “It is the weekend, and I am not working. I’ll reach out to you on Monday!”
As a type A perfection-driven person, my natural reaction was to immediately check the project and respond. But I knew that this person had weeks to provide this information, and it did not require immediate attention. And so I stood firm.
This communication created anxiety on both sides – for the person who, for whatever reason, desperately needed a reply, and for me, as I was uneasy and even angry at receiving an inappropriate late night weekend text message for no reason.
In order to achieve a work-life balance, it is important for us to set boundaries. But, it is equally important to be respectful of the boundaries set by others and to exhibit some level of professional protocol. Here are a few of my suggestions:
- Establish work hours. Be readily available as you would when in the office and respond to communication or queries during that time only. Remember when you left work at the ‘end of the day’ and didn’t think about it until arriving the next morning? That’s the practice to follow! This is easier to do when self-employed, but get a feel from your supervisor. You may need to be a bit more flexible based on your company’s work environment, but there is always room for boundaries.
- Put down the phone. Unless it’s an emergency or urgent matter, reply to texts from co-workers only during your established business hours. It’s not easy and it will take all of your strength to avoid responding, but this is the way to teach others how to treat you.
- Stop checking emails. If you don’t see it, it can’t stress you out! If someone wants an immediate reply he or she should communicate during business hours. There is no need to respond to every general inquiry immediately. Most can wait for the next day.
- Let your practices be known. Set policy on your availability and adhere to it. Let those with whom you work closely know the best time and preferred method to reach you.
- Respect professional protocol. It may seem very loose these days, but there still is a level of common sense when it comes to being professional. Most know a Saturday night midnight text is inappropriate and disrespectful, not only for business, but in general. Don’t expect others to be readily available at your command. If you want an immediate reply, submit a project during the weekday and not late on a Friday evening. As Bob Carter said, “Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.” Those are wise words to live by.
It is easy to fall into the trap of always being connected, but research has shown that the best way to be successful both in your work and your home life is to find time to rest, restore and unplug. Guard your downtime. Just because we can communicate 24 hours a day, doesn’t mean we should. Only you can protect your health and well-being.