For many workers, particularly those spending most of their time in an office, the line between work hours and personal hours started to blur significantly with technological advances like e-mail, cell phones, and smartphones. These tools largely eliminated the need for staff to be in the office for their teams or bosses to reach them, eroding the separation of clocking out or taking paid time off (PTO).
As millions of employees have shifted to working from home in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the line between work life and home life has become even more blurred. For staff working remotely, the idea of being physically present in the office or physically at home is essentially meaningless.
The primary boundary instead becomes the time of day. But from a conceptual standpoint, what separates spending long hours in the office and being physically available to coworkers from being feet away from a home office or having a smartphone?
One relatively cheap and easy tool to help manage the availability question is a log-in/log-out function on an internal company application. Employees who are finished working for the day can simply log out so others know they aren’t available. If they happen to be working late or in the office early, they can signal that by logging in.
Setting Clear Expectations
Particularly in the “new normal” of widespread remote work, much of the onus is on companies to set clear expectations on when employees should be available. This means what hours employees are expected to be available, as well as what situations might constitute emergency or critical items that require being available outside of normal business hours.
It’s crucial that employers be clear in their expectations in order to avoid unnecessary uncertainty and anxiety.
Setting Clear Boundaries
While it’s essential for businesses to set clear expectations, employees also bear some responsibility in setting their own clear boundaries. Employees who always respond to after-hours e-mails or phone calls without complaint are likely to continue receiving such requests in the future. Employees should make it clear to coworkers, superiors, and subordinates when it is acceptable to reach out outside of normal business hours.
When work is done from home, the concept of work/life balance becomes blurry, leading to a lot of employee stress and burnout, as they may feel they’re “always on.”
Businesses may be tempted to take advantage of this greater availability and productivity, but they need to be cognizant of their staff’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being, as well, particularly in an environment already marked by a global health crisis. Establishing clear boundaries and expectations is key for striking the right balance.