24/7 WFH: How to prevent out-of-hours communication

Even in the distant past of 9-to-5 office days, we occasionally found ourselves fielding late-night Slack messages or Sunday evening emails. Now that our work lives are based at home, the concept of “office hours” is virtually non-existent. Many of us are opening our laptops right when we wake up, or answering slack messages late until the night.
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out of hours

When we survey engineers about their goals, “reducing out-of-hours communication” lands at the top of the list. Meanwhile, managers want to ensure that those peaks in communication are tied to infrequent events, like an important feature launch, and not creeping into the norm.

The notion of work life and home life are now inextricably linked. But we all need a break. Here are some things to keep in mind to make sure your team isn’t headed for burnout. 

Understand that working hours might vary in this new life.

Without a commute or office to dictate our schedules—and with a whole new host of thoughts running through our heads—recognize that people might have different working hours right now. If some team members do their best work from sunrise to early afternoon, while others thrive with a later start and later evening, consider embracing that flexibility. 

Open a channel for team members to share their daily hours.

As much as we aim for consistency, hours might change daily. Parents are juggling childcare and homeschool, while others have fluctuating needs. Establish a practice of overcommunication, whether that’s using the Slack status to broadcast availability or sending a daily email.

Communicate required meetings or online times with extra clarity.

Flexible hours still require some real-time collaboration. With varying schedules, it’s critical that managers delineate which meetings are required (maybe it’s the 10:00am standup, which gets everyone aligned for the day) and which are optional (like a project check-in that’ll have detailed notes taken). Balancing personal schedules with team needs gives everyone space while preventing missed connections.

Set an example as the team lead. 

Managers naturally set an example for the team. If you send a late night message, your team will feel a pressure to respond. What about those late nights when productivity strikes? Try including a note in the subject line that no response is required until the next morning, or see if you can schedule messages to send at another time.

Allow for infrequent out-of-hours communication.

Emergencies happen. Deadlines come and go. When this happens, make it clear to the team that their availability is needed, and make sure to complement it with offline time afterwards. We have goals to accomplish—and burnout to prevent.

Take advantage of notification settings.

You may not be able to control others’ messages, but you can control when you’re notified of them. Set your Slack notifications to stop at a certain hour. Befriend the Do Not Disturb function of your phone when you’re taking a midday lunch break or signing off for the weekend. Support the cause further by resisting the urge to check all your apps when you wake up or before you fall asleep.

Create a culture that respects boundaries. 

Ultimately, decisions around work-life balance are personal. Nurturing a company culture that allows for that individuality requires practicing what you preach. Encourage team members to share best practices or to reach out with questions. Most importantly, respect their offline hours. We’re all in this together.

The eternal balancing act of work and personal life is bound to have its struggles, especially during the significant change in lifestyle that shelter-in-place has enacted. Taking control of out-of-hours communication is the first step in achieving that balance.