Our company uses all kinds of technology to keep us constantly in touch—email, HipChat, Skype, FaceTIme—so much so that it feels like I have to always be available or I’m letting down the team. How can I handle this situation without jeopardizing my job? N.S., New York, NY
Whether you’re at home or in the office, being constantly available is a choice you make. While there may be implicit pressure to be available, that doesn’t mean you have to be on call 24/7. It’s about setting boundaries.
Figure out what you think is a reasonable amount of availability and come up with your rationale for it. Compare this to what you’re currently doing. If there’s a dramatic gap between the two, you need to have direct conversations with your teammates to explain why you are limiting your availability and how it may affect them.
Tell them that you’ll be unavailable for certain blocks of time so you can focus on making progress on major projects. Manage their expectations regarding when you’ll return their emails by telling them your typical email check-in times—and stick to them. If there is an emergency, give them a specific way to reach you—and if it’s not an emergency when they reach out to you, don’t reply. I know this may sound like I’m asking you to be petty, but you have to maintain consistent boundaries in order to retrain people on how to interact with you.
If they’re used to reaching you around the clock, don’t just disappear—that’s not fair to them. Make sure you let them know that you are checking out and will be back online at a certain time. If you get pushback, explain that you are trying to be more efficient with your time as well as the team’s time. You’re on firm footing here—research has shown better outcomes when people consistently apply focused, uninterrupted effort.
Whatever you do, don’t make this about your quality of life. That’s a benefit for you but it’s irrelevant to the business. Always lead with what will benefit your team members, and the benefit the quality of the work, the project, etc., will gain from your new way of working.
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