I had a great time last week at the Indiana Conference For Women, and in my sessions, I got to hear a lot of amazing and insightful questions from the audience. One concept that kept coming up was the idea of setting communication boundaries. When you have your Slack notifications on or your cellphone on, people can “barge” into your workspace. While Slack has room for a lot of nuances, some people mentioned their companies used different tools or weren’t set up for this, so they had no way of saying, please only barge into my mental office if it’s an emergency.
Is it rude to set boundaries with your colleagues? What’s the equivalent of locking the door?
One woman had an example of someone saying do you have a minute, over Slack, and when she replied yes, sending a Zoom link and then talking for two hours about a project.
I wanted to give concrete solutions for fixing these kinds of interruptions.
Lead with your own etiquette. Tell those you work with that you respect their focus time and want to know how to best communicate with them when you might be interrupting. Figure out how they’d like to be approached when it’s urgent, not urgent, and kind of urgent. If you need to spell out examples of what is urgent, do so. Teams learn each other’s preferences with transparency.
Use your other tools wisely. If you use Skype for chat and it only has two status options, available and not, how do you say I am somewhat available? In this scenario, the tool is not working for you. The black-and-white nature doesn’t meet the needs of remote work, where technically you are available all day as you are working, but that might lead to you never getting work done. For this particular woman, I advised her to turn Skype to not available. Without any room for nuance, the frequent need for responses was ruining her productivity. Explaining to her colleagues that other channels, particularly email, were much more effective for getting her attention and then offering a committed response window, so they would know they’d get a response promptly is the next step.
You can also use your calendar as an alert system to spell out when you’re doing focused work. Most companies allow you to check each other’s calendars, which can be an easy way to delineate time for social work versus solo work.
Foster a culture of respect for head-down work. Most people need uninterrupted time to get complex work done. A culture playbook for communication tools can help immensely, laying out SLAs and required response times - appropriate ways to explain how and when you’re replying to messages and how to schedule time with each other in a non-invasive way. If you can spell out the expected behaviors, it makes it easier for everyone to abide by those expectations. And it makes it far less confrontational to point out when someone is not abiding by those rules. Helping your team find this focus time is key to excellent output.
What do you do to set boundaries at work?
Want to hear more from me? Check out this podcast! How do you build a culture of psychological safety in a hybrid workforce? I discuss this on The Small Business Radio Show with @Barry Moltz, sponsored by @Truly_Financial
In my next newsletter, we’ll tackle something even more complex we discussed in Indiana, managing productivity in your remote team. Answering questions like:
How to measure productivity?
What’s the % of an 8-hour day you should be “working?”
Where’s the boundary between monitoring and spying on your direct reports?