November 10, 2019

Setting boundaries in a digital workplace

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Taking inspiration from the “right to disconnect” law passed in France, I’ve reset my own boundaries for a healthy work-life balance in a digital workplace. Here’s some steps you can follow to do the same.

A duotoned dark purple and beige version of the Apple lady doing crossed arms emoji, in front of a green striped background

With the introduction of digital tools in business life, the boundary between the working sphere and the private sphere is shrinking.

France recently passed a law to establish a workers “right to disconnect” from work-related electronic communications during non-work hours. This law is to realign our standards of a healthy and ethical work-life balance in a modern, digital era.

At the time, this law passing was of interest to me as I was seeing these boundaries blur in my own life. But as it goes, work got busy, life got busy and I forgot about it.

In a previous job, it was near impossible to manage any work outside of the physical office and its servers. I used to think this was a burden, like the time I had my wisdom teeth out. High on meds and laying in bed, I wanted to try and get some work done. But I couldn’t and I was bummed about it… (reality check, Aimee?!) My current job is a direct contrast in that we are a remote first company. I do love this flexibility, and it does make life much easier at times. However, it is very easy to blur the boundary of a healthy work-life balance in a remote digital workplace.

So, I’ve been making more of a conscious effort to disconnect from my work outside of non-work hours. Here’s some simple steps I followed to create a more healthy balance:

Read your contract

First and foremost: read your contract. What are you obligated to adhere to? Refamiliarise yourself with your contracted work hours. This is important if you’ve been with a company for a long time and these hours have changed or been blurred.

Does your company have a handbook, or other documentation that stipulate any additional policies that you must follow? Catch up on those too.

The next steps are easier once you’ve refamiliarised yourself with what your contractually obligated to. This is also a good time to confirm that your contract still serves you and your current role.

Clarify out-of-hours procedures

If it’s still not clear what your company out-of-hours procedures are, clarify them. Ask the question and get it documented. If you’re not sure, it’s likely others in your team aren’t sure either. Getting it clarified ensures everyone is on the same page, and knows what is and isn’t expected of them.  

Phone audit

Unless it has been part of my role or contract, I’ve never had work emails on my phone. It’s a non-negotiable I set for myself a long, long time ago. But I’ve never held myself accountable in the same way for other digital tools used in the workplace. Most of these tools I rely on more than email.

So, step three is to do an audit of all the apps on your phone (including email). I found when doing this step, that most apps I had already turned off notifications. Though this hadn’t stopped me from periodically checking them, or catching up on things at any time of day.

I asked myself these two questions:

  • Do I only use this app for work?
  • What will happen if I don’t have this app?

I found that I had certain apps installed for work (Slack and Basecamp). I realised the world wouldn’t fall apart if I no longer had these apps on my phone. So, I deleted them. For the apps that served both work and personal uses, I simply signed out of my work account.

Talk to your team and set boundaries

If your team have gotten used to you being accessible at all times and on digital tools, you need to tell them that you’ve reset these boundaries. If something urgent arises they do need to know how best to contact you.

Reassess and check-in

Lastly, now that you’ve made these changes it’s always good to set yourself regular check-ins. Are these new boundaries serving you? Do you need to create more or less? Are your work colleagues respecting your boundaries? Are YOU respecting your boundaries? Life can change so quickly, so it’s always good to check-in with yourself regularly 💙.

So, no, I’m no longer pingable on Slack, but you have my phone number. I cannot guarantee I’ll pick up, but I will do my best.

And that’s all we can do. Our best, when trying to navigate a healthy work-life balance in a digital workplace.

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Aimee Cowie

Wanna be tap dancer, annoyingly organised, to do list aficionado and digital producer. See what else I've written here.

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