When your home is your office, there’s no natural divide between work and home life. Team leaders and managers are struggling to establish boundaries that support the wellbeing of their entire team, end unpaid overtime hours, and dismantle the current culture demanding employees be constantly online or available.

The root of the problem

In a recent survey conducted by Slack of more than 2,000 UK employees, they found 40% of employees battled with blurred lines between personal and professional life. Additionally, 38% were unable to unplug from the “always on” virtual working day and in turn, faced heightened levels of anxiety.

They also found that 84% of respondents said their communication with colleagues had been impacted since the pandemic was announced, while 68% found it difficult to virtually communicate effectively with their teammates.

While it was easier to unplug from work when there was a disconnect between the office and home, these numbers are hardly surprising as the COVID-19 pandemic has brought everyone’s offices to their homes. Eddie Arrieta, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Torre, a professional aggregator of remote jobs around the world that promotes remote working, insists that managers need to cultivate an environment with clear objectives and foster habits that help their employees experience the benefits of switching off from work.

“One important aspect of remote management is that transparency comes from clear objectives,” Arrieta says. “Managers need to create an environment that optimizes for a team that’s hyper focused on objectives rather than hours spent on tasks. If our mental configuration is set so that everything we do makes progress in the right direction, it doesn’t matter if today I worked 8 or 12 hours. This allows team members to have a higher level of accountability, not to the company, to their processes and their professional objectives within the structure.”

Benefits of focus time and resting

In the 1900s, Ivy Ledbetter Lee, a PR expert, gave the working world an eponymous concept popularly known as the Ivy Lee Method, which encouraged managers to draw a line under their work day. His routine is simple: at the end of each work day, every employee should write down the six most important things they need to accomplish tomorrow. Once that’s done, simply shut down and stop working.

Eddie Arrieta also slams the concept where hard work equals a 50-hour work week and never stopping. “Don’t get me wrong, it is not that I believe working hard isn’t important. . . . but I believe in personal processes much more. The smarter approach requires periods of extended rest, as well as periods of concentrated activity.” As a leader at Torre who has managed a distributed team of 55 people, Eddie feels teams don’t operate well with the foot on the pedal at all times. “The manager needs to consciously understand these cycles and take the foot of the pedal as the proverbial road requires,” he says. “One quick way to notice the benefits of this is by pomodoring your day.”

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s that uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Why 25 minutes? Because this timer instills a sense of urgency. Rather than feeling like you have endless time in the workday to get things done and procrastinating, when you know you only have 25 minutes to make as much progress on a task as possible, this technique has proven to be successful.

If working hours in a remote workplace are broken down into small intervals of intense focus time followed by uninterrupted short breaks, managers can expect a healthier and more productive team.

7 ways managers can encourage their team to shutdown

  1. Set guidelines for your team: Managers should help their team by setting clear expectations for each employee they manage. Mike Swigunski, founder of remote job board GlobalCareer.io and author of Global Career: How to Work Anywhere and Travel Forever, says this is important, especially since the product team could have different guidelines than the sales team. “Every person in your team should know their expectations for working hours, expected response times for email or Slack, and other important KPIs that impact the day-to-day.”
  2. Lead by example: Mike Swingunski recommends top-level leaders to make sure the founders and management team are not overworking themselves. “A lot of times employees can be pressured to overwork to keep up with their leaders. If you don’t want to burn out employees, make sure you are setting a good example by taking the weekends off, not working late nights, and making sure your team is doing the same,” he advises.
  3. Take charge of your calendar: Eddie Arrieta’s recommendation is clear: you’re in charge of your own calendar. Set specific times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This ensures you dedicate that time to yourself, rather than eating and responding to Slack messages at the same time. Each manager should insist their direct employees follow this rule.
  4. The 25:5 Formula: Communicate the 25:5 formula within your team; if your focus time is 25 minutes, then make sure you rest for 5 minutes after. “Set your timer for those five minutes and you do anything you want but work. This is liberating and refreshes your mind. I usually stand up, walk outside my home office, and kiss my children,” adds Eddie.
  5. Provide work equipment: Have a conversation with the people’s team to provide each member of your team with separate work equipment and a home office stipend. Mike Swingunski says, “Remote working still needs to have some barriers and the best way to do this is by building a home office or separate work area. Even better if you have separate devices for work equipment.”
  6. Unplug: As a manager, encourage your employees to turn their laptop off or use up their annual leave to switch off for a day or two. Mike recommends setting Slack to “Do-Not-Disturb mode” after certain hours. Consider deleting apps from the phone that don’t add any value to your day-to-day at work. It’s also recommended for managers to decide on specific channels as part of remote work policy (like email, Whatsapp, Microsoft Teams, or Slack) for any urgent communication with their direct employees during out-of-office hours. Overall, they should continue to encourage switching off of other platforms. The more managers discourage the “always on” culture, the more they’re setting up their team for success.
  7. Post-work Happy Hour: Mike recommends remote managers should look into organizing team-wide activities where work is not a topic of discussion. Whether this comes in the form of a book club, a virtual happy hour, a gaming session or a quiz night organized once every month. “Building a comfortable culture is extremely important and managers need to get creative to meet the needs of their team!” he adds.

How are you encouraging your employees to switch off from their remote workplace?

Shiran Yaroslavsky

From Shiran Yaroslavsky

Shiran Yaroslavsky is the VP Product US at Hibob. She is the former CEO and Co-founder of Cassiopeia (acquired by Hibob), a startup that helps managers lead teams effectively with data. Shiran is a thought leader in people analytics and remote team leadership. She was featured in 2019 in Forbes’ 30Under30 list in Israel.