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Setting Boundaries at Work With Technology

Director of Technology at HNI

The days when our work fit neatly into a 9 to 5 timeframe are long gone.  It’s hard to even imagine there was time when smartphones didn’t exist. Setting_boundaries_at_work_with_technology

In some ways, this is incredibly empowering.  But on the flip side, many organizations are struggling to define reasonable and fair boundaries for their teams. 

Expectations may vary from manager to manager, and when things are unclear, employees may force themselves to be “always on” out of a desire to be helpful and available. 

Why does setting boundaries at work with technology matter?  How can being super responsive to everything be bad? 

While well intentioned, the cost of this additional stress eventually seeps in and results in lower employee morale, high turnover, and a lack of ability to focus on the projects that matter most to the business.

Creating clear expectations and norms

Here are a few scenarios that I’ve personally witnessed in my role as an IT Director regarding setting boundaries at work with technology:

Scenario 1:

I recall a time when a manager in an organization I worked for called an employee to the mat after he spent over two hours sorting through the hundreds of emails received while on vacation. 

The manager was upset that the employee was wasting company time “catching up” on email.  These were business emails.   The manager (like many today) considered emails something that employees should always be on top of and very responsive to whether they were on the clock or not.

Is that reasonable?

Scenario 2:

A colleague was picking up her child at daycare after 6PM following a full work day when a customer called with a non-urgent ("when our next meeting is and what is the agenda…") question that they needed an “urgent” answer to.

Related Post: Technology and the Rise of the Fauxmergency

The child was tired, hungry and happy to see his mom after being separated all day and was somewhat boisterous in the back seat of the car.  The customer said to my colleague, “Can’t you keep that child quiet while you are on the phone?”

Is that reasonable?

Scenario 3:

Years ago I had a job where work life balance was preached heavily (a huge plus for me) during the offer process, but the mitts came off after being hired when I was told that I would be required to work both days alternate weekends (in addition to a full time week + evening hours as needed, which turned out to be almost daily). 

This was not a company policy, but rather one set by a demanding manager who was not truthful during the interview process.  It almost certainly would have changed my motivation to accept the offer (good news is that it was a great company and this issue did get resolved).  

Is that reasonable?

Setting boundaries at work with technology

Depending on your line of work, organizational culture, or personal experience, you may respond differently to the above scenarios. 

What is most important, however, is that if you’re a leader in your organization, you set the tone.  

Talk to your team about expectations, and create policies that promote a healthy balance between work, family, and other responsibilities. 

And remember that actions speak as loud (no, louder) than words.  When you’re sending those late night emails – think about the message it’s sending to your team.


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