When you think of remote work, what comes to mind? The ability to work on your own terms, maybe get some chores done, or even meet up with a friend for brunch?
It’s easy to rattle off a list of the positives. But there are inherent challenges, too. One in particular appears to be a hot button issue for 2023.
We've checked out the data. Each year, the Founders team looks forward to Buffer’s State of Remote Work report, and we were fortunate to receive early access to their 2023 State of Remote Work.
The stats gave us goosebumps, mostly in a good way. The section on work-life boundaries piqued our interest, however, as a potential problem area.
Blurred lines: flexibility’s double-edged sword ⚔️
Great potential for growth and increased productivity aside, virtual teams also have to contend with a lifestyle that requires proactive prioritization. Late-night emailing, sending a quick Slack message from your phone and responding to DMs can become commonplace.
These seemingly benign activities can turn your life into one that resembles more of a hamster wheel than a fulfilling existence. Unfortunately, establishing clear boundaries between our personal and professional lives isn’t so simple.
Leaders, solopreneurs and startup founders are especially prone to this problem. These folks are often so wrapped up in their business that they struggle to delineate between work time and down time. (Many may joke that the two are one and the same!)
Eventually, this behavior erodes healthy work cultures and can increase attrition. When colleagues see others in positions of authority sending emails at all hours, for example, they may feel pressured to follow suit.
Here’s what today's remote workers are saying about work-life boundaries:
An overwhelming majority of respondents (81%) check emails after-hours, including a majority who do so on weekends (63%). Just over a third admit to diving into their inboxes while away on vacation.
Nearly half (48%) say they often log extra hours beyond what would be expected from the conventional 9-5 workday. For many, burnout may not be far behind. Two out of 10 already report feeling burnt out, and 44% indicate that they’ve worked significantly more this year than last year.
How can you start setting healthier limits?
Founders team insight: Noticing where and when our relationship to work becomes problematic is the first step toward a solution. Especially if you collaborate with colleagues or clients across time zones, you’ll want to take into consideration ways to signal your availability—and learn more about theirs.
For example, RoRemote’s Rowena Hennigan, a LinkedIn Top Voice in Remote Work, does this artfully with a simple message in her email signature:
Small gestures like these can have a big impact.
Healthy work cultures need boundaries 🚫
It’s 2023. You’re not part of a “family” at work. (Even then, families aren’t in touch with one another 24/7.)
Yet an obligation to stay connected persists. According to Buffer, 22 percent of respondents said they still feel unable to unplug during off hours or vacation days.
This should be a red flag for managers. Compromising personal time with work-related interruptions and concerns adds up. The lack of separation can have detrimental effects on everything from our relationships to our mental and physical health. Regular periods of rest and renewal are therefore key aspects of a healthy work culture.
How can you help build one? By establishing norms so that you and your colleagues can work efficiently without allowing your jobs to bleed into your life.
Founders team insight: Leading a company or team? Creating a healthy culture is your responsibility. You can start by encouraging others to set boundaries; this can even be done collaboratively, such as via shared doc or asking folks to vote, either asynchronously or in in an all-hands call.
Some communication channels (e.g., Slack) can make employees feel obligated to be always-on; avoid this performative presenteeism at all costs! Instead, proactively discuss and document typical work hours. You’ll help teammates to feel as though they’re able to meet expectations and confidently unplug, pressure-free.
We remain grateful for flexible work advocates—both those who have been in the game since the 2010s and earlier, and the newer voices emerging today. In this sense, Buffer is a pioneer, having served and supported the global remote community for more than a dozen years.