Collaboration can be the gateway to work-life balance, true, but it can also lead to an environment where workers are expected to be constantly connected.
The fact of the matter is that the technology in our lives has created a scenario where we're inclined to check our phones at all hours of the night. It's become engrained into our collective consciousness; when that buzz goes off and that light goes on, we want to know what's happening. And if that buzz happens to be a work email with a request for us, we're tempted to respond, whether out of a natural inclination to tackle questions and problems as they arise or out of a desire to look good to your superiors.
Technology is a factor here, but a much larger and more important piece of the puzzle is the culture around the tools, the management style and expectations laid out by leadership of each and every member of your organization.
The tech is not likely to go away anytime soon, especially with the lines between personal and professional devices and apps blurring more all the time. So how can businesses overcome an overly aggressive connectivity that can be so toxic to culture and work-life balance?
Setting the Example
Any cultural shift within a company has to start with management, and balance is no different. If you're setting the expectation with your team that you're going to be emailing or commenting at all hours of the night, you've created an environment where your team thinks they have to respond in order to progress their careers.
They’re thinking, “My boss does it, and I want to be the boss someday, therefore I guess I have to do it too.”
As a manager, make a conscious effort to unplug after hours. Whether it's simply willpower or even setting up your phone to not push every single notification it receives after a certain time each day, you have the power to restrict that smartphone's hold on your life.
Yes, I understand that urgent matters come up. And yes, I also understand that certain job roles and responsibilities are naturally more prone to after-hours "fire drills" than others; if you're responsible for network operations, for example, you have to know if there's a problem with the network regardless of what time it is.
For the majority of workers, though, there's very little that can happen after hours that can't wait until the next day. But if your team sees you doing it, they may think it's necessary to keep their jobs, which destroys work-life balance.
Making the Most of PTO
Another area where it's vital to set the proper expectations is with vacation and personal time. If you spend your vacation time on conference calls or shooting out emails and texts, you're creating yet another expectation that "workations" are the rule of the day. This can quickly lead to burnt-out employees and is likely a leading cause of why some $34 billion of vacation pay is wasted annually.
Again, it's all about the conscious effort to unplug. If you find yourself in a situation where you HAVE to work while travelling, set aside dedicated and minimal times throughout the day to do so. This not only minimizes the impact on your friends and loved ones, but it also lowers the perception held by your team that workations are necessary in order to be able to make use of PTO at all.
Collaboration tools are so powerful for building bridges. But, it's important to know that just because the bridge is there doesn't mean it always has to be crossed. As a leader in your business, you can be instrumental in creating a nurturing culture of collaboration that encourages true work-life balance rather than crushing it under a wave of unnecessary connectivity.
For more insights and analysis on collaboration in the workplace, download our free eBook “The Future of Business Collaboration: 2015 Edition” today.