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The Future of Work

How The Tech That Took Away Your Work-Life Balance Is Working To Reinstate It

Chat and project-management platforms like Slack and Basecamp blurred work-life boundaries. Here's how they are putting them back.

How The Tech That Took Away Your Work-Life Balance Is Working To Reinstate It

Most of work doesn't have to be done in an office anymore. And in many situations that's a good thing. Technology enables remote work when regular routes are shut down (like during a snowstorm). Between a smartphone and home-based WiFi, most workers can at least answer email and get basic stuff done. Add a little Slack chat or Basecamp project management, and many of the daily tasks can be tackled.

But the very apps and devices that allow us to toggle between working at the office and working from the sofa can also make us feel like we now work 24/7.

Flex time is important to workers, especially if they have children. Flex time ranked high among full-time employees who were parents in a global study by EY, and recent Facebook data found that 39% of parents report being crunched for time.

Being able to communicate with far-flung coworkers on the fly over tools like Slack or Basecamp can grease the wheels of progress. Having the mobile bell toll with that reply when you were just sitting down to dinner, not so much.

It doesn’t help that while flex-time policies and practices proliferate, managers and employees have different takes on whether they’re working. A survey by Workplace Trends and CareerArc found that the majority of workers (65%) say their manager expects them to be reachable outside the office. Sixty-four percent of employers did report that they expect staff to be on call when they are officially off the clock. As many as one in five employees say they spend over 20 hours of their own personal time on work-related activities.

Basecamp's System Of Work That Can Wait

"Working more than 40 hours a week doesn’t mean you’re working hard. It just means you are working more than 40 hours a week," Jason Fried tweeted. The founder and CEO of Basecamp recently set out to clarify the blurring boundaries between work and life created by his platform.

Taking aim at Microsoft and its #GetItDone campaign, Basecamp’s #WorkCanWait challenged the 24/7/365 model of productivity by countering that the only thing that should be happening every day of the year is enjoying life.

To back this up, a Basecamp 3 feature was launched, and touted on a page on the company’s site as a way to "give work the weekend off." Notifications and emails could be halted in Basecamp 3 by the individual. "Maybe it’s 9-5 M-F, maybe it's 7-3 six days a week. Whatever it is, if it’s outside those times, Basecamp won’t send you notifications. No pushes, no emails, nothing. Work is silenced so you—and your family—can enjoy your downtime," according to the page.

Fried thinks about work-life balance a lot. In a post on Medium, he writes that the majority of Basecamp’s staff works remotely in many different parts of the world, and he’s been trying to make their benefits equitable. What’s most notable about Basecamp’s benefits is how many of them support time spent not working. From four-day workweeks in the summer to one-month sabbaticals, to fitness and massage allowances, Fried makes it clear that he believes everything—including work— should be enjoyed in moderation and encourages 40-hour workweeks.

"I only make this point since our industry is perverted and often asks people for regular 60+ hour weeks + regular pushes on weekends," he writes. "We don’t want people working more than 40 hours a week in any sustained fashion."

Slack's Do Not Disturb

Chokdee Rutirasiri, the CEO of the design firm Story+Structure, says that his team uses Slack "religiously" with all channels—internal and client-facing. Rutirasiri explains that while Slack has pretty much replaced email (and its dreaded notifications), he says, "As a firm, we work hard to be respectful of people’s lives outside of work. This manifests itself in many ways, from our vacation policy to our annual break—and now to Slack."

In late December, Slack introduced a feature similar to Basecamp’s Work Can Wait. Slack’s Do Not Disturb mode allows users to silence the notifications during time off the clock.

It was a boon to Story+Structure, says Rutirasiri. "My team has responded really positively to the snooze feature," he says, because we have a tendency to work all the time across all time zones."

To hear Paul Rosania, a senior product manager at Slack, tell it, Slack users sending those messages at all hours had anxiety about communicating too. Rosania told the Atlantic, "One thing we’ve heard from teams, and experienced ourselves, is anxiety about contacting people outside working hours, for fear of interrupting personal time or sleep. You might have a question or idea any time of day or night, and want to share it with a teammate right away so you don’t forget," Rosania said.

"Public relations never really sleeps. However, I appreciate the snooze function for interactions with my family after hours," says Ariane Doud, senior account director at Warner Communications. "For example, I can help my son with his homework knowing I’ll be able to truly focus on him," she explains. Doud says that as part of a team, there is always someone available to respond to clients, "at a moment’s notice, when one of us is taking advantage of the snooze feature."

For Rutirasiri, "This feature allows us to prioritize Slacking each other after ‘office hours’ and add to our culture of being respectful and intentional."

How To Achieve Work-Life Balance In 5 Steps

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