The work-from-home landscape is slippery these days. As Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom noted in a recent article, 32% of workers never want to go back to the office, but another 21% never want to work from home again. Working from home isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and many companies are adjusting accordingly by implementing hybrid work environments keeping elements of their remote infrastructure in place.
Letting workers work wherever they want and whenever they want is good news for many companies. But is it good news for you? Burnout is way up at the moment, and for a lot of us, the thrill of working from home has slowly descended into a notifications-saturated hellscape of endless half-work. You’re craving a hard reset. So where should you start?
I’ve worked remotely for seven years and manage both contractors and clients on four continents. This means I’m being pinged at all hours of the day, so to maintain what’s left of my sanity I’ve implemented a few protocols that have helped keep my energy in check. If you’re looking to tweak your work communication style for the hybrid office of the future, here are five strategies that might help.
Clearly define the start and end of your day
If coworkers are blowing up your Slack DMs at all hours of the night, and you continue to answer them, it’s time for a communication intervention. Set expectations with your team on your availability, but do it in a win/win way so there aren’t any “holier than thou” vibes.
Take time not only to determine a realistic start and end to your workday but also your unique availability circumstances. Are you planning to commute to the office, but not during rush hour? Do school drop-off and pick-up throw a wrench into your availability for meetings? Make your arrangements a slam dunk for both you and your team and you’ll have an easier time championing your needs.
If your employer can’t get into this…consider shopping around for a new gig. Job-hopping (aka the Great Resignation) is all the rage at the moment, which has employers on defense. The time to negotiate terms that will allow you to thrive is now.
Set up and integrate an appointment scheduler
There’s a special place in hell for email threads in which it takes two people 15 replies to schedule a 30-minute meeting. Instead, set up an appointment scheduler that lets both internal and external contacts see your entire availability with just a few quick clicks.
I personally went with Calendly for its squeaky-clean interface. Clearly, I’m not alone here. Per TechCrunch, Calendly’s user base was up over 1,100% last year as millions of people needed a freemium option for scheduling online meetings day-in and day-out.
I integrated Calendly with both my personal and work calendars, set overall hours of availability, and then created appointment types for meetings of various lengths. Keeping the quick links to all these appointment types in my Notes app helps me convert small talk into a new appointment in seconds flat. Having multiple types of appointments in Calendly requires the $10/month tier, but there’s also a free tier that allows for unlimited bookings of one appointment type.
If someone asks me to catch up—whether it be virtual coffee with a friend or a potential sales call—I send them the appropriate link and move on with my day. If you’re moving into a more permanent hybrid work situation, consider using a tool like this to make availability easy.
When appropriate, set up a high-clarity email signature
Now that you’ve laid down the hybrid law for your coworkers or clients, it’s time to do the same with new contacts. Email signatures are hugely underutilized real estate that can help you set expectations from the get-go. If you travel often or just have an unruly inbox, an autoresponder is an even more overt way to create clarity.
To avoid looking like a jerk, frame this communication in a way that shows you value your recipient’s time. An example that is making the rounds online recently is: “Thanks for your message. As we correspond, I acknowledge that my workday may not be your workday—and vice-versa. Please don’t feel obliged to reply to this email outside of your normal working hours.” This not only sets the tone that you care about their balance, but also that they should care about yours.
Bonus: Signalling that you tightly manage your availability is a competency flex.
Practice good notifications hygiene
Instead of keeping all your notifications on “in case of an emergency,” communicate how to actually get in touch with you in the event of a real emergency. Then shut off everything else during non-working hours. This might mean giving yourself a reminder at the end of the day to mute notifications.
Gentle reminder: This is not hard to do. If you’re over there talking a big game about being a disruptor, but then can’t handle taking 60 seconds at 5 pm to mute your desktop notifications, it might be time for a priorities check.
As workforces become increasingly remote and global, project management progress outside of working hours will become more normalized. Work communication at all hours of the day is inevitable, so it’s on you to manage these notifications.
Trust yourself to show up when it’s time to show up
Real talk: Is zeroing out your inbox at 10 pm on a Tuesday really propelling you forward in your career? Do you find yourself looking at a coworker’s weekend reply the moment it comes in so you can begin formulating a perfectly written clapback in Slack first thing Monday morning? Trust yourself that you’ll be able to show up when it’s time to do so.
When you don’t trust yourself, you feel like you have to be on all the time, and this leads to burnout symptoms. Burnout literally weakens your brain. A popular study on Swedish employees found that burnout resulted in weaker connections between the amygdala—the part of the brain responsible for handling emotional reactions—and the anterior cingulate cortex, which regulates emotional distress. f-MRI scans on these employees also showed weaker connections between the amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex, a part of your brain responsible for executive functions and decisions.
If your negative thoughts and feelings feel harder to control in times of burnout, it’s because they are harder to control. Your biology starts working against you when you overdo it for too long. Recovery from burnout means having blocks of time where you don’t work, so you’re just going to have to trust that you can put your colleague from accounting in their place when you get back to your desk.
Work-from-home culture is entering a new, semi-permanent stage. If you see yourself thriving in a hybrid environment for years to come, take the time to lock in your needs now and you’ll be well-prepared for whatever the future throws your way.
Nick Wolny is a former classically-trained musician and a current online marketing strategist for small business owners, experts, and entrepreneurs.