With more and more studies confirming that employees are more productive when working from home than in-house teams, there’s been a considerable shift in business toward hiring remote employees and teams and setting boundaries at work along with a remote worker policy that will cater to their needs.
According to a study by Upwork, 63% of companies have remote workers, and 48% of companies use freelancers—a 5% increase from last year.
The boom in hiring remote employees has ushered in a new wave of management needs, including setting boundaries at work for your remote teams. The same Upwork study that identified how many companies use remote workers also uncovered that 57% of those companies have no remote worker policies.
A lack of clear guidelines is where the trouble can start when it comes to establishing healthy, productive boundaries for remote teams and employees. Let’s dig into how you should be setting boundaries at work in terms of your remote worker policy.
Explaining work expectations
The first step that businesses who rely on a remote workforce need to take is developing and communicating clear expectations. These intentions should be written out and signed off on by everyone they impact.
A failure to have established expectations leads to miscommunication, stress, and decreased productivity—which is certainly not the goal of having a remote team.
There are several key points you’ll want to address when outlining your remote worker policy for your remote workforce.
These expectations should include:
- Set office hours
- Overall availability (such as 9-5pm in your local timezone)
- Compensation for rush projects or overtime
- What apps and tools will be used for communication, and which ones will be provided by you
- When regular meetings will be scheduled (and in what time zone)
- Key projects and deadlines
- Expected response times to various lines of communication
By covering all of these topics in a single onboarding document shared where everyone can easily reference it, you can be sure that you and all of your remote team members are on the same page.
Being open during office hours
One of the most significant challenges to successfully managing a remote worker policy is the complexity of schedules compounded by employees working various time zones.
Because of this, it can be difficult to establish a healthy work-life balance. Every time your phone goes off, it’s tempting to check the notification or read the email and respond immediately.
At first, a failure to unplug might seem like it’s working with regards to keeping the ball rolling with your business. However, in the long run, it’s the path to burning out.
You, your business, and your employees will be much better served if you establish office hours. These hours should involve a slice of the day that works across employee time zones during which you’ll be available to field questions.
Along these same lines, you should work with your employees to establish their own personal office hours and regular meeting times where you can get in touch with them. Though setting such hours might seem a little constraining, it will protect them from continuously feeling like they’re on-call, allowing them to actually create a space for deep work.
The one exception to this is if you’re tapping into the 1099 workforce, also known as contractors (or freelancers). When working with contractors, you’ll likely need to be much less hands-on.
Instead of treating them just like remote employees, you’ll also need to treat them as the business owners they are. You can set the deadlines, but it’s within their jurisdiction to set their preferred working hours.
When to respond to messages
As counterintuitive as it might seem, you can make a significant improvement in your life and the lives of your remote employees by establishing a company-wide rule of turning notifications for work communication channels off outside of business hours.
If you allow Slack to send you a notification every time there is a message or update, you’re going to struggle to truly have any time to yourself, especially if your workforce is global.
That said, it’s also wise to have one emergency line of communication that’s always open. By training employees to use it responsibly and only in real emergencies, you can be confident that if there were an urgent issue, you would be made aware of it.
When you have employees in various time zones, they will inevitably be sending emails outside of your business hours and getting replies outside of theirs.
And, that’s perfectly fine.
However, establishing a clear company rule that dictates that work emails are not to be replied to outside of their business hours can help employees develop healthy work-life boundaries.
If you’re wanting to go the extra mile to keep eager employees from accidentally putting themselves on a path to burning out, you can even schedule your replies to be sent when their business hours start.
Gmail now offers “send later” functionality, built-in. Boomerang offers another useful tool for setting boundaries at work: an ability to completely pause your inbox so that new messages don’t come in until you’re ready to deal with them. 😌
That said, there are certainly times when delayed responses to emails and other messages can hamper productivity. To combat this, you can empower employees to make many of the decisions necessary to carry out their work without you needing to approve something every step of the way.
Create room for flexibility
The primary reason most employees are interested in remote work is not that they’re more productive, but because it gives them more flexibility. When working remotely, it’s easier for employees to schedule a yoga session in the middle of the day or turn a regular weekend into a three-day weekend as needed.
When managing a remote team, you want to be responsive to—and understanding of—that motivation.
Part of this requires you to moving away from the idea that “seeing is believing”.
You shouldn’t need to physically see your team members or coworkers working to know that they’re working. (We bet you have better things to do than monitor your team 24/7, anyway!) In the age of the remote workforce, you’ll instead want to focus on an employee’s ability to deliver by a set deadline.
How they get there? Well, that’s much less important.
All that said, if you want to measure how they’re using their time to help you plan projects and determine where more training may be needed, encouraging employees to use time tracking apps can certainly be useful.
Final thoughts on setting boundaries at work & crafting a balanced remote worker policy
Many entrepreneurs and established business owners see remote employees as the workforce of the future—starting now. Though the benefits of using remote employees are myriad, from lower overhead costs to increased productivity, they also require managers to adapt to their unique needs.
One of those adaptations is setting boundaries at work for employees (and yourself) concerning working hours, message response times, flexibility, and remote recognition. A detailed remote worker policy that’s easily accessible by all team members helps to make these boundaries clear for all team members.
No matter what boundaries and expectations you set, clearly communicating those to your remote employees is essential. Failing to do so can end up damaging morale, reduce productivity, and cause setbacks with projects—all problems you can easily avoid by implementing healthy boundaries and sticking to them.