Kay Fabella 0:00
Welcome to the Inclusion in Progress Podcast where we give you the ideas, actions and insights to help you build more equity at your workplace and in the world at large. I'm your host, Kay Fabella, international expert on diversity, equity and inclusion, a Filipino American living in Spain and your guide in navigating this DEI journey. Having worked with teams at companies such as Philips, the IMF, Red Hat, PepsiCo and more, I know firsthand that the work of inclusion only works when everyone has a seat at the table, regardless of your personal entry point into this conversation, your race, ethnicity, gender, ability, age, sexual orientation, country of origin, or educational background, we all have a role to play in creating inclusion for all, and it starts with us having conversations we need to create the change we wish to see. So let's dive into today's episode.
Hello again, and welcome back to inclusion in progress. So if you've been following us on LinkedIn, you would have seen a recent post that I shared about some of our remote practices and rituals here on Team IIP, and if you are missing out on the good stuff and you haven't already connected with us on LinkedIn, please go ahead and look up Inclusion in Progress. Reach out and say hi, or, of course, reach out to me at Kay Fabella. And if you'd prefer to reach us by email, we'll leave links in the show notes of this episode for you to get in touch with us because, as always, we're eager to connect with listeners like you. But back to the episode. So it's mid-February now, which means we're midway through the first quarter of 2022. And, boy have we hit the ground running! Between calls with client partners, with each other - Of course, we have to talk sometimes - and our day to day tasks, we're still managing to stay somehow up to date with our work across different time zones and locations, all while doing our best to prioritize our mental health while planning virtual birthday parties and doing our best to laugh together or show up for one another when one of us is feeling down.
So what's the secret? How do we stay efficient and effective at Team IIP? Well, it boils down to two things. First, transparency. While each of us is of course expected to own our work projects, we regularly sync through Asana and Twist and, of course, all of the other tech platforms. But we've tried to be digital minimalists in that sense. So we’re really trying to focus on a few. We also have a shared calendar where we document our time on, our time off, when we need focus time. And when we have availability for live co-working if we are looking to try and break up the day to day and work with one another. For our clients who are in different parts of the world. We give them time ranges and available dates well in advance to help us sync schedules and deliver time-sensitive work.
The second thing I think that's in our wheelhouse is trust-building. So, every Monday we have our “business calls,” where we set our intentions and our goals for the week ahead and try and sync on what's to do, what we have to carry over, what the goals of the quarter are. While every Friday we have our weekly wrap-up calls where we look back on the week that was. We share what went well. We share a lesson that we've learned that week. And what we're doing for our mental health and recharging ourselves that weekend. One of our team members has actually called our Friday calls something like a family-building call. And I'd have to agree! Team rituals like these are a big part of creating psychological safety on our remote team. Because we know that when one of us is feeling down, we have a safety net with one another to share what we need and where we'll be whenever we're ready. Knowing how to take care of one another, create rituals and routines and align on our responsibilities is critical to keeping our team running. And it's invaluable for helping our clients support their teams too. So if you'd like to book a call with Team IIP before we close our client roster for 2022, head to the link in the show notes to get in touch with myself or someone from our team.
Now we've already developed long standing partnerships with the likes of Red Hat, Headspace and Instagram, and we'd love to see if we're a fit for your needs. This year, we can discuss with you on our call how our IIP framework can help you to increase talent retention by prioritizing inclusion, wellness and support for remote workers across your organization. So you can reach out to us at the link in the show notes. Or if you're not looking at those, email us at email@example.com to book a call and learn how we could partner with you this year.
So we're continuing with our theme this season discussing workplace wellness on the podcast. And today's topic is one our team is often discussing both for ourselves and, of course, for our client partners. Yeah, we're talking all about boundaries. Because as we shared in Episode IIP083, the lines between work, life, professional and personal are becoming pretty hard to distinguish. And it's because everything seems like it's urgent. Everything feels like it's competing for our attention, whether it's caring for our children, our partners, our pets or parents, answering that email from our team member or that slack from our boss, or following group chat notifications just to stay connected to our loved ones, almost all of our work interactions and many of our non-work interactions these days are through our screens.
As I've shared in previous episodes, I've been a remote worker for almost a decade, and a remote business owner for almost as long. So I have had practice at minimizing my screen time, making sure I get some of that Madrid sunshine outside at least once a day, and letting people know when I'm available as far in advance as possible. In short, I've learned to set and reset boundaries to protect my own mental health, to then be able to pour into the people who depend on me. And I've been fortunate to find team members and client partners over the years who have respected that. I'm far from perfect at it,don't get me wrong! I love me a good Netflix binge or Wikipedia rabbit hole as much as the next person. And if you haven't been on one of those in a while, look up… I don't know, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, it'll send you off for an hour. But boundaries have been helpful in my attempt to create balance in my professional and personal life which, being a remote business owner and entrepreneur, overlap very often. So while I'm grateful that I've already had some of these systems in place, nothing could have prepared me for the last two and a half years. Could anybody have been prepared for this? I don’t think so.
I've also had enough conversations with colleagues and client partners to know that boundary setting is something that we all struggle with. So what exactly are boundaries? And why are they important? As Brené Brown says, a boundary is simply what's okay and what's not okay. According to her, setting clear boundaries is a form of self-care, because it ensures that you're saying yes and no to the appropriate things. This is also helpful because it sets in place clear results or clear paths forward when that boundary isn't respected. Specifically in her decades of research into shame, vulnerability and resilience Brené Brown and her team have found that the most effective compassionate people are the ones who set the clearest boundaries for themselves and with others. Now, there are many benefits from setting strong boundaries. Take it from me. But boundary-setting requires a high level of self-awareness because it helps you understand your needs, your limits. It helps you develop healthy self-esteem and in the process respect for yourself and for others. Boundaries also help you become unequivocally aware when your boundaries have been overstepped and give you the confidence to act and assert yourself when you feel your limits have been ignored. They're also helpful in identifying when you need help from others, as well as identifying how you can show up for others when they need you to support them. Ultimately, clear boundaries help you build a happy, rewarding life that matches your values.
So how does boundary setting apply to the workplace? Well, according to a 2016 research paper by Ellen Ernst Kossek of Purdue University, effectively managing work-life boundaries can reduce role conflict and enhance the well-being of employees of teams and organizations. Her research paper goes further to say that it reduces stress, it prevents burnout, and enhances mental and physical health. Kossek found that one of the main culprits of blurred work-life boundaries is our constant use of technology. Laptops, tablets, smartphones, and, of course, social media. She went further to say that these changes have not only made work more portable, diffusing into more hours of the day, but also made it easier to work during personal time and space, such as while commuting, when in third places, including restaurants, and during vacations. Now, against the backdrop of the pandemic workplaces we're facing today, Kossek’s findings from 2016 are even more important to highlight because remote or hybrid work can work well when it's done intentionally. At its best, it gives employees the flexibility to contribute to their organizations from a place of well-being and strength.
Everyone is given the freedom to manage their own time. But, often in the absence of clear guidelines and boundaries (yes, there's that word again), it's all too easy for us to fill up that free time with what we know, which is work. Which, as we also know, is a one-way ticket to burnout and a quality of life for each of us that's out of alignment with our values and our ability to contribute as our best selves in every aspect of our lives.
So with this in mind, for today's episode, we're going to look at five ways to create work-life balance in a virtual workplace.
First, we're going to look at the importance of defining and communicating working hours. Now everyone has had a vastly different experience while working from home or transitioning into hybrid work as the case may be, over the last two and a half years. We already know that employees have had very different experiences of working remotely, depending on things like: how long they've been at the company, whether or not they met their colleagues before the pandemic and had those relationships beforehand, and what each person's role is. We also know that where people have lived, their gender, abilities, race, age, background, living situation, marital status, dependents or caregiving duties, cultural norms, geographic location - all of these things had an effect on people's ability to engage effectively with their job.
Even individuals with similar contexts have different experiences working at the same company. So with so many variables, the only thing that we can say we've learned for sure is this; You, and you alone are the expert in your schedule, and your priorities. When you're not in the office, the only way for your managers and colleagues to know when you are and aren't available is by telling them. So I know that sounds overly simplistic, but hear me out: this is what boundary-setting looks like in action. Setting boundaries doesn't mean that you're putting up a wall, or that you need to act defensive whenever somebody wants to talk to you, like you're a human firewall, whatever that looks like. Boundaries, as you just learned, are ultimately about respect. They allow you and others to respect your time and your energy which is limited, which ultimately benefits your well being, your effectiveness at your role, and helps you set clear expectations for others at work. Boundaries depend on you having the wherewithal to know yourself and your own limits, and not push beyond them unnecessarily.
You and I may not be able to control all the things that land in our inbox every day, but we can be proactive about prioritizing and protecting our own time. It all starts with just reviewing your own calendar, just look at the last week, pull it up in front of you. And the same way that you have all of that time blocked off every week for those meetings and those project deadlines, now go back through and do the same for your non-screen time. Maybe it's your daily walk, or time with your kids or your pets or loved ones. Block off spaces in your calendar for you to get your focused work done. And then make that clear to your colleagues that you're using that time to move forward on your pending projects. Oh, and of course, lunch. Always, always block off time for lunch. When it comes to defining, communicating your work hours, involving your team is crucial. Because as we said already, your managers and co-workers won't know your boundaries unless you're communicating with them. And goodness knows we have enough tools to do that now! So if you want to start setting a strong and healthy work-life boundary in your virtual workplace, you need to make sure that you and your team are all on the same page.
So, for example, you could move away from meetings for every task by utilizing more asynchronous methods of communication such as a shared internal wiki document or using a tool like Loom, which is a Team IIP favorite, to record videos of you where other colleagues can leave questions and comments below the video as they watch you speak or show your screen. This could be a valuable exercise in general to do with your team that requires collaboration from everyone. But it's crucial, especially if you're trying to set strong and healthy work-life boundaries for yourself, and encourage that in one another. In fact, an exercise like the one that I've just outlined for you is one of the first things that we do with client partners, who are looking to manage the remote teams more inclusively and effectively. We start by reviewing everyone's day-to-day schedules, establishing a team policy that understands each individual's different work styles, strategies, situations and personalities, and finalizing a shared team agreement document that supports flexible work and psychological safety. Because we're not only establishing work-life boundaries, we're also creating a culture of trust for this team. It allows everyone to know what each person needs to do their job effectively, including focus time, time off, and how to support one another, which leads me to our second point on today's episode. Creating a culture where time off is okay, and leading by example.
Now, I've mentioned psychological safety a couple times now. And it's not just about how to support people when they're in crisis or on the edge of burnout. It's fundamental to creating a culture of trust in our everyday [life]. Let's put it this way; Imagine you are a primary caregiver for a neurodivergent child, who's the only parent on your team. Or imagine you're going through menopause, when everyone else on your team is ten years younger than you. Or imagine you're an immigrant who's relocated from your home country during the pandemic, but who's struggling with your mental health from being isolated from people that you love, and unable to form a community because you don't speak the local language yet, but you're the only immigrant on your team. Not only is it hard for your team members to relate to your lived experiences, you feel like the odd one out who has to hide what you're going through to keep looking like you're meeting everyone else's expectations and performing well at your job. These are real examples of people that we've spoken to or engaged with in our client work. So imagine for a moment what someone on your team that you think you know well might be struggling with behind the scenes, based on some of the stories that you've heard.
Listen, we can all acknowledge the last few years have been hard on everyone. The silver lining to all of this is we now have a shared baseline to have these conversations on our teams about the importance of time off, and how we can actually create structures and systems to make that possible. So on your remote team, it could look like asking what are everyone's non-work responsibilities and priorities, which is a neutral way to ask what everyone's individual situation looks like, that allows each team member to disclose on their terms. You could also ask, what are everyone's work responsibilities today? Is there anything that we can do to prioritize knowledge sharing over the next few weeks, so that if someone does need to take time off, they know they have someone to handle their tasks when they go? Or if it's a busy season, and taking time off from work just isn't in the cards for anyone, and yeah, there are those times. You could ask your team, what can we do on a daily or a weekly basis to make sure that we're respecting each other's recharge time, discussing things like ending meetings five to tenminutes early instead of at the top of the hour, or encouraging daily walk and talk calls with your colleagues, or setting up a shared calendar for people to highlight their focused work time and available time for collaboration, as we've shared we do here internally on Team IIP.
These are just some ideas. But a little goes a long way in creating that culture where everyone's desire for time off is respected and honored. And hopefully, as a result of doing this exercise, fostering a culture of empathy, trust and therefore better collaboration on your team too, with these boundaries in place.
The third way to create work-life boundaries in a virtual workplace is establishing consistent communication processes. We already discussed this topic a little bit in Episode IIP081: How to Spot Signs of Burnout in a Remote Team Before it Happens. And in Episode IIP083: Are We All Suffering from ADHD in a Remote World?. So if you haven't checked those out already, please do so as soon as you finish listening to this episode. But today I wanted to highlight the importance of helping technology work with and for your team in setting the boundaries that we're discussing today.
Here's what I mean: Is your team encouraged right now to completely sign off when working hours are over? Are you encouraging one another to fully disconnect when you need to, instead of always feeling like you're all on call 24/7? Since many of us have downloaded work applications like Slack or Zoom or Teams on our personal phones, are you adapting your applications to support people disconnecting from work? With the help of things like away messages, or silencing notifications, or marking your daily Do Not Disturb hours. It's a very powerful, transparent way for managers and fellow team members to know that you're unavailable or engaged in focus work, without having to give explanations to everyone for the time that you don't seem to be, quote unquote, online or, quote unquote, connected. I'm doing that air quotes thing again. I’m forgetting you can't see me while I'm recording this. What can I say? I talk with my hands! anyway. So for me, for example, as an Android user…yes, I'm an Android user, come at me… I use Bixby routines on my phone. So that during my work hours, my phone blocks applications that would distract me until my lunchtime, where I check my non-work apps for news from loved ones, and just checking in on any non-work priorities that I might have missed.
As a team, we use Twist, which allows you to silence your notifications on both your desktop and your phone during the hours or days that you're not connected. We also use that shared calendar I keep mentioning - see where I'm going with this? - to see when people are available in case we need to reach one another for something that is time-sensitive. Now, this is very important for us as a remote team that spans APAC, EMEA and the Americas, because that's a lot of time zones! But back to you. If you're like many people we’re speaking to these days, technology has made it possible to work remotely, to work more flexibly, and, of course, with more time and location freedom than ever before. That's powerful. But we also know that there's a potential for a lot of anxiety too. For example, when we are taking much needed time away from work, it's all too easy for our co-workers or our manager to try and phone us when they need us for something, because we think, well, it's the easiest channel to reach them and this is work, so it's important, they're just on holiday. How many of us had had this happen to us? How many of us have been guilty of doing this ourselves? Or consider how, because of technology, we're moving our different communication styles, our languages and our cultural paradigms to an online environment that normally tends to follow the majority dynamic.
In the absence of, say, a face-to-face or a live phone call, text and tone are impossible to detect accurately. And for those whom the majority group language is not their mother tongue, email and chat is even more stressful. (I can tell you, for me, as a non-native Spanish speaker, I am really missing being able to read people's lips. Because that is such a huge help for me as somebody who didn't grow up speaking the language. But, I digress.) On top of your day-to-day tasks, those who are working in a remote environment are not always sure how we're expected to act or interact or behave while working with people from different backgrounds or with different cultural lenses, especially if we've never actually met before, which could then undermine our ability to do our jobs effectively. So having a clear understanding of what, say, a project management task tool like Trello is for, or a brainstorm channel like Slack or Teams is for, or a live free-for-all dialogue through Gchat could be for, would be helpful to alleviate some of the anxiety, especially for those who have either neurodiverse needs or maybe different linguistic or cultural paradigms. Having clarity that would allow every team member to know what each channel of communication was for and how it supported their role and responsibility, how to set up their technology to set their own boundaries for each channel of communication and know that they and their fellow team members will respect each channels purpose would make a huge difference in supporting team productivity and setting healthy boundaries in a virtual workplace.
Now, boundary-setting is key to workplace wellness and supporting each individual's mental health while working remotely. And it's one of the many topics that we teach and discuss through our signature Pause to Progress workshop: an interactive virtual experience designed to empower teams to learn the importance of boundary setting in a remote environment, to find and sustain their own self-care practices, to support their wellness and resilience at work, and foster an open discussion about what's necessary for teams to look out for each other before burnout hits. Now, every workshop experience we've had is different because it really depends on the diverse participants and experiences that are present. But in past editions, we've discussed things like how to support Black employees and actionable allyship ideas at work, how to foster intergroup solidarity between different employee resource groups, how to help Asian colleagues through rising violence during the pandemic, to non-virtual ways that teams can support colleagues who are caregivers. Sometimes, all you need to do is create a container for that “zoom out” moment with your team. A reset, if you will, to help check in with one another and reset those boundaries and expectations. And it's one of the ways that the team and I at Inclusion in Progress are here to help you. So if you'd like to learn more about how to book a Pause to Progress workshop to help you foster inclusion for your remote team members, head to the link in the show notes to get in touch with our team, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Before we close our calendar for the rest of the year, we'd love to share how we could partner with you to foster inclusion for your team or organization through a workshop like this one.
Now the fourth way to create work-life boundaries in a virtual workplace is looking at how to record standard operating procedures or SOPs, and delegating work on our teams to make remote work more effective. As we've learned so far today, boundaries help create trust. And trust is built in micro-moments over time, through consistency. But all of us are human, which means that we're bound to forget commitments, or misplace things that might be important to someone, to be disappointed or frustrated or tired ourselves, to disappoint others unintentionally, or simply change our minds about something, which is bound to rub up against someone else's expectations on our team.
So where we as humans may fall short, even with our best intentions, this is where having systems to hold us accountable will help us stay consistent collectively. And a big part of this accountability is operationalizing processes and procedures that guide our teams forward. Now, one thing that we've regularly encouraged clients to do is to decide and stick to one master project management tool such as Asana, or Trello, or Basecamp, or whatever their organization uses. One click and you know what everyone's doing at a given moment, without having to chase people down, which helps managers and team members redistribute labor if need be, depending on what's ahead for the week. This also helps people who may be returning from their time off, or maybe they're at home struggling to stay focused because of a non-work situation out of their control. This helps them easily zoom out to view where the team is and what their responsibilities for that day ahead are. Now the good thing about project management platforms like these is that you can set up automatic weekly reports. And your team can read through these reports once a week or every couple of weeks to check in on progress and prepare everyone for the weeks to come. Which saves everyone the stress of constantly having to check in with one another to ask, “What's the status of this?”. And if you're a manager listening to this episode, you can tie those weekly outcomes to your quarterly OKRs or performance metrics for the year to help you during the annual review process. So having tools like these can help move conversations from a “Hey, where is this thing, I can't find it?”, to, “Okay, I saw this on our tool and just wanted to confirm that blah, blah, blah, am I understanding that right?”, which also lessens the likelihood that your team will be bothering you in your off or after work hours. And when one of you needs to step away from work for an emergency or for just some much needed downtime, having those SOPs and tasks in one place helps spread the load among team members who cover for you when you need it.
Which leads me to our fifth way to create work-life boundaries, fostering a collaborative environment where everyone is accountable for the team's tasks. Now based on our conversations and facilitations for global teams over the last few years, I know this is easier said than done. And, because every individual situation is different, every team that we've helped is also very different. So we're going to approach this from a slightly different angle. How do we move this idea of productivity - what we do as the individual - to the collective we? Yes, ultimately each individual is going to be responsible for their tasks, they're going to be responsible for the completion of those tasks, and they will be rated on their individual performance at work based off of those things. On top of that, the individual's ability to get their task done depends not just on what they do when they're focused, but also on being able to innovate and iterate in the company of others. It's what I call that “swivel in the chair moment” where you turn to your co-worker in the office and say, “Could you just take a quick look at this? I'd love another perspective.” And these moments are definitely being missed. We saw this while preparing our 2021 whitepaper on the Future of Work Culture.
The biggest desire for remote teams was the opportunity to collaborate or cross-pollinate with colleagues from other departments, which would normally just happen in a physical office environment. This really spoke to us about the need for human-to-human collaboration and the desire to relieve the pressure that people are feeling when they have to perform all of their tasks on their own, without the benefit of a colleague to bounce ideas off of. So rather than continuing to put the onus on individuals to show how productive they are, a helpful reframe for our teams is this: how can we intentionally create opportunities for team members to have space to think, to ideate, and to work through challenges together, or in the company of others? Which will ultimately benefit the individual's performance and the team as a whole. Now that companies are considering a hybrid working model, it would help to look at ways that you can foster a collaborative environment that encourages productivity both in office and remotely.
Now, towards the end of 2021, hundreds of researchers from Microsoft, from LinkedIn and GitHub, came together to form the largest research initiative in Microsoft's history, which is now called “The New Future of Work”, which we'll be sure to link to in the show notes of the episode. The research there pointed to a clear need for us to create a new definition of productivity that considers this hybrid paradox. One that not only factors in how much people get done, but also how they actually work when that boundary between work and home no longer exists. They landed on a more expansive view of productivity to make hybrid work more effective, and highlighted the importance of counting things like well-being, collaboration, and innovation, as the keys for teams at Microsoft to be truly productive. Things like making the measurement of productivity completely independent of how long somebody has worked. Every employee, according to them, should be measured not based on how many hours or screen time or days worked, but based on the quality of their output - something we've talked about on the podcast before - or allowing employees to assess themselves on their productivity, as each individual knows their work and non-work situations more intimately than they're often willing or able to share with their team members. Or measuring productivity through tasks accomplished, and the effective communication on the statuses of these tasks. Because no matter how many ways we consult or guide remote teams on how to use technology, or set up team agreements with one another, there's nothing quite like the ability to bounce ideas off each other without the added pressure of a deadline, or a long to do list, or a million notifications on your screen, which we know from experience can happen effectively, both in person and remotely.
Not only does this kind of collaborative time foster a sense of camaraderie, it also distributes the accountability and the task load when more people are engaged in that project at hand. And if you need to tap out for whatever reason, you can trust that there are more than enough people to pick up the baton, carry on the conversation, and keep your team going until you return.
So there you have it! Those werefive ways that you can set clear work-life boundaries in a virtual work environment, and the ideas that you can take to your teams to help support your collective well-being. Though today’s episode is inspired by the employees that we’ve had the honor of engaging with over the last few years, the conversation today is especially important for leaders and middle managers who, as we know, are navigating multiple team members' states of mental, emotional and psychological health in the workplace at one time. As we’ve learned over the last few years, no man, no woman or anyone in between, is an island. Our individual well being affects how we do our jobs, but our well being is reinforced and strengthened by those around us. Giving employees more flexibility in both where and when they work, we know, improves the employee experience for everyone. But for it to really, truly rely on creating collective well-being, it will also require constant iteration, innovation and implementation as we navigate these waters of change.
Thankfully, we can say from our vantage point that Team IIP is seeing more people managers, and employees alike, willing and open to ask for what they need, sharing what they’d like to see more of in our future of work. And it’s this kind of dialogue that will help support our teams to want to stay, to unlock their potential without sacrificing their humanity, or ours, in the process. Now, with teams spanning more locations and lived experiences, identities and cultures than before, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, and at Inclusion in Progress one of our specialties as a fully remote team, spanning countries and cultures, is how we’ve learned to embrace nuance and humility in pursuit of consensus across differences and new ways to respond to challenges in front of us. So, we don’t model how to avoid conflict. We won’t give you a guidebook for what to say and what not to say. Rather, we focus on empowering you as an individual to address setting healthy boundaries together with your team, leading to company cultures that foster inclusion and sustained growth. If you’d like to learn more about how we can work together, including through things like our signature Pause To Progress workshop, head to the link in the show notes to get in touch with our team today. As you know, we’ve developed long standing partnerships with the likes of Red Hat, Headspace and Instagram, and we’d love to discuss how our framework can help your team or organization. So you can head to the link in the show notes or email us at email@example.com to book a call and discuss how we can partner with you. As always, if you like the episode please share it with other leaders and changemakers who’d benefit from a more inclusive world. Thank you so much for listening, and we’ll see you next time on Inclusion in Progress!