Tips to Manage Accessibility and Responsiveness at Work

From the extremes of Millennial/Gen-Z #hustle culture to the pending “Right to Disconnect” legislation in New York City, we continue to grapple with how to set better boundaries around, and within, our jobs. 

Clocks and walls no longer tell us where work ends, and the other parts of life begin. Back in the day, we didn’t need to be intentional about communicating how, when, and where we worked. Being in the office nine-to-five, Monday-Friday, was the general rule-of-thumb most followed. Not anymore.  Now, it’s potentially 24/7, work anytime and anywhere. 

That’s why employees, teams, and supervisors need to master a new set of skills and tools that support the ongoing clarification of expectations related to accessibility and responsiveness. The solution isn’t one-size-fits-all. It will vary by circumstance and person. 

Here are three get-started tips that can help colleagues, clients, and others connect while carving out space for focused work and managing personal well-being. 

Go Beyond the Typical “Out of the Office” Auto-Reply

We have so many ways to communicate—email, instant message, text, mobile phone, Slack notifications, etc.  Let’s start with email since, according to our research, it remains the primary communication tool for the majority of full-time employees. 

Most people consistently set an auto-reply message when they are out of the office (OOO). That autoresponder usually includes information about when the person will return and who to contact for a more rapid response. But, this typical “OOO” doesn’t adequately convey the more nuanced information required to manage accessibility expectations in a flexible work culture. 

Consider more specific, instructive email auto-replies such as: 

  • “Working Remotely – I will respond to your message as soon as I can. Please call or text me at 333-333-3333 if you require more immediate assistance.” The need for this type of auto-response depends upon your work environment. In practice, working remotely should make no difference in how or when you respond making this auto-reply unnecessary. However, if people still don’t quite get that remote working means you are working, it limits some of the possible doubt that can slip in when you aren’t in the office and don’t respond immediately. 
  • “Focused Working – I am working but only checking email periodically. I can be reached by mobile or text 333-333-3333. Otherwise, I will respond as soon as I can.”
  • “Traveling – I am traveling and will not be reachable until ‘X’. I will respond as soon as I can. Please contact _____ for more immediate assistance.” Yes, you are out of the office, but you are working so expect a reply when you are accessible again. 
  • “PTO – I will be out of the office on PTO (you don’t need to say sick or on vacation) and will respond when I get back to the office. Please contact______ for more immediate assistance.” You are not in the office, and you are not available. That doesn’t mean you aren’t checking messages, but you’ve set a clear expectation you are not going to reply. This is an important boundary if you are truly going to disconnect when you are on vacation or are sick, which, according to a recent New York Times article is a challenge. 

Here’s an example of a creative “OOO” response from a New York Magazine feature on Krista Tippett, the host of the popular NPR radio show/podcast On Being, “When you email Tippett, you get an auto-reply that says, ‘I’m in year two of my vow to forsake hurry as a way to move through my days.’ She tends to reply the same day, regardless.” As the leader, Tippett can use whatever auto-reply message she wants (I’m curious what other members of her staff do); however, it gets the point across that, while she is still reviewing messages, the response may not be immediate.

Need some help composing more nuanced and informative email auto-replies? You can find inspiration from the Slack app’s varied status options:

Check in frequently and recalibrate

During an accessibility and responsiveness exercise we facilitated with a team, an employee asked, “If I choose to bring a company laptop home to catch up on work, am I expected to respond to a customer email that I receive after hours?” The answer from the group was “Yes, sometimes you do.” In this group’s particular business and for this exempt worker, sometimes there are projects and issues that require work outside of the traditional business day. In those cases, yes, you would have to respond after hours. But when those projects are completed and it’s back to business as usual, then no.

The choice comes down to professional judgment; however, sometimes it’s difficult for employees to know when they can or must modify their level of accessibility and responsiveness. Leaders should check in and make sure their boundaries match the task at hand.  

The biggest mistake I see leaders make is they think, “Oh, they know.” Assume they don’t and check-in, especially when you notice levels of after-hours communications that aren’t required to get the job done effectively. For those who think it’s more convenient to send or respond to non-urgent work-related communications in the morning, at night or on the weekends, encourage the use of the “Send Later” function in email or make it clear you don’t expect a response to anything not marked “urgent/priority.”

Don’t make immediate response the standard 

Try this thought experiment. Imagine the people you work with are in the office together, at the same time, every day. Are you able to immediately find and get a response from everyone when you reach out? No, you’re not. People are in meetings. They go to the bathroom. They go to lunch. They run an errand. It’s the same when people work flexibly. 

But for some reason, there’s a tendency to make anything less than an immediate response, all the time, a sign of trouble or even abuse. Not only is that unrealistic, but it undermines the trust and shared accountability that is the foundation of flexible work team success.   

For peace of mind that you can reach someone right away if necessary, we encourage teams to create a snapshot of everyone’s mobile phone numbers. One client took it a step further and encouraged everyone to screenshot the grid and keep it on their phones for easy access in one place. 

These are a few basic steps that a team can follow to set better boundaries. By clarifying expectations related to accessibility and responsiveness, you minimize misunderstandings, doubts, stress, and burnout. Jobs in today’s flexible work culture will get done effectively no matter how, when or where people are doing them.

What are some of the ways you and your colleagues set boundaries around, and within, your work? How do you clarify when you can be reached and how rapidly you will respond?

Click HERE to be added to the Flex Strategy Group Newsletter and receive periodic updates and insights from Cali Williams Yost.

 


Why Work+Life Fit vs. Balance: One Person’s Spot On Perspective

It’s one thing for me to passionately extol the virtues of shifting from work-life “balance” to work+life “fit.”  It’s quite another for someone else to explain why it makes a difference for them.

During a recent Knowledge@Wharton interview on SiriusXM, Morra Aarons-Mele, author of Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Guide to Getting Out There When You’d Really Rather Stay Home, was asked “What most people call work/life balance, you call work/life fit. Explain the difference for us.”  Here’s what she said:

“The term was coined by a mentor of mine, Cali Yost, [CEO and founder of Flex Strategy Group]. I love it because, first of all, work/life balance is a lie. Anyone can tell you that. I don’t like work/life balance for two other reasons. The first is that I think it’s become totally twinned with parenthood and being a working mom, and that is not good for anyone. There are a lot of people who don’t have kids at home and who really crave a life. Let’s be honest: It’s not about having kids.

The other thing is that we want to work in a way that suits us, like we just talked about. You’re on, and then you’re off for a little while. That’s your work-life fit. I have friends, clients, my husband, who love to work all the time. I don’t judge them. That’s their work-life fit. I really love my work, but I need to work in a space that I can control.

I am no good at showing up at an office for 10 hours a day and sitting in an open-plan cubicle. That’s not my thing. I’m bad at it. But give me control over my time and space, and I’m amazing. I think fit is about what works for you, with compromise at the edges, and becoming the best person you can be in your career. It’s so much healthier than balance.”

Spot on, Morra! And thank you for the shout out. 😉

Click HERE to be added to the Flex Strategy Group Newsletter and receive periodic updates and insights from Cali Williams Yost.


Jeff Bezos is Right about Work-Life Balance, But…

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

“Word! Halleluiah! Amen!” That was my reaction when I heard Jeff Bezos dropped an important truth bomb we all needed to hear—“work-life balance” IS indeed a debilitating phrase.

Not necessarily because there is a strict trade-off as Bezos implied, but because balance does not exist! This is an argument I’ve been making for more than 15 years. There is no such thing as balance. For most, balance infers the goal is a 50-50 split between work and the rest of our lives which rarely, if ever, happens. As a result, balance becomes the Holy Grail we never get and leaves us always thinking we need more balance. No, we don’t. We need to fit work and life together in a way that allows us to be our best on and off the job.

Bezos is right. “If I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy and if I am happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy.” But where Bezos and I differ is on how to achieve this state of professional and personal well-being.

For Bezos, the answer is a “mesh” between work and life or work-life “harmony.” Work and life are completely integrated into one whole. Work and life are one and the same. But for many, this “integration” is the problem.

What they seek, and what they need, are better boundaries around work and life. More clarity around expectations of accessibility and responsiveness. Less “mesh.”

While Bezos may call his fit a complete “mesh,” even he describes how he sets boundaries and limits his accessibility by “eating with his family, takes a limited number of meetings and sets aside time for tasks such as washing his own dishes.” That’s something we all need to do. We need to encourage employees and colleagues to take control and find their work+life fit (my preferred term) based upon their ever-changing unique realities.

Whether we use fit, balance, harmony, integration or some other term to describe the important goal of intentionally managing work and life, we need to do the following:

  1. Explore the myriad of possibilities for the way work and life can fit together in today’s increasingly flexible workplaces.
  2. Recognize each of us has a completely different set of work and life realities at any given time. No two people are the same.
  3. Reaffirm there is no “right” way to manage work and life; therefore, a one size fits all policy won’t work and we can’t compare ourselves to others.
  4. Integration demands boundaries.
  5. Whatever term we use, remember it’s a verb, not a noun. We have to actively manage how work and life fit together and understand that fit is always changing. Sometimes there’s more work and less life. Sometimes vis versa.

Props, high fives and kudos to Bezos for reinforcing an important truth—there is no such thing as work-life balance—and for being a voice and a champion on this issue rather than leaving it to Human Resources to manage, as so many do.

If more CEOs and business leaders want employees that “come into the office and give everyone a kick in their step,” then we need to make it a strategic priority to help colleagues find and leverage the flexibility inherent in today’s workplaces.

(Check out my LinkedIn Learning course, Finding Work+Life Fit, for an introduction to work+life fit “how-to” basics.)

Click HERE to be added to the Flex Strategy Group Newsletter and receive periodic updates and insights from Cali Williams Yost.


Why I Banished the Phrase “Work-Life Balance”

If you’ve ever set the daunting goal of work-life “balance,” you know it doesn’t exist. It’s not achievable, so working toward it feels exhausting.

I realized that the “B” word wasn’t helpful almost 20 years ago, when I was talking to a senior leader in a large bank. I was trying to convince him he needed to give his people more “balance.” I pulled out all of my research and data. Finally, he stopped me and said, “Every time you say ‘balance,’ all I hear is ‘work less.’ We have so much work to get done, and I can’t agree to any policy that’s going to lead to less work.”

A lightbulb went off for me. I needed to start talking about “fit” — how everyone has a unique work+life fit that allows them to get their jobs done and manage life in a way that works for them. “Fit” allows for personalization, creativity and innovation. It isn’t one-size-fits-all. It helps us move toward a space of potential and possibility that’s exciting.

I recently talked to entrepreneur Morra Aarons-Mele on her Forbes.com podcast “Hiding in the Bathroom,” about what work+life fit means for each of us and how teams can create a flexible culture that works for everyone. Listen to the full podcast below, or keep reading for highlights from our conversation.

Why We Need to De-Gender, De-Parent and De-Age the Flexibility Conversation

Say it with me: Work+life fit is not a mommy issue. Unfortunately, the conversation about work, life and flexibility has become all about moms, but it’s not. We all need to know how to intentionally fit our work and life together, to be our best on and off the job. So when we just talk about moms and women, we’re missing out on a huge opportunity to help everyone leverage whatever work flexibility they need to be productive and happy.

Flexibility in the way we work today isn’t about women, it isn’t about parents, and it isn’t just for millennials. I’m thankful that millennials have made flexibility a cultural norm inside organizations, but work+life fit is about everyone — including those valuable, experienced Baby Boomers who might consider sticking around to help with project work instead of retiring if they have the flexibility they’re looking for.

What We Can Learn from Work+Life Fit Naturals

When I was researching my book “Tweak It,” I discovered that a small percentage of people (10-15 percent) are, what I call, work+life fit naturals. They seem, from the outside, to fit all of the parts of their life together without breaking a sweat. I figured their secrets must be very complicated (since I was not, I’ll admit, a work+life fit natural), or we’d all be doing it. But it’s actually pretty simple, and it’s more “intentional” than “natural”.

Here are the steps you can follow to think and behave like a “natural”:

  • Sit down at least once a week and think about the small, meaningful priorities you need to get done at work and in your personal life over the next seven days. Look at what habits (like exercise) and what moments (an important training and your kid’s science fair) you want to fit in.
  • Create a combined calendar where you can see all of those different priorities in one view and schedule your “tweaks” for the week.
  • Consider what resources you’ll need to make your work+life fit tweaks a reality. What flexibility do you need in how, when or where you work? What tools or technology do you need to set up? Who do you need to communicate and collaborate with to make sure everything flows seamlessly? If your flexibility (like coming in late to work on Tuesday or working from home on Friday) will affect someone else, let them know about it so that you can plan together.
  • Will it all happen as perfectly as you plan? Probably not. Things come up. Regardless, at the end of the week, celebrate your success. Work+life fit naturals don’t focus on the goals they didn’t quite reach or the hanging tasks that didn’t get finished. They celebrate the little victories, since they know that doing 60% of what you intentionally planned is better than 0%.

Even though our research shows that 97% of full-time U.S. workers say they have some degree of work+life flexibility and one-third already do most of their work from a remote location — not on their employer’s site — many workers still think “nah, I can’t work differently.” I’ve heard from many, many managers who were shocked when employees quit instead of asking to work remotely or rethink their schedule. My advice: Put together a thoughtful plan. Consider how being flexible in the way you do your job could help you remain productive, manage your life and stick around. If you’re a good performer, you’re going to be even better if you have greater flexibility and control, and managers know that.

I’d love to hear from you. How do you fit work and life together? What tweaks help you be your best, on and off the job? If you’ve joined me in banishing “balance,” what advice do you have for others?


WNYC w/ Manoush Zomorodi: Realities of Achieving Work/Life Balance

Yesterday, I appeared on WNYC with host Manoush Zomorodi, New America’s Anne-Marie Slaughter, and writer Kashana Cauley to discuss work, life and flexibility from multiple perspectives.

The segment is part of a series that I highly recommend called “Taking the Lead” which is currently airing on Zomorodi’s regular WNYC podcast, Note to Self. The series follows the journey of two female entrepreneurs, who are also mothers, as they develop and try to get funding for a new app, Need/Done.

Highlights from yesterday’s Leonard Lopate Show segment include:

1) Why we need to reframe the entire “work and life” discussion/debate from “balance” to work+life “fit” and caregiving, and from an issue for mothers to something we ALL need to manage today.

2) Why the challenges of managing work and life are the same but also different for higher income, white collar workers versus lower income, part-time (not by choice) and shift workers.

3) Public policy changes such as paid leave and child care supports are critical to all caregivers, but employers and individuals can also take steps that will be mutually beneficial.


NYTimes Mag Gets It Right–“Work-Life” a Top Business Trend

This past Sunday, The New York Times Magazine ran a special “Work” issue. One of the articles, “Rethinking the Work-Life Equation” , explained why “creating a more flexible office is about much more than policies. It’s about changing the entire culture.”

We’re honored that the article featured our research and the innovative flexible work culture initiatives of two of our clients, BDO USA and CECP.

But, what really matters is that The New York Times got it right: “Work-Life” is a top business trend.

In fact, “WorkLife–Rethinking the office for an always-on economy” headlined the front page of the print version of the magazine (please note all of the fantastic images shared below were created by James Graham for The New York Times).  This alone is huge.

NYTimes 1

 

But then, in the table of contents, the article in which our work is mentioned–“Rethinking the Work-Life Equation (online title) or “Parent Companies” (in print title)–sits smack dab in the middle of the other key trends covered in the issue.  This placement at the center of “what Google learned about teams,” “the post-cubicle office,” “diversity in the workplace” and “failure to eat lunch” is symbolically appropriate. All of these trends inter-relate and influence how we flexibly fit work and life together to be our best, on and off the job.

NYTimes 2

Next, there are the two pages that kick off the issue.  The first page is a perfect description of today’s complex, flexible work+life fit reality we now need to manage.

NYTimes 3

And the second page simply says it all, clearly and concisely…Work-Life.

NYTimes 4

 

Finally, the graphic that accompanies the “Rethinking the Work-Life Equation” article is one of the best visual depictions of the uniqueness and fluidity of each person’s work+life fit I’ve seen.

NYtimes5

 

Hopefully, the message and symbolic position throughout the entire issue will FINALLY shift flexibility and work+life fit from the category of, “perk, benefit, policy,” where it doesn’t belong, to “strategic business imperative,” where it should be.

I also hope that organizations will be inspired to devote attention and resources required to develop a work culture that is both high performing and flexible. That’s the cultural combination that will attract and retain top talent, increase productivity and improve employee work+life fit.

Many thanks to The New York Times Magazine.  Work, life and flexibility are indeed the future of work.

Let’s stay connected!  I invite you to sign up to receive our monthly newsletter and connect with me on Twitter @caliyost and Facebook.


What I Learned in 2015

I am an early riser. No matter when I go to bed, I am usually awake by 6:00 am at the latest. That is not the case for the rest of my family.

Each New Year’s Day, I get up at the crack of dawn, make a cup of coffee, and sit in the peace and quiet with my journal while they sleep. I read what I wrote the last few years on January 1st. Then I reflect upon the previous twelve months—what I’ve learned and what I am thankful for—and think about goals for the coming year.

As I wish all of you happy holidays, I thought I’d give you a preview of some of the lessons learned that will make my list for 2015. There were many, but these three stick out as particularly important:

  • Work can provide comfort in difficult times. This past year, my father underwent treatment for metastasized prostate cancer. Thankfully, his recent scans show the cancer is in complete remission but the journey to get there was scary and difficult. During this time, my work provided comfort. I found peace in the mastery of tasks that I love, renewed energy from helping others, and a welcomed break from the worry. As we fit work and life together, it’s important to remember to focus on the good things we get from work and not just on the “overwhelm.”
  • You don’t have to wait for the perfect moment to make a change. I loved all our projects this year, but one stands out. It was remarkable because the senior leaders of a team said, “let’s give this new flexibility strategy a shot, even though it’s our busiest time of year and we aren’t meeting our deadlines.” Their risk was rewarded. At the end of the six-week pilot, not only had the group met their deadlines, but their core metric of utilization had never been higher. Too often we wait for the perfect moment before we try something new. Working with this terrific team reaffirmed that sometimes you just have to say, “let’s do it.”
  • The workplace is already flexible. Now, we need to put infrastructure and strategy around it. At the beginning of 2015, I decided to stop engaging in the same old, tired flexibility conversation we’d been having for the last two decades. It’s not about whether or not to offer a formal flexible work policy to your employees. Why? Because flexibility in how, when and where people work already exists (see our most recent survey)! Investments in technology, workspace redesign, and employee expectations have embedded some degree of flexibility in the workplace by default. Now, we have to help people, teams and managers use that work flexibility with deliberate intention.

Finally, because “find a better balance” will be on the top of many New Year’s resolution lists, I thought I’d re-share a couple of my most popular “how to” posts:

I’d love to hear the lessons you learned in 2015 and any tips you have for finding your work+life “fit” (not “balance”) in 2016. Let’s connect on Twitter and Facebook!

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The Simple Calendar Strategy to Achieve Work-Life Balance in 2015 (That Most of Us Don’t Do!)

(Article originally appeared in TIME.com)

For many of us, another new year means another new calendar; however, if you’re like a majority of all U.S. full-time workers, you’ll start several new calendars or have no calendar at all. This could be one reason why your work-life balance New Year’s resolution usually fails.

As part of our most recent survey of full-time U.S. workers conducted by global research firm ORC International, we found that more than half (53%) of all respondents said they either keep separate calendars/priority lists for work and personal events/tasks (36%) or don’t use any calendar or priority list at all (17%). Forty-seven percent of respondents said they keep one, combined calendar/priority list that tracks all their work and personal events/tasks in a single view.

That simple single calendar approach may be one of the keys to work and life success. For more than a decade we’ve studied the secrets of a group we call the work+life fit “naturals,” those unique individuals who seem to intuitively understand how to fit work and life together in a way that allows them to be their best on and off the job. Almost all of them keep one combined calendar/priority list that clearly shows what they are trying to accomplish, daily and weekly, both at work and in their personal life.

By displaying both their work and personal to-dos together, the naturals shift from “reactive overwhelm” to “deliberate intention.” As the line between our jobs and our personal lives continues to blur, a combined calendar and priority list helps the naturals reestablish solid boundaries around what they need and want to get done. It also forces them to prioritize and to think about the best way to accomplish the activity or task entered.

For example, when a natural receives a request from a colleague to start a meeting at 1 p.m., but had planned to take a 30-minute lunch walk at the same time, the combined calendar forces a pause and a moment of conscious choice. The natural can either accept the meeting and walk earlier or choose not to walk at all. Or he or she can ask if the meeting could start 30 minutes later.

Setting up a combined calendar/priority list is simple. Platforms like Gmail, iCalendar, and Outlook allow you to view your work and personal calendars together, and adjust privacy settings to limit which entries can be seen by whom.

Some naturals note entries as specific as “call mother to check in,” “order groceries,” or “review 401K,” while others simply block out periods of time knowing clearly what they want to accomplish without writing it down. The point is the boundary has been established with deliberate intention, which increases the likelihood that what matters will actually happen.

When it comes to calendars and priority lists, and finally breaking the cycle of “balance” resolution failure, apply that old saying “less is more.” Just one calendar may be the key to increased professional success and personal well-being in 2015.  How many calendars do you keep?

I invite you to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost and on Facebook.  

 


Gen-Y: “Promote Yourself” to Get the Work Flexibility and “Balance” You Desire

Trust me, my corporate clients recognize that Gen-Y/Millennials place a high premium on work-life “balance” and flexibility in the when, where and how they do their jobs.  

What those same corporate clients don’t 100% trust is that their under 30 year old employees understand that the secret to “balance” and greater flexibility is…performance and results.

In other words, if you consistently deliver and “do what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it,” fewer people are going to stand in your way if you want to work from home one day or shift your hours (assuming it makes sense for your job).

But how do you achieve that optimal level of performance and deliver those results in today’s workplace so that, in turn, you can achieve your goals, on and off the job?

In every generation, there will always be people who don’t want to make the effort.  But my experience has been that most millennials are willing to work hard.  They just need someone to lay out what that looks like in action, because the secrets to success that worked for their 50 year old boss, aren’t necessarily going to work for them.

Dan Schawbel’s new book, “Promote Yourself,” is a great place to start.  It offers an honest roadmap, like his “14 rules of the new workplace that millennials need to master“:

  1. Your job description is just the beginning.
  2. Your job is temporary.
  3. You’re going to need a lot of skills you probably don’t have right now.
  4. Your reputation is the single greatest asset you have.
  5. Your personal life is now public.
  6. You need to build a positive presence in new media.
  7. You’ll need to work with people from different generations.
  8. Your boss’s career comes first.
  9. The one with the most connections wins.
  10. Remember the rule of one.
  11. You are the future.
  12. Entrepreneurship is for everyone, not just business owners.
  13. Hours are out, accomplishments are in.
  14. Your career is in your hands, not your employer’s.
Millennials, if you follow these steps, you are much more likely to hear “let’s give that flexibility you want a try,” rather than the often unfair and misguided “you just don’t want to work hard.
To learn more about Dan Schawbel and “Promote Yourself”

FMLA Turns 20: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

This morning, when I appeared on the CoHealth Checkup Radio Show to discuss “Resolving Work vs. Life Conflict,” hosts Fran Melmed and Carol Harnett asked me what I thought about the Federal Medical Leave Act (FMLA) turing 20 years old.

My response covered the good, the bad and the ugly:

The Good of FMLA

Yes, since FMLA was implemented, workers have used it 100 million times to care for loved ones and themselves without fear of losing their job. And the dire predictions that businesses would collapse under its weight did not materialize. This should be celebrated.

The Bad of FMLA

Unfortunately, many Americans are not able to take advantage of the time off and protections offered under FMLA. Because it is unpaid leave, it can be too costly.  And, businesses with fewer than 50 employees are exempt, which means that tens of millions are ineligible.

The Ugly

While there is nothing “ugly” about FMLA itself, the caregiving demands we are going to face over the coming decades will be daunting for many, especially responsibilities related to eldercare. Yesterday, I appeared on Huffington Post Live to discuss the looming “The Eldercare Cliff,” and it was clear from the experts interviewed that things are bad now, but they are going to get much worse. The unpaid, limited support under FMLA will be inadequate for many, many families.

Where do we need to go?

Cheer the success of FMLA over the last two decades, but view it as a start, not an end. Use the Act’s success as a springboard to the next step which is paid leave that covers more workers. We desperately need it now, and will need it even more in the not too distant future.

What do you think?

For more, I invite you to: