don’t contact me please (well not all the time) 🙊
5 tips on managing emails and texts
We are back on the subject of emails and texts — out of hours, the onslaught of comms and so on. Thank you for your suggestions and responses to my piece last week.
Saw this fun tweet on the subject and thought you’d like it too:
So, as promised, here’s my thoughts on what we can do to practically help each other whether we are a boss, or an employee.
1. The level of immediacy 🏎
Firstly, if you prefer periods of non-communication, there are a few things you can do, even if you don’t work regular hours.
Do you need emails on your phone? If they are on your phone (mine are) do you need the notifications on? (Mine aren’t, for anything). This is something where we can take some agency over the amount that we are contactable, just by choosing to leave our emails on the laptop or desktop. This creates a level of distance between the communication when you are out of office (and even when you are in the office — emails don’t need to be responded to immediately — I am learning this!)
What about thinking about adding something to your sign off so that people know your available hours, and this reduces their expectation of when they may hear back, or you could explain that you choose to check your emails on x, y, z only and so you will get back to them after that. We can create a boundary here so that the do it now culture that we have got so caught up in is resisted. Most things can wait a bit.
If you’re the sender, you could consider using an email scheduler if you have that facility. This is something I absolutely intend to use more often. I don’t need brownie points for working long hours, so, I can just set my email scheduler to send them at an appropriate moment.
Final point here — there is also a very big difference between sending an information-only email out of hours one Monday night that your staff are copied into, to sending an email expecting a response or action on someone’s annual leave — this is absolutely NOT OK.
2. The level of relationship 🧬
The bare facts of it are, that when your relationship with your team and boss is healthy, it is likely that you have had healthy conversations about this. Learning together about what works, and what doesn’t. What is too much, what feels ok, what causes your colleague to feel overwhelmed, pressured, and what is understandable. Note: vague messages like “we need to talk at 8am on Monday” sent on Friday night are never okay, especially without context.
My meeting (on that occasion) ended up being something of nothing, but I definitely worried about it all weekend, in the back of my mind. This is not okay. But, when we build relationship, these things are way less likely to happen. My team know that I work irregular hours, they also know that unless I say — this is urgent, sorry — I am just doing my job and not expecting them to do theirs. I could definitely do better here, and will use scheduler much more than I have done. Relationship is key. It saddened me that so who responded to my post clearly have relationships that are unhealthy and even toxic with their leaders.
If you’re reading this and you’re the boss/ team leader — why not use this as an opportunity to chat and see what’s working, what could be done better, and what we may be communicating, accidentally or unintentionally, by our ways of working. Build your relationships and learn about your team.
3. The nature of the communication 💭
This, for me, is really important! No comms outside of hours, for any reason at all, could limit some of the following:
“Hi, I’m so sorry but I have tested positive tonight for Covid-19”
“I’m being rushed to hospital”
“Is it Christmas jumper day tomorrow?”
“You did an excellent job today in your presentation, well done!”
“Anyone watching the last episode of Line of Duty tonight?”
These are just a few, there are many more reasons why texting is important, I believe. Feedback on how well someone has done through text is actually rather special. I do a lot of speaking engagements, and often, in the evening, the chairman will text me to thank me. Is this a problem? For me, no. It is a boost, it is an encouragement that I appreciate, and it’s always nice to get it just a few hours later.
4. Balls will get dropped 🤹♀️
Sometimes, we forget to do things. Employees do, colleagues do. There are legitimate panic moments when something is important (something that is genuinely important, or an emergency, even) takes place out of hours. I know there are moments when I have totally forgotten to do something and I need to get it done, right then, or there will be consequences. And, there are times when people in my teams have done the same, and I have got them out of the situation by helping them! That’s the nature of team. Picking up the occasional dropped ball and learning from why it happened. Again, I hope you know that I am talking about the odd occasion, not a knee-jerking, reactive way of getting things done.
5. You need to know yourself 🧘♀️
We need to think about who we are, and what we need. Knowing your CliftonStrengths, for example, will give you an indication to how you handle boundaries, workload, people pleasing, how flexible, or inflexible you are.
If you are very boundaried: put things in place to give you the boundaries that you need, talk to your boss about this, set expectations, recognising that you may need to flex occasionally.
If you are very un-boundaried: again, put things in place to rein this in, tell your boss you are likely to be too available, explain that you work with an ‘always on’ approach, and recognise that there will be times that this may be taken advantage of you, and you will need to pull it back into check.
Also — if you are on the more anxious side, it is important that you explain to your boss that what might be seen as a very neutral out of hours email may come across as an immediate responder to you. You may need to be extra careful, and up front with your boss about what comms works best for you.
We are aiming, aren’t we, for a realistic, manageable, fulfilling, happy medium. Not always on, not always off. When work is based on relationships, we know that we will sometimes be given the time and space to do what we need to do (go to that assembly, have the afternoon to do the orthodontist trip, respond to an urgent home situation) and that, we can learn to give and take in that way as we build equity, sometimes responding to crises and pressures outside of our exact working pattern. This is NOT the same as saying “I let you go to that assembly and now you owe me everything”. It is merely recognising that healthy adult relationships are built on trust and equity.
So, that was a long one. Your thoughts were so helpful in guiding this. If anything has been provoked by this article, or if your initial reaction to the original news article was quite strong, maybe have a think about why. Is there a conversation that you need to have? Or a boundary that you need to put in place to gain some equilibrium?
As always, I love to hear your thoughts on this — you can use me as a sounding board 😀
Have a super day,
P.S. I’m starting a new Instagram live story feature – where I am going to pull questions from a hat (on anything) and give unprepared responses! Laura is going to manage this feature, so if you email email@example.com we will add your question to the hat!