Virtual Teams

Why it’s a terrible idea to limit out of hours emails

There was a BBC article last week on a proposal to ban out of hours emails, I’ve also joined a couple of discussions on this on LinkedIn and with clients so it seems to be a live debate.

As you probably know it’s already illegal in France to send emails outside of normal office hours and some companies are starting to put automatic systems in place to reject or delete emails outside of core hours.

We have a lot of discussions with our participants around work life balance and run a webinar around developing sustainable WFH habits, but actually one of the things that people seem to value most when they work remotely is the chance to decide for themselves on the level of integration of work and life and when that balance should occur. The right pattern depends a lot on personal circumstances.

Research is showing that during lockdowns indeed many people logged on earlier and logged out later from their company email service than before, but it also shows they had periods of inactivity during the day where they were taking care of other commitments.

This is exactly the point of flexible working, we should be able to flex our working hours around our own commitments and preferences, not what some legislator thinks it’s important

If I prefer to take a break at 3 when my kids get back from school to take them swimming and work a couple of hours later in the evening to catch up, isn’t that my choice and a privilege?

By preventing me from sending emails or responding to questions at my own convenience you are reducing my flexibility and inhibiting my work life balance, not improving it.

Of course, there are organizations where this is endemic and bosses who abuse people’s free time, but let’s not force the whole of the world into an inflexible pattern just because of a few idiots.

Organisations should certainly set an expectation that individuals are not expected to respond in their free time, good leaders who find that people are responding to non-urgent issues should have a discussion to reset expectations.

However, this is very different from preventing them from working outside a time slot that’s been mandated by the organization, or even worse by the government.

You do not get more flexibility by adding more rules. Anyway, if you are a bad boss and you can’t send emails you will just pick up the phone.

There is an additional challenge if you manage international teams or operations. I have people on the West Coast and there is no 9-to-5 overlap with UK. I may choose to shift my day to work into the evening with clients in the Americas or early in the morning with people from Asia. I don’t see how anyone else can mandate my work pattern, I may choose this and prefer to have time off during the day or even take a days holiday from time to time to catch up.

I appreciate it can be hard for some individuals to manage this but the solution is not to have rigid rules that deny flexibility to other people, it’s to give people the skills and the expectation to push back.

Are there other areas of your working life where you would prefer the government to decide rather than having flexibility? 😊

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