For many people, workplace flexibility began long before the pandemic, but it has increased significantly in the past few years. These days, normal working hours are whatever works best for you and your team. With flexible hours making it possible to work—or not work—at any hour of the day or night, it can be difficult to determine a good time to connect with colleagues.
This uncertainty can make many people reluctant to pick up the phone to call a coworker. Since many people also use their personal cell phones for business, the person you want to connect with could be working at home or enjoying a day off at Disneyland. In addition, videoconferencing has become the default mode for spoken communication but often requires several emails or texts to arrive at a mutually convenient time and platform.
So how can you make connecting with colleagues easier?
Determine requirements. Consider the type of information you need to obtain or confer, then use the communication method that is most appropriate. Do you need to schedule a videoconference to accomplish your goal, or would a phone call work just as well? Unless you need to share screens, you may be able to just pick up the phone. How many times have you been in a meeting and thought, this could have been an email?
Share your schedule. If what works best for you is working from 7:00 a.m. to noon and 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., or not being in the office at all on Fridays, inform your fellow team members. Others will know when you are not available and adjust their expectations accordingly.
Balance your flexibility. If you know you’re going to be unavailable at a certain time on a regular basis, make sure it does not conflict with any standing meetings. And be especially responsive when you are available. If you’re going to be out on a Wednesday afternoon, check in with your team members in the morning to see that they have what they need from you before you go offline.
Give grace to others. Just because you work unusual hours, don’t expect everyone else to do the same. Your direct reports may feel pressured to respond quickly to your requests—even when they are sent outside “normal” office hours. You can help avoid this situation by not responding to messages outside your regular working hours. You can also add an explicit line to your email signature that discourages an immediate response. For example, “At [company], we work flexibly. I’m sending this email at a time that is convenient for me, but I do not expect you to read, respond to, or act on this message outside your usual working hours.” Find a version that matches your personal style.
In this new normal, as you figure out what works for you, make sure you communicate it to your colleagues, and you will arrive at a solution that lets everyone work—and play—effectively.
Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first issue of every month in C&EN. Send your comments and ideas for topics for future columns to firstname.lastname@example.org.