This week, I found myself awake at 2:00 a.m. in a hotel room somewhere in the Midwest, on assignment.

Unable to fall back asleep, I got up, and decided to knock out some follow-up communications that I had either run out of time to complete earlier in the day or was just needing to get ahead of.

I sent my first email to a team member, not stopping to reflect on how they might react to getting this message in the wee hours of their day.  Was I subconsciously virtue signaling? Or was it that I was simply being an oblivious jerk coworker, creating unnecessary stress and signaling an unreasonable expectation, to myself and those I work with, that it’s important to always be on and working?

There is no better editor than the send button to help you realize that you’ve made a mistake.

Of course, what I naturally should have done is schedule my non-critical work communications to be sent during normal work hours. Hindsight is 20-20.

Because it is a drop-dead simple thing to do. Every leading email client can schedule sending messages, but it takes your intentional intervention to stop, reflect, and be present enough to gauge the importance and criticality of what you’re sending out into the world – whether it’s indeed a crisis or simply something that can wait until tomorrow. Or Monday.

Your staff experience the receiving end of these messages in an entirely different headspace from which you are sending them. A thoughtless, after-hours missive from you becomes an outsized stressor and boundary-crosser for the staff member. They might wonder if they need to respond immediately. Or if they’re expected to be always on and available.

Stop doing this. Please. Schedule non-critical communications for normal work hours. Your signal-to-noise ratio in your communications will skyrocket, while the mental health of your colleagues, staff, and you will get a much-needed boost.

Not to bury the lede, but in the New Now, we must be smarter and more intentional in the care and, dare I say it, nurturing of healthy work boundaries. The example above is the very least we can do in the service of that goal.

Because transformative leadership in higher education is not a process of osmosis – it is an intentional, conscious, day-to-day practice of setting clear goals, clear expectations, and clear boundaries. Our practice must serve what we preach.

How can we structurally support clear and healthy work boundaries for our teams, and design that effort to make our staff happier, engaged, and professionally progressive?

Let’s look at a concrete example.

I work with several IT teams across a broad spectrum of colleges and universities, public and private. One of my highest functioning IT teams is also one of my smallest.

Here’s how and why:

Half the team serve as primary familial caregivers outside of work. Most of the team are also seeking either graduate degrees or professional certifications, which the school subsidizes or finances outright. To say they have a lot going on is an understatement.

Even so, that doesn’t mean that their personal goals must suffer, or their loved ones go uncared for, or that the institution’s work goes undone.

What it does mean is that we must approach the work from a perspective of measuring outcomes, rather than outputs, to provide balance and to respect boundaries.

Individually, this team is given leadership responsibility to deliver one or more projects, with clear expectations of delivery and performance. They are given the latitude to prioritize family or school obligations as needed with those goals in mind. Emphasis is not placed on hours-per-day behind the keyboard, but by the success of their given projects. Again, outcomes, not outputs.

This has important co-benefits of creating professional development opportunities, inculcating staff engagement as a feature, and creating practical leadership in situ.

We purposefully promote and structure the team to support one another’s roles. For, without this, such small teams have zero chance of remaining sustainable nor resilient. One absence can’t be allowed to tank the entire mission. Everyone must contribute equitably and collectively.

As a result, the team has become more cohesive, more collaborative, and more productive, without sacrificing self nor service.

We’ve spent years building the infrastructure to accommodate remote work. Our leadership and management methods must adapt accordingly to recruit and retain the very best and the very brightest.

Our call to action is simple: today’s teams demand clear work-life boundaries, workplace policies that recognize, support, and respect evolved staff perspectives of their relationships to the workplace, and management practice that walks the walk.

This commitment to change must be seen and not simply heard. We must proactively structure work to demonstrate our respect and support of staff challenges in their personal lives, and how what happens outside the office affects what happens in the workplace.

We must be clear, to be kind.

In our next post in this series, I’ll explore team building in the virtual sphere, and navigating acculturalization, interpersonal relationships, and authenticity in the New Now. 

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By: David Hinson

David Hinson is the Apogee Campus Chief Information Officer[...]

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