Maintaining Work-Life Boundaries Is More Important Than Ever. Here’s How These 7 Professionals Do It.

Janey Zitomer
October 27, 2020
Upwork
Upwork

We all know someone who has taken a total of five paid time off days in the last year. While dedication certainly pays off, burnout is real — especially as many tech professionals adjust to working from home for the first time.  

At the following companies, managers help their direct reports reduce stress by encouraging them to actually use vacation days, even if it’s to spend an entire day sitting on the couch. 

“No one will respect the boundaries that you set until you do.” Devin Hauser, senior vice president, delivery at The Marketing Store, said. 

To make the days spent working increasingly productive and enjoyable, leadership at the customer engagement agency and across Chicago have carved out time for virtual team bonding and provided stipends for employees to make their home offices feel that much homier. And it’s paid off. 

“As long as the proper expectations are set, we understand that employees taking some time to themselves can ultimately set them up to do their best work,” Evive Senior Account Manager Christopher Ross said. 

 

Kelsi Rohrmann
Employee Enablement Professional

Monitors and headphones aren’t the only items that can make remote employees feel like their office environment is comfortable and functional. Employee Enablement Professional Kelsi Rohrmann says that’s why the stipend Upwork offers all team members extends to houseplants and decorative items. And she and her peers should know — Upwork prides itself on making remote work accessible and safe. 

 

What examples do you set as a leader to ensure employees feel empowered to create and uphold healthy work-life boundaries?

For remote work to work successfully, communication is key. We strongly encourage employees to set working hours on Google Calendar and adhere to them, as well as block off time when they are taking care of family responsibilities, focusing on heads-down work or even just taking a lunch break. It’s important to be transparent with your team and manager about your availability. And in turn, we expect our employees to respect others’ schedules.

Companywide, we have implemented what we call Customer Wednesdays. Every Wednesday, there should be no internal meetings, allowing time for our employees to focus on customer-facing work or heads-down time for our non-customer facing teams. 

 

Say a remote employee came to you and said they were feeling burned out or overworked. How do you address the situation? 

The first step to addressing employee burnout is to be proactive versus reactive. We encourage our managers to do this in a couple of ways. First, we ask them to review team PTO quarterly to see if people haven’t been utilizing our unlimited PTO benefit. Second, we ask them to check in with team members on a personal level at the start of one-on-ones, support them in taking time off and help them identify other team members who might have the bandwidth to step in. Last but not least, we ask managers to lead by example and take PTO themselves.

For employees in need of balance, we help them prioritize their mental and physical health by working with them to identify which tasks and projects are a priority and what can wait. We also encourage them to utilize the Upwork platform to find remote professionals to help with project work and ease the feeling of taking on too much.
 

What are some specific perks or benefits your company offers remote workers to ensure they have the resources they need to be successful working remotely? 

We offer each employee an equipment stipend to be able to purchase anything they may need for their home office, from monitors and headphones to houseplants and decorative items. For those who wish to work outside of the home, employees can take advantage of a co-working space benefit. 

Other benefits include access to ModernHealth, a mental health platform for employees and their dependents, as well as wellness, cell phone and internet reimbursements. 

 

As Braviant Holdings CTO Bob Sides sees it, his job is to ensure his team meets deadlines and achieves results. Consequently, he’s much less concerned with hours logged than work accomplished. This summer, to encourage work-life balance, the company gave employees Summer Fridays. On the tech team, that incentive has since transformed into engineers blocking off a significant chunk of time for research and development at the end of the week. 

 

What examples do you set as a leader to ensure remote employees feel empowered to create and uphold healthy work-life boundaries?

When we transitioned to a remote environment, it became important for the leadership team to ensure our employees have a healthy work-life balance. On the tech team, we have implemented a Slack channel for our team members to give everyone a heads up when they log off in order to create a sense of boundary between work and life. 

As a result, I have used this opportunity to stop sending people Slack messages after hours, even if I preface it that they don’t have to answer until the next day. Similarly, I have encouraged people to take time off periodically or take care of personal things throughout the day as needed. Because, ultimately, it’s about meeting deadlines and achieving results –– not hours logged. When a team member works a considerable number of overtime hours during the week or the team reaches a milestone, I make sure to reward them with additional time off. I think that has been well received and has shown our commitment to maintaining a work-life boundary in a continued remote environment. 

 

Say a remote employee came to you and said they were feeling burned out or overworked. How do you address the situation? 

When a remote employee has come to me saying that they feel burned out or overworked, the first thing I do is to ask them to take a day off to disconnect from work and take care of themselves. Then, I schedule a follow-up meeting where we take a look at the root of the problem and try to understand what is causing them to feel stressed. 

In many situations, we have been able to reprioritize work to make it more manageable for employees who take on more than what’s sustainable. In other situations, it takes breaking down big projects into smaller milestones for the employee to feel like the work is manageable. 

 

What are some specific perks or benefits your company offers remote workers to ensure they have the resources they need to be successful working remotely? 

Early in the summer, we rolled out Summer Fridays. Employees were encouraged to log off early on Fridays to enjoy the outdoors. Since that has been quite a hit, we have now transitioned to Fall for Tech Fridays. Employees are encouraged to log off early on Friday and spend the time researching and learning a new tech topic of choice. Since our team is driven by learning new things, this has been a popular perk as well. 

 

At Vail Systems, Technical Lead Geoff Miller understands the importance of practicing what he preaches. With that in mind, he encourages frequent breaks throughout the day and makes himself present to chat with peers and direct reports who choose to take them. Miller said once the pandemic started, because his team is highly communicative, the transition to a fully remote work schedule had minimal impact on productivity. 
 

What examples do you set as a leader to ensure remote employees feel empowered to create and uphold healthy work-life boundaries?

I made sure to allocate between 30 and 60 minutes per day for lunch with my most recent group of summer interns. Breaks were optional, but by making a clear point to take them myself, I encouraged them to do the same.

In the days prior to social distancing and remote work, lunch and commuter schedules provided clear lines between work and down time. Now that we’re all working from home, each individual has to set boundaries and enforce those lines themselves. That’s why I believe in leading by example to show them Vail encourages a healthy work-life balance.

 

Say a remote employee came to you and said they were feeling burned out or overworked. How do you address the situation? 

Communication is key. I would choose a direct method of communication like a phone call or video chat versus an email or instant message. I would ask about what’s stressing them out and offer solutions tailored to the root of the stress without necessarily saying they should do less work. 

Instead, I would provide them with helpful organizational and time management resources and connections to others on the team who can help them out with specific project tasks, and discuss the overall topic as an opportunity for change.

 

What are some specific perks or benefits your company offers remote workers to ensure they have the resources they need to be successful working remotely? 

A lot of the remote work perks Vail provides were already in place pre-COVID-19. We have always been productive and efficient while working from home. This is even truer now. I would liken it to flipping a switch, as the transition to a fully remote work schedule had minimal impact on productivity.

Vail also offered to reimburse expenses for home office equipment at the beginning of the pandemic. We continue to offer this benefit to employees who have started recently.

 

Amanda Knor
Fraud Ops Senior Lead

Fraud Ops Senior Lead Amanda Knor makes sure to utilize all available Enova resources and encourages her team to do so as well. She is a member of the analytics culture committee and a board member of their newest DEI initiative: a network called [email protected], a group for new or existing parents to find support and learn to juggle the many responsibilities that come with life as a working parent.
 

What examples do you set as a leader to ensure remote employees feel empowered to create and uphold healthy work-life boundaries?

While most one-on-ones are intended for work-related content, I also use this time to check in on my team personally. It’s important to me that they know I value them, their dedication and their hard work, but I also care about them as people. I remind them it’s important to have balance and take care of yourself. 

I’ve found that by me opening up about my own struggles and how I’m feeling, whether it be with juggling the kids and work or just feeling drained, it helps them feel more comfortable opening up to me about what’s going on in their lives. I also let them know the various ways I’ve found balance, such as blocking off specific time in my calendar to ensure I’m giving myself time to focus on projects without attending meetings.

 

Say a remote employee came to you and said they were feeling burned out or overworked. How do you address the situation?

I always begin by listening with an empathetic ear. I often acknowledge that feeling burned out is unfortunately normal in these types of situations but also let them know that together we can figure out a way to bounce back and keep the stress at bay in the future. 

Ultimately, the most important step I take is to help them identify the root causes and how they can proactively prevent it going forward. Do they need help with scheduling their time or blocking time on their calendars to work? Do they need to schedule a PTO day to rest and recharge? My role as a leader is to help my team members figure out methods to maintain a healthy balance.

 

What are some specific perks or benefits your company offers remote workers to ensure they have the resources they need to be successful working remotely? 

Enova’s leadership understands that team members have e-learners at home or may need to take care of an ill family member during this time. They’ve been very flexible, allowing team members to adjust their schedules as necessary. 

Teams are encouraged to host virtual happy hours. Some departments have played virtual Scattergories, bingo, scavenger hunts, trivia games, Jeopardy and even hosted surprise virtual baby showers. The analytics culture committee is hosting virtual activities like yoga sessions, a book club, a virtual Pictionary night, cross-team online lunches and weekly video challenges. 

These activities have kept everyone close, even while working remotely. We’ve also had the opportunity to create conversations around social justice and how we can be more inclusive at work and in life, an important initiative of Enova’s diversity and inclusion council. Enova’s activities have matured and evolved over time to foster a sense of belonging, encouraging team members to bring the best version of ourselves to work, whether in the office or remote. 

 

Christopher Ross
Senior Account Manager

Senior Account Manager Christopher Ross doesn’t fault any of his direct reports for taking some time to themselves throughout the workday. In fact, he encourages it, knowing how significantly a mid-afternoon walk can increase productivity. At healthtech company Evive, leadership has been offering employees access to virtual workout classes and Doordash gift cards for remote lunches. 
 

What examples do you set as a leader to ensure remote employees feel empowered to create and uphold healthy work-life boundaries?

With everyone working remotely for the better half of a year now, maintaining work-life boundaries has become more important than ever. I’ve always believed keeping a healthy work-life balance is essential to workplace productivity and happiness. To help empower our team to uphold healthy boundaries, Evive has implemented virtual team lunches, happy hours and trivia sessions. 

Life isn’t always about the grind. If employees want to take a stroll between meetings to clear their mind and enjoy the sunshine, then great! As long as the proper expectations are set, we understand that employees taking some time to themselves can ultimately set them up to do their best work, so we are happy to encourage that flexibility.
 

Say a remote employee came to you and said they were feeling burned out or overworked. How do you address the situation? 

Workplace burnout is very real, and something we take seriously. One of our mottos around the office is “Evive cares.” I try to bring that to life with team members. To proactively address burnout, I typically ask if there is anything I can do as a manager to help lighten the team member’s workload. Next, I encourage taking a mental health day or two to help provide some time to decompress. From there, we may take a look at our processes to try and determine if there are any improvements we can make organizationally to help team members achieve better balance. 

 

What are some specific perks or benefits your company offers remote workers to ensure they have the resources they need to be successful working remotely? 

Evive does a great job ensuring remote workers are set up for success. We recently completed our REvive Physical Fitness and Wellness month, where we offered one virtual workout class per week to ensure everyone was able to relieve some stress and focus on being active. 

Additionally, we have a quarterly stipend that team members can use toward fitness classes, at-home workout supplies and so on, which helps encourage a healthy mindset. We’ve also had several all-company virtual lunches where Evive has provided DoorDash gift cards so everyone can pick the lunch of their choice while catching up with co-workers. It’s gone a long way in providing a similar sense of camaraderie and togetherness despite the current situation. 

 

Amanda Ruzin
SVP of experience design

Since the beginning of COVID-19, a few people on Amanda Ruzin’s team have come to her feeling stressed. The SVP of experience design at Bounteous said the first thing she does in a situation like this is listen to their concerns about their workload. Next, she is often able to help them manage their responsibilities and encourage them to take the time they need to focus on priorities outside of work. 

 

What examples do you set as a leader to ensure remote employees feel empowered to create and uphold healthy work-life boundaries?

Now that I’m a 100 percent remote worker, I’ve found that I’ve needed to make changes to my approach to working from home. Before, I used to just sit on my couch with my laptop. But now I’ve set up a small but dedicated workspace in my living room. Not only is it better for ergonomic reasons; it also allows me to intentionally sit down to work and step away. 

I also block time during the day and set reminders to make sure that I am able to do things like eat lunch or stand up between meetings. With everyone being proactive about protecting their time, it can occasionally be challenging to find common times to get people together to meet. It’s important to be able to be flexible where you can be but also be clear when you can’t be.

Lastly, I’ve made a point to take some time off to recharge and encourage my team to do the same. Just because we’re not able to go hiking in Peru or get comfortable sitting poolside in Las Vegas doesn’t mean that we don’t need time away from the computer.

 

Say a remote employee came to you and said they were feeling burned out or overworked. How do you address the situation? 

This is not a hypothetical question! Since the beginning of COVID-19, a few people have been very burned out. The most important thing a leader can do in that moment is to be present, listen and seek to understand what is going on. You can’t jump to immediate solutions if you don’t know what the problem is. The root causes might be completely external to the employee’s job.

At that point, I’ll work with the individual to put a plan together. Everyone is different. Some people have simply needed to feel like they were being heard, whereas other people really needed extra help right away. Once you have a plan in place, it’s important to continue to check in on the individual to make sure they’re getting the support they need or whether anything has changed.

 

What are some specific perks or benefits your company offers remote workers to ensure they have the resources they need to be successful working remotely? 

Bounteous has really stepped up to the challenge of providing resources to a suddenly remote workforce. We were already comfortable with collaborating with distributed teams, but there was a concerted effort to find out what else people needed. We were given a series of surveys that focused on getting people such items while we were getting used to working remotely, figuring out how employees wanted to be supported and checking in on folks as everything continued to evolve.

Our “take what you need” PTO policy has been great for employees who have needed to temporarily scale down hours or take time off. Most importantly, the culture of Bounteous is about the people who we surround ourselves with, even remotely. I definitely miss seeing my co-workers in person. But I appreciate that the personal connections are still there during our one-on-ones, our virtual coffee hours and trivia.

 

Devin Hauser 
Senior Vice President, Delivery

An inability to travel doesn’t mean that you can’t — or shouldn’t — take paid time off. This is a lesson that The Marketing Store’s Devin Hauser works to instill in her team. The senior vice president of delivery said she encourages others to take vacation time by taking it herself. 

Hauser has also found the company’s new, bi-monthly stipend helpful, explaining that it acknowledges the expenses involved in creating a productive home office. Employees are able to use this stipend however best suits their needs, whether it’s purchasing a new desk chair or covering the cost of Wi-Fi each month. 
 

What examples do you set as a leader to ensure remote employees feel empowered to create and uphold healthy work-life boundaries?

Admittedly, some of our people feel they need to be available for work all the time. Simultaneously, they feel they must be available for their children or family members at any hour. These conflicting priorities sometimes create feelings of obligation and can make work-life balance tricky. Boundaries are the key. 

No one will respect the boundaries that you set until you do. If you need a free hour at a specific time, my stance is always to let your team know and then take that time. As soon as you set that boundary and adhere to it, your teammates will also be respectful. I’m careful to model this same behavior to make sure I’ve set a clear precedent.

I also encourage folks on my team to schedule blocks on their calendars to eat lunch, take a walk or simply decompress for a few. 

 

Say a remote employee came to you and said they were feeling burned out or overworked. How do you address the situation? 

When someone comes to me expressing concerns around burnout, I ask them when they last took a day off. If it’s been a while (and sometimes even if it hasn’t), I encourage them to schedule time off as soon as they can. It’s so tempting to not take time when you can’t travel. But sometimes the best thing for productivity, focus and excellence at the digital office is to turn your brain off and get away from your screen for a bit. 

As a leader, I believe taking days off and being disconnected is an important part of setting a good example. I make sure my team knows that it’s OK to take the day away — even if they’re just jet-setting to the couch for a Netflix binge — by doing that myself. 

 

What are some specific perks or benefits your company offers remote workers to ensure they have the resources they need to be successful working remotely? 

This year, to offset employees spending increasingly more time online amidst the pandemic, we added more companywide days off to better ward off potential burnout. May through September, we also maintain “sunshine hours.” We encourage employees to take four hours off each week to enjoy the warm weather or to schedule some down time on whatever day works best for them. 

We’ve also been vocal about encouraging our teams to work from anywhere. Grounded in trusting our people to act in the best interests of our business, this flexible work policy gives employees the option to safely social distance and visit family for longer periods of time while still delivering on their usual commitments.  

Keeping employees happy, healthy and engaged while working remotely has also led us to take on new wellness initiatives. With a growing sense of isolation, anxiety and stress, we knew we needed to step up our mental health offerings. So we debuted mindfulness and meditation programming at no cost to our team.

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