Time Isn’t a Renewable Resource. Here’s How 4 Managers Protect Their Teams’ Days

For managers looking to prevent burnout and promote healthy work-life balance, helping a team set boundaries is key. Built In Chicago heard from four local leaders about how they’re supporting their teams.

Written by Brigid Hogan
Published on Jun. 30, 2023
Time Isn’t a Renewable Resource. Here’s How 4 Managers Protect Their Teams’ Days
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Burnout is more than just a buzzword — for many, it’s the reality of working through a pandemic, an uncertain economy and the fast-paced change of daily life.

And the source isn’t a mystery. According to The Burnout Epidemic by Jennifer Moss, the reasons are clear — the feeling of always needing to be available and responsive, inequitable treatment, overwhelming workload, micromanagement and lack of supportive relationships in the workplace.

As the conversation around the causes and effects of burnout continues, workplaces are prioritizing practices and tools that keep teams connected, focused and engaged. One crucial element to successfully preventing burnout is through clear boundaries supported by management that protect a team’s time, energy, and resources, especially in a remote work environment when those lines can become especially blurred.

Without the clear demarcation between work and home once set by a commute, COO of Vouch Rukmini Banerjee has found that building mindfulness around time and resources provides a new vocabulary for respecting each other’s boundaries.

“When individuals have a clear understanding of their own limits and those of their colleagues, it fosters a culture of mutual respect and consideration,” Banerjee expressed. “This shared language enables team members to communicate their needs effectively and establish healthy work-life boundaries.”

Banerjee isn’t alone in believing that clear practices and intentional tools can support healthy boundaries and prevent burnout for her team. Built In Chicago heard from Banerjee and leaders from Accelerated Digital Media, Intelligent Medical Objects and Zoro about how they protect employees’ time to free up the resources they need to do work that moves individuals and the companies ahead.


 

Rukmini Banerjee

Vouch is a next-generation insurance provider for technology start-ups. 

 

When it comes to leading a remote team, what are some of your best practices for ensuring you protect your team members’ time?

To ensure the protection of my remote team’s time, I implement a few key practices that prioritize efficient communication, enhance productivity and foster effective collaboration within our remote work environment.

First, we conduct well-organized weekly team meetings, using clear agendas to communicate important updates from leadership and provide a platform for team discussions and decisions. For individual meetings, such as one-on-ones, we follow detailed agendas that categorize topics as either “FYI” or “to discuss,” streamlining the meeting and optimizing our time together.

Embracing asynchronous document reviews and comments promotes collaboration without the need for immediate meetings. In urgent situations, we opt for quick five- or 10-minute calls instead of waiting for scheduled meetings.

Additionally, I encourage team members to block off dedicated work time in their calendars, respecting their need for focused productivity.

Finally, I make it a point to explicitly state the urgency of requests to team members, ensuring they can prioritize tasks appropriately and align on turnaround time expectations.

 

What role does technology play in helping you protect your team members’ time?

By including timezone and normal work hour visibility in both Google Calendar and Slack statuses, team members are aware of each other’s availability and can plan their work accordingly. This helps prevent unnecessary interruptions and ensures that team members can focus on their tasks without being constantly disturbed.

The collaboration tools provided by GSuite, such as Google Docs Sheets, and Slides, enable asynchronous collaboration. Team members can work on shared documents simultaneously or at different times, depending on their availability. This allows individuals to contribute when it suits them best, promoting flexibility and productivity.

Slack serves as a valuable platform for quick questions and updates, allowing team members to communicate efficiently without having to schedule meetings or send lengthy emails. This reduces the need for synchronous communication and enables individuals to address queries or provide updates at their convenience.

 

What benefits have you seen by taking a thoughtful approach to protecting team members’ time?

This approach allows a starting point for team members to say “no” when needed. By acknowledging and respecting each other’s boundaries, team members can feel empowered to decline additional work or requests that may exceed their capacity. This ability to say “no” when necessary may help prevent burnout and ensure that individuals can manage their workload effectively. While these practices may not guarantee complete prevention of burnout, they contribute significantly to improving the overall well-being of team members.

 

By acknowledging and respecting each other’s boundaries, team members can feel empowered to decline additional work or requests that may exceed their capacity.”

 

 

The Accelerated Digital Media Team
ACCELERATED DIGITAL MEDIA

 

Isabella Yates
Associate Director of Search • Accelerated Digital Media

Accelerated Digital Media is a performance marketing agency.

 

When it comes to leading a remote team, what are some of your best practices for ensuring you protect your team members’ time?

There is such a thing as too much reliance on video calls. I’m a big fan of written communication, particularly for notes and general feedback. I find it helpful to have a written record of everything for everyone — including myself — to refer back to. Video calls can be done to clarify or deepen conversations as needed, but having written notes keeps tasks or ideas from being lost in the shuffle. Members of my team have stated that they find it helpful to have notes to reference as they approach each task. 

Furthering this, each of our leaders aims to have at least one “no meeting day” per month. This is where no internal meetings take place so everyone can dedicate their time to executing their work, whether it allows them to dive into a longer task, finish up things that might be lagging or just refresh and get ahead. While meetings can be necessary, they do add up and can take a lot of time away from getting the day-to-day work done.

When needed, I try to make it clear which projects need to be done immediately and which can be pushed back to a later date. By ensuring my team is properly focusing on the true priorities, we make sure the right tasks get done.

 

By ensuring my team is properly focusing on the true priorities, we make sure the right tasks get done.”

 

What role does technology play in helping you protect your team members’ time? 

In terms of organizing our time, I’ve come to rely on calendar holds. I will put a recurring event on my team’s calendar that isn’t actually a meeting but a reminder and a time block to work on certain tasks. As long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter if we do it separately — I don’t want to bog people down by having an unnecessary meeting when they can be more productive on their own. 

Since I lead a team of search engine marketers, we take advantage of automated rules in Google Ads. Google will allow users to automate certain changes on a schedule without manual, real-time work. Our team uses them to help change campaign budgets over the weekend when we are not around to change them ourselves. While these rules take time to plan and set up, they allow us to manage campaign spending for all days of the week and customize plans for extended holidays.

There are also rules we set up to help alert us of any abnormal performance. For example, we have rules in place to flag campaigns that stop spending or if a campaign suddenly experiences a large day-over-day increase in bounce rate. If something is awry, we’re notified so we can quickly log in and adjust.

 

What benefits have you seen by taking a thoughtful approach to protecting team members’ time?

To protect your employees’ mental health and happiness, the best thing you can do as a manager is to prioritize their work-life balance. Making sure my team is happy is my top priority, so I’m a vocal advocate against working too late and in favor of taking PTO. It’s there for a reason.

Every aspect of our approach is focused around that effort. The reminders, automations and respect for everyone’s time really goes a long way. It is rare for us to work late hours or report feeling overwhelmed by our task load. Despite that, we still see growth, success and innovation each quarter. Our talented team spans time zones, but we function as cohesively as if we were in the same room each day.

 

 

Intelligent Medical Objects logo on a wall
INTELLIGENT MEDICAL OBJECTS

 

Blake Carson
Director, Client Services Technical Support • Intelligent Medical Objects

Intelligent Medical Objects is a healthcare data enablement company.

 

When it comes to leading a remote team, what are some of your best practices for ensuring you protect your team members’ time? 

I encourage my team members to block off their calendar for a couple hours a day for heads-down time and to decline meeting invites that they have not been given a heads up about or do not have an agenda for — if there’s no agenda or clear reason as to why your attendance is needed for the call, then don’t go. No one should be on a call “just in case” something comes up for them to address. Setting clear role expectations plays a big part of this too — folks get asked all the time to do things that are outside of their job description, and I always encourage them to come to me for clarification on anything they feel is outside their scope. Finally, I have weekly one-on-one meetings with all of my direct reports and ask them how they’re feeling about bandwidth and how I can help with prioritization. If I can help them with time management and prioritization at least once a week, then they will feel like they have a better handle on their workload and how much free time they have.

 

If I can help them with time management and prioritization at least once a week, then they will feel like they have a better handle on their workload and how much free time they have.”

 

What role does technology play in helping you protect your team members’ time?

As a customer facing group, the majority of protecting my team’s time has to do with improving interactions with people. Technology is helpful to protect my team’s time, when used correctly — for example, Sharepoint allows you to collaborate on documents without trading copies back and forth via e-mail. Technology has its place, but if I have an inefficient process or tool, then it's going to impact my team’s ability to execute on something. The more we can improve how we are collaborating and working with cross-functional teams, then the better protected everyone’s time will be.

 

What benefits have you seen by taking a thoughtful approach to protecting team members’ time?

The main thing I try to do as a manager is to ensure a positive team member experience by protecting my team’s time. It leads to an improved sense of contribution, a more dynamic and cohesive team and better work-life balance. Ultimately that leads to a more positive employee experience. If I can extend that beyond my own team into other teams, then the entire company thrives and has a more positive experience coming to work every day. The happier everyone is with their day-to-day, the more productive we all are. If our time is always up for grabs, then it becomes challenging to feel like we’ve really contributed to bigger initiatives or efforts.

 

 

Robert Erzen
Director Supplier Performance • Zoro

Zoro is an e-commerce website that has everything businesses and consumers need to make their business go.

 

When it comes to leading a remote team, what are some of your best practices for ensuring you protect your team members’ time?

The way our team approaches it is starting each week off with a leadership meeting focusing on people, projects and performance. This helps ensure that each of my leaders are aligned on how our teams are doing and feeling and can share the key updates on projects and initiatives to keep teams informed and how we are performing relative to our Key Performance Indicators. These meetings are also key for being able to cascade key business updates to leaders.

Our team also practices and balances cadences of full team meetings, full department meetings, one-on-ones and skip-levels. As a director I love the skip-levels with team members as they can become a replacement for the informal coffee chats or water cooler talks;they allow us to connect on business updates and also life updates like vacations and wedding plans.

The other best practice our team shares is utilizing “captains time” which is a process to ensure you are blocking your calendar to ensure that you can have uninterrupted time as a leader and utilize it how you need — get your personal work done, ensure you are up to date on training and development or update your goals.

 

What role does technology play in helping you protect your team members’ time?

We balance using all the technology offered to us at Zoro and its key for us to share the best tips and tricks with the technology too. I mentioned “captains time” above, but blocking the calendar is a good use to ensure that time is uninterrupted.

We also value things like the Slack settings of “in a meeting,” “on vacation” or “pausing notifications” as they let team members know availability and what to expect regarding responsiveness. Technology allows us to stay connected all the time, but it's important as a leader to encourage and set the example of unplugging after work hours and especially when on PTO. In remote work life, it's easy to remain plugged in, and we need to discourage overworking to prevent burnout.

 

In remote work life, it's easy to remain plugged in, and we need to discourage overworking to prevent burnout.”

 

What benefits have you seen by taking a thoughtful approach to protecting team members’ time?

It starts with the trust of the team. When we have a team that we trust, we can provide the autonomy to the team to get the work done by the time it needs to get done. Not every day looks the same for every team member. Some have daycare responsibilities, some are early risers and some are in different time zones. It's important as a leader to understand what each team member's version of a nine to five is.

With the increased flexibility, each team member is able to set up schedules that are flexible for what works best for them. It will increase their productivity and quality of work, while at the same time increase retention if we can be flexible to their individualized needs.

With remote work, we have been able to retain top talent with people who needed to relocate across the US when we wouldn’t have been able to if there was still an in-office requirement. It has also increased the talent pool we can hire from when we are no longer constrained to one geographic location.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via Shutterstock and featured companies.

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