Establishing Boundaries Within Your Work Team With Simple Tech Tools

Thursday, August 20, 2020

A Message from Ken Rivera, Director of Network and Infrastructure 

I have been managing teams for over 20 years; primarily serving nationally recognized and highly collaborative organizations. Here at Valencia College, I manage a team of six individual contributors responsible for maintaining access and security for wired and wireless connections to internet and college-hosted services, as well as voice and Office 365-based services (email, Microsoft Teams, etc.). Prior to transitioning to Valencia College, I worked remotely for three years, supporting a national non-profit with offices in several major cities from my home office in Orlando, Florida.

If I had to use one word to sum up what I view as the fundamentals for a successful team, I would say that word is boundaries. Establishing and managing boundaries to support individual contributions, within and across teams, can positively influence trust and promote wellness.

I am going to share some tips you can leverage to establish and support boundaries for yourselves, and within your teams.

Boundaries for Communications and Response

When it comes to individual or team responsibilities, I strongly believe that if you do not define and manage expectations, you allow everyone you work with to define it for you.

Take time to consider and communicate the best way to reach you, when they can reach you, and how quickly you can respond.

My preferred communications is email or MS Teams, my availability or “online hours” are 6 a.m. – 3 p.m., and I prioritize responses accordingly: I respond to critical emails within one hour, and to non-critical ones within two business days.

Communicating these boundaries is as important as establishing them, and related communications should be consistent. You can automate this by using automatic replies in Outlook, or using the set status message function within MS Teams. Use your email signature to indicate your communication preferences, for example, the best way to reach me is via email.

Boundaries to Promote Focus

One of the benefits of working remotely is the potential for reduced interruptions. However, without establishing boundaries to manage your productivity, you can easily find yourself answering calls, emails, and chats all day. That is, when you are not bombarded with back-to-back meetings.

To help transition my team (and myself) to remote work, I have promoted techniques such as time-blocking to set aside time to focus on our work in an intentional manner. The intention-setting begins with understanding our work and what is within our control, then scheduling time to dedicate focus towards completing that work.

We know we have daily work such as monitoring services and related requests, reviewing and responding to emails, as well as other administrative work, or light work. Individuals can schedule blocks of time to dedicate focus on light work daily or throughout the day. Personally, I schedule three blocks each day for light work (morning, midday, and afternoon).

For individuals who work on projects, facilitate changes, research, or perform other tasks that require sustained focus, larger deep work blocks can be scheduled throughout the week. Of course, this depends on related workload on can be modified to support it. Scheduling this time in advance and leveraging technology features such as using the “do not disturb” option within Skype for Business and MS Teams can ensure you have time to focus throughout the week.

To learn more about deep work, check out the LinkedIn Learning course Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (Blinkist Summary) based on the book by Cal Newport.

You can also utilize time-blocks to set intentions around recovery, three well-placed 15-minute blocks of time can allow you to grab a snack or use the bathroom in between meetings. Additionally, you can use the calendar options in Outlook to end meetings early, giving you time in between each meeting.

It is important to note that blocks you have created can be adjusted. You can also leverage Microsoft’s MyAnalytics to jumpstart your calendaring efforts.

Below is a screen shot of my current calendar to demonstrate the types of blocks you can create. The free spaces accommodate meeting creation at peak times and utilize the “end meeting early” feature to allow me to adjust mindset and prep in between meetings (or use the restroom or make some coffee).

Boundaries for Engagement

One of my favorite Valencia College employee competencies is “Self-Management and Awareness”. I view that competency as a critical foundation in building a self-organizing team. To support self-management and awareness, I directed our daily communications into a MS Teams private chat channel shortly after the application became available. Since that shift, the team has maintained high communications, utilizing mentioning where my attention is required. You can adjust your notifications and the channels you follow to ensure you are only alerted when it is actionable, even while in “do not disturb” mode. This practice allows me to adjust my orbit as the available information requires and make suggestions that promote peer engagement around recommendations versus simply providing answers.

Being highly communicative within MS Teams also limits the needs for regular meetings. Over the past two years, I have transitioned to online forms-based capture utilizing Microsoft Forms and SharePoint lists for the majority of our operational tasks from change management to monthly reflection surveys and weekly Polly polls in teams. During the transition to remote work, I scheduled daily virtual stand-ups in the morning wherein each team member relayed how they were doing at home, what they were working on, and if they needed any help.

Once we got into a rhythm, I reduced the daily stand-ups to a Monday morning stand-up to essentially make sure everyone is feeling okay about the week ahead. These will transition to Polly Polls, which will limit team meetings to our monthly soft-skill support and bi-weekly one-on-one meetings.

Example: Polly Poll use in MS Teams to support mental health check-ins

My recommendation is to openly discuss experimenting with some of these methods within your team. If you explore these topics with an intention to promote wellness, solicit feedback, and adjust to support observed gaps, you will find the right mix. I would love to hear about your journey and let me know if you would like to explore any of these methods further.

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