What The Always-On Culture Is And How To Combat It

The technology we spend our lives on is often provided by our employers. Smartphones, Laptops, iPads - it’s no wonder it’s so difficult to switch off.

Even before the pandemic, it had become increasingly difficult to separate life and work. As an employee, the technology we spend our lives on is often provided by our employers. Work smartphones, work laptops, work iPads - with all our devices offering round the clock connectivity to our jobs, it’s no wonder it’s so difficult to switch off. Combine this with an ever-growing proliferation of work-related communication tools like Slack, Zoom, Trello, Discord, and social media sites like LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter that are now so integral to our work, and we find ourselves immersed in a world where we are always aware, always connected, always “on”. 


A 2021 report by NordVPN Teams revealed that, on average, employees in western nations were working 2.5hrs more on top of their eight hour workday during the pandemic. In the UK and the Netherlands, the survey found that employees weren’t logging off until 8pm. The forced experiment of working from home increased this bleed of work into life, with our homes also becoming our offices. Now that the world is moving out of the pandemic, how can we address the “always-on” culture in this new normal?


Lead By Example

In the past, success was often conflated with how busy an employee seemed to be, or how hard they appeared to work. However, putting in more hours doesn’t mean workers are producing better work. A study by Stanford University showed that productivity falls sharply after 50 hours worked in a week, while research published in the Harvard Business Review highlighted that managers were unable to tell the difference between employees who claimed to work 80 hour weeks, and those who actually did. 


The Economist found that employees imitate the behaviour of the upper echelons of management. So, rather than employees wearing exhaustive work weeks as badges of honour, managers should set the tone when it comes to employees being on the clock. Remote-first company cultures work on a system of trust, where employees are empowered to work when, where and how they want without being micromanaged. Managers should lean into this philosophy, as this will help to move an organisation and its staff away from the “always-on” mindset. 


As a manager, aim to keep your correspondence with your staff to office hours. If your team is fully distributed, make sure everyone is aware of your working hours in your timezone, and stick to corresponding within this timeframe. Use a shared calendar, such as that on Clearword’s platform, so that employees can see your availability, as this will help them to more effectively compartmentalise their work and life if they see you doing so first. 


Employees Should Set Boundaries

According to a survey conducted by jobs’ site Indeed, over 67% of workers reported experiencing more burnout than ever before over the course of the pandemic. 27% of all respondents said they were unable to unplug from work because of an inability to take time off, or a lack of clear boundaries between the workplace and home. 


Managing expectations and setting boundaries is fundamental to successful remote working. It is also key to avoiding getting caught in the “always-on” trap. This comes down to laying out some basic rules to abide by in your work life. Be open and transparent with your boss and team as to where you will be working from, how much and when. If you find yourself becoming too available, nip it in the bud by communicating to your team that you will be logging off at 6pm, and won’t be reading or responding to any work related emails or messages until you log on again at 9am the following morning. The same goes for weekends. 


Apply this approach to your workload too. The same Indeed survey said that 53% of employees said they were working more at home during the pandemic than they were in the office. If you are struggling to bear the weight of an increasing workload, tell your manager. They should be there to support you and find the resources to allow you work effectively and efficiently, not just work more


Take Control 

So you’ve told your team about your availability, but how do you stick to your guns? Our phones are constantly pulling at us, so much so that the market for technologies that combat our phone addictions is booming. Smartphones now even come with screen time insights in an attempt to save us from ourselves. 


Look at your screen time data - where are your minutes being spent? What apps are being used most, and when? Then, take back control of your time - turn off any notifications that you find distracting. These can be email notifications, news pings, text alerts etc. Limit your screen time for certain apps if you find that they are pulling your focus away from work, extending your work day by wasting valuable time. If this doesn’t work for you, delete the apps off your phone altogether and just keep work related apps on your computer. 


Leave your calendar notifications on, and allocate a time for everything. Get into a workflow, and once you're in the zone, stay there. The hours you’re not working are sacred, so ensure you get that coveted free time by being more productive during the working day. During your precious time off, turn your phone off or leave it at home. Creating physical distance between you and your devices will increase the feelings of disconnectedness from work, and make your personal time more meaningful.