Let’s Talk About Team Workability
Have you ever received a non-urgent late-night email from a colleague and felt obligated to respond? Or wondered if your working hours need to mimic your boss’ schedule?
If so, it may be time to evaluate your team’s workability.
Workability is a method practice at The Clearing that we recommend to clients of all types. Team workability is norms and practices that are agreed upon by the team on how we work independently, how we work together, how we set boundaries to meet our own needs, and our expectations of each other to maintain a healthy work performance.
We codify these norms using our Team Member User Guide. It’s free to download – give it a try and see how it works for your team.
How Workability Improves Team Dynamics
First, workability allows team members to play to their strengths. Because their preferences on what works best for them are stated, anxiety around workplace norms is lessened. This helps each person be as productive and engaged as possible.
Here’s an example.
John has to leave the office every day at 4 p.m. to take over childcare from his partner, who works nights as an EMT. Instead of leaving team members resentful that a co-worker leaves early every day, they know based on his User Guide that John begins work at 7 a.m. to make up for early afternoons.
This is one of many examples of why establishing norms and agreements on how to work together promotes positive team interactions and minimizes frustrations.
On the flip side, when there aren’t explicit conversations about workability it can lead to friction. For example, if you aren’t explicit about work hours, you may receive non-urgent messages at 10 p.m. Wondering whether you’re required to respond at that hour can be as stressful as the message itself. Simply knowing that emails after 5 p.m. (or whatever agreed upon time) don’t have to be responded to until the following day may relieve that stress and allow people to come to work feeling refreshed.
When to Discuss Workability with Your Team
If you have yet to establish expectations and norms, it’s never too late to begin. And if you have established team workability, it should be revisited on a periodic basis. Even teams on the best of terms can fall out of sync – and the cause may not always be clear.
Macro events, like the COVID-19 pandemic, changed the way much of the world works. Revisiting workability in such situations is critical – and obvious. Micro events, however, may be less noticeable but still challenge norms and expectations.
Using The Clearing as an example, we review workability when we engage a client in a different time zone. What new expectations and norms must be established for our east coast team members servicing a west coast organization? What can we do to ensure they retain balance while working with a client starting and ending the day later?
Taking it down to the individual level, empathy as a manager is critical in both establishing and maintaining workability. While I do my best heads-down work between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., I don’t expect my team to stay in the office just because I’m still working. Having my team understand why I choose to stay relieves the potential guilt my team may feel when choosing to leave the office earlier than me.
I’ve also learned that just because a work style isn’t productive for me doesn’t mean it isn’t productive for someone else. I once had a team member who had a hard time concentrating when they stayed in one location. They liked to move locations throughout the day in order to focus. They were most successful when they had a change of scenery or movement. Similarly, I had another team member, who in order to maintain productivity, needed regular breaks that may include a walk during the day.
Taking the time to review their User Guides and sharing mine helped us understand each other and create an environment that worked for our team instead of being one-size-fits-all. It’s also important to discuss individual User Guides as a team and to collectively establish team workability norms and practices.
Workability Thought Starters
In addition to filling out the User Guide, here are a few items I keep top of mind when considering workability for teams.
- Email timing. Consider scheduling emails to send at a different time if you are working early or late so as not to cause your team members added stress or frustration.
- Be honest. Not every workability preference can be met – and that’s ok. Client needs or company policies may not allow it. When that’s the case, be transparent about why and discuss other options to alleviate concerns.
- Mind the hybrid. Without everyone in one place, workability becomes critical. Being explicit about when in-person is required or when cameras must be on makes it easier to get everyone on the same page.
- Establish an after-hours process. There will always be times when urgent matters come up after hours. As a team, establish norms on how to contact each other on weekends or after standard working hours (e.g., send a text message)
Most of these tips may seem common knowledge; however, we don’t always follow it in practice – especially when work is hectic. The problem is that it’s at this time when considering team workability is most important. It prevents burnout, lowers stress, and reduces churn. So next time something with your team seems off, even if you’re busy, take a moment to review or evaluate team workability – it just might be what gets your people back on track.
If you want to chat about workability or team dynamics, I can be reached at Theresa.firstname.lastname@example.org. And remember, it’s easiest to catch me between 5 and 7 p.m.