Managing communication in a 24/7 workplace
In a post-pandemic hyper-connected 2023 workplace, the boundaries between work and home are far less defined.
A long time ago, work was something we completed at work, and people generally couldn’t reach us at home. Only the very senior actuaries had work-funded mobile phones (typically Blackberries) and could be reached outside the office.
Each day, we made our way to a building we called “the office” and did our work at a desk. The managers assigned work by visiting our desks and telling us what they wanted us to do. If we had questions, we could walk over to our managers’ desks and ask them our questions.
If we needed time to do some “quiet work”, we could put headphones on (signalling that we didn’t want to be disturbed) or move away from our desks to a meeting room or small office and close the door. On a day of study leave, or a sick day or holiday, we left work at the office until we returned.
But how do we communicate when work isn’t 9-5 anymore?
Not only are the boundaries less visible, but so are our colleagues and the senior team members entrusted with important decisions about our performance and promotions. This brings up a lot of new challenges that can threaten our productivity, career progress and even our well-being, such as:
- Should we only send and respond to emails during business hours?
- How quickly should we respond to instant messages?
- How do we decide whether to send an instant message or email or pick up the phone?
- How can we better manage workloads when we can’t “see” if people are working?
- What can we do to spot and prevent burnout in our teams?
As a team member, how can we build our careers and raise our profiles in a post-pandemic hybrid working world? How can we maintain our well-being while still being “available” and responsive via email and instant messaging? How can we focus on studying and passing exams when we are constantly interrupted by the ping of instant messages?
As leaders in a post-pandemic hybrid working world, how do we make sure our team members are productive and supported when we can’t see them? How can we set expectations around communication and responsiveness? How can we build efficiently operating teams and support team well-being when the boundaries between work and home are blurred?
To answer these questions, I asked five emerging actuarial leaders who are undertaking the Guardian Actuarial Leadership Program to share their top tips for managing work communication in a 24/7 workplace. Here’s what they said!
Consider how and when to deal with email
As people are working with flexible hours, it sparks a reconsideration of the appropriateness of sending emails around the clock and the expectations surrounding email response times. Working across different time zones, Actuary Joy Zheng supports sending emails at any time without expecting an immediate response from the recipient.
“It allows for flexibility and efficiency in communication and respects the recipient’s autonomy to manage their own workload.”
Joy also acknowledges that others may feel pressured to respond to work-related emails during their personal time and she offers some practical tips to help strike a balance such as using the scheduled delivery feature to deliver emails at regular working hours, particularly with external clients as it creates a positive image of being organised. Joy also recommends including an email signature such as I work flexibly and don’t expect a response from you outside of your regular working hours” to set clear expectations and foster a respectful and healthy work culture.
Managing expectations around instant messaging
As we continue to adapt to remote work environments, effective communication is vital. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, the speed of response on instant messaging platforms should depend on a variety of factors, including its urgency, daily priorities, and expectations set by your team. It is crucial to establish and communicate your work style with your superior and understand their work style in return to foster better communication synergy.
Scuba-diving Actuary Syed Naufal Shahabudin suggests if you are unable to cater to an instant message immediately, try:
- Sending an acknowledgement indicating you have received and read the message.
- Provide an estimate when you will be able to act on it e.g., in an hour.
- If it is urgent, be sure to discuss your priorities with your superior to ensure proper attention
Consider whether email is best
Effective communication is essential in any workplace, but deciding which communication method to use can be challenging. Email, instant messaging, and phone calls are all valuable communication tools, but each has its strengths and weaknesses.
“In the digital world, we need to develop a culture of communication that is respectful, professional, and considerate, just as we have with face-to-face communication,” says US-based Actuary Alison Visser.
“By communicating openly and setting clear expectations, we can establish boundaries and find communication styles that works for everyone.”
Consider how to manage workflow when you can’t see your team
The pandemic has unlocked the capability of teams to work in hybrid and flexible environments. There may be a mix of people working from home or office, possibly at varying hours. So how can managers ensure that teams are consistently performing and achieving their objectives?
Actuary Jason Qin recommends:
“Start with a solid foundation. Ample planning is the key to good workflow management, and this has not changed since the pandemic. Know your priorities, build buffer time into projects, confirm that everyone understands their responsibilities, and spread the workload.”
“Once that is set, focus on the visibility of work. Schedule regular workflow meetings and check-ins. As people may be working flexible hours, it is important to be task-oriented, rather than time-oriented, when managing your team’s output.”
Keeping an eye out for burnout
In the new ‘normal’, people are highly connected at work virtually but may be less so at a personal level. When people find it tough at work, it may be less natural for them to call their colleagues and ask for support. The fact that people work remotely and don’t see each other most days has created an extra barrier to spotting burnout within the team.
Emerging leader Evelyn Tanadjaja comments, “Never assume ‘no news’ means ‘no problems.”
Evelyn suggests to schedule 1:1 meetings with each team member regularly to check on important things outside their work such as their wellbeing, challenges and even their career goals. “This will ensure that they feel appreciated for their hard work and supported on their challenges and career development.”
In today’s workplace we have multiple communication channels and hybrid working arrangements means the boundaries between work and home are often blurred. Teams can employ a range of practical tips, including being mindful about when we send and respond to email, having open conversations about expectations, agreeing communication protocols and regularly checking in with each other. We all have a role to play in supporting effective workplace communication and reducing workplace stress and burnout.
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