The Modern Work Day: One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Scheduled messages. Calendar blocks. Snoozed notifications. Love em’ or hate ‘em, we can’t escape them.
JD, VP of Marketing at Phenom, joined TXL host Devin Foster for an open discussion about what the “modern” work day means for today’s office worker, and why something as small as a scheduled message can cause controversy.
This was a fun one, so check out the replay below or keep reading to catch the highlights!
How has the lunch break changed — and should workers block time for lunch?
The traditional noontime lunch break — where work pauses and employees go off campus with colleagues or head to the breakroom for lunch — seems to have fallen by the wayside. With more employees working from home, it’s understandable that individuals are taking their lunch hour at the times of the day that work best for them instead of collectively signing off at 12 pm.
This adjustment allows for better work-life balance, but it means any time is an open target for virtual meetings, and messaging apps like Slack and Teams tend to keep employees busy through their mid-day meal.
So is it acceptable to block off time on the calendar for a lunch break? Yes, TXL audience members said, with some commenting on the importance of a break for mental health.
Foster and JD agree that for lunch, as long as they’re willing to accept that high-priority situations might override their break at times, employees should feel empowered to take a break at the times that work best for them.
“The keyword for me is flexibility in this approach,” JD said.
Should employees work extra hours to make up for taking flex time?
A fully remote work week allows for time flexibility that wasn’t previously available in a traditional 9 to 5 office environment. But with added flexibility, individuals have to find the right balance between dedicated work hours and pockets of free time.
At the end of the (work) day, it’s about how much you’ve accomplished, not necessarily how many hours it takes to get there — or whether you’re physically in the building.
At least, that’s how Foster and JD see it.
“I have no idea in any given week how many hours I’ve put in,” JD said. He also doesn’t track how many hours his direct reports are putting in, as long as the work gets done.
In fact, JD believes that organizations in general are shifting away from tracking hours. “We’re looking for efficiency, productivity; we’re not looking to measure hours. And I don’t think employees are looking to have their hours measured.”
Are hours spent in the office relevant to modern performance reviews?
The “first in the building, last to leave” mentality may have garnered kudos in performance reviews of the past. But today, technology enables knowledge workers to be just as productive from home as from the office.
“I don’t know of any modern performance review or annual review that has anything to do with how much time someone is putting in,” JD said.
What if time management seems to be a factor that’s negatively impacting productivity? That’s an opportunity for managers to step in and help employees re-prioritize, according to JD.
Are we still using OOO during time away from work?
In a remote work environment, it’s hard to tell when employees are at their desks and available for collaboration or if they’ve stepped away from their computer. To replace the casual glance across the office to check if a coworker is at their desk, employees adopted an OOO update that is either visible on their calendar or as a messaging status.
But is the out-of-office (OOO) message necessary or passe?
Viewers who weighed in pointed out that using OOO depends on your role and responsibilities. It’s a must for employees who communicate often with external contacts (e.g., recruiters who frequently receive emails from job candidates).
Foster, on the other hand, whose communications are almost all internal, commented that he never uses OOO. “I don’t want to…direct someone to another member of my team with something that I can probably handle via mobile or via laptop, which I always have with me.”
For internal employees, signaling OOO may not be a common practice but that doesn’t mean it should be disregarded completely. “I do think in certain companies it is a very good thing to leverage because it helps people be more effective and efficient with their time,” JD said.
How do we feel about scheduled messages?
Ambiguous might be the best way to describe the mindset around scheduled emails and messages, at least for JD. “I dislike scheduled messages, but I will also tell you I’m starting to use scheduled messages more and more. I’m blowing my own mind,” he joked.
The intended benefit of a scheduled message is for the sender to be able to take care of a needed communication while it’s top of mind (which could be 10 pm on a Saturday), but not have it hit a colleague or other contact’s inbox outside of working hours.
So what’s the problem with scheduled messages? According to Foster, he’s had the experience of receiving a scheduled message, responding, and then “…crickets.” It can feel a little jarring when the sender isn’t available to collaborate on the action requested.
Although he’s using scheduled messages more often now, JD said his typical approach is to convey that immediate action isn’t required. This is an important step for team leaders, he emphasized — team members may feel obligated to act on a message from the boss no matter what day or time it is.
How should managers approach varying preferences on work-life balance?
Getting to know employees on an individual basis and being respectful of their sense of work-life balance is critical, said JD. People should feel empowered to use their judgment on when to put in time off hours.
“I try to balance what I feel is healthy and good for the team or the individuals I’m interacting or working with,” JD said. For example, he knows that for some team members, once they’re home from work and with family, it’s best to leverage that scheduled message so they don’t feel pressured to take immediate action.
Others welcome an overlap of personal and work lives. “I think it really depends on individuals, and you have to get to know them.”
Foster pointed out an important nuance: there’s a big difference between a boss observing their employees’ work-life balance needs versus outright asking how an employee feels about after-hours work communications.“With a certain title, and if you are a manager…some folks may be intimidated, and they may not be as honest as they’d like to.”
Do modern employees work for themselves, or the company?
“I feel in the shift of our modern workday, more and more individuals are recognizing that everything they do…is being invested in themselves,” JD remarked.
With this mindset, what may have been regarded as the daily grind — including taking on stretch projects and additional tasks — can be seen as an investment in confidence, experience, value, and salary level.
“When it comes to the things that aren’t on your job description…the additional things you do that make you more valuable — you’re doing that for yourself. You’re growing as a professional,” Foster added. “At the end of the day, the company yes benefits from it, but the byproduct is, you can now benefit from it.”
Any final thoughts?
If it’s all about investing in yourself, how can employees fully understand their current growth opportunities? In an ideal world, managers should be asking employees on a regular basis what their goals are and new opportunities that are available to help them achieve those goals.
But a great place to start is during an annual performance review. “Use that time to open up a dialogue with your manager,” JD commented. And if you’re the boss, use that time to groom and mentor team members.
Join us for more TXL every Thursday at noon ET. Get notified for all upcoming TXL episodes here.
Kasey is a content marketing writer, focused on highlighting the importance of positive experiences. She's passionate about SEO strategy, collaboration, and data analytics. In her free time, she enjoys camping, cooking, exercising, and spending time with her loved ones — including her dog, Rocky.
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