How to Establish Work Boundaries by Using Slack Effectively

Elliot Chan, Digital Marketing Manager8 min read

Why flexible work leads to longer hours

The flexibility of setting your own schedule can blur the boundaries between work and personal life, causing you to spread your work throughout the day and into evenings and weekends.

The fear of missing out on discussions or opportunities in virtual work settings results in continuous checking of Slack , Microsoft Teams, and other work-related apps, which in turn contributes to extended hours in remote work arrangements.

Buffer's State of Remote Work report from 2022 revealed that 25% of remote workers cited "unplugging" after work as a struggle, while 20% recorded “working more” as an issue. Statistics like these show the challenge of setting boundaries and disconnecting from work.

Furthermore, 21% of workers indicated “difficulty focusing” and 17% said “difficulty with collaboration and communication” were remote work struggles.

Could it be possible that our fractured, always-available style of collaboration is causing unintended stress and overtime for workers?

With these challenges in mind, we must analyze how we work together and how the tech we use every day contributes to these issues.

In this article, we will put tools like Slack under the microscope. And in doing so, we can better understand our relationship with these tools and establish some boundaries.

Let’s start by addressing a common example.

Is the triple peak workday a workplace concern?

The term "triple peak workday" refers to a phenomenon in which employees experience three distinct peaks of activity during a single day due to work-related tasks and communications.

These peaks often occur in the morning, afternoon, and evening. While two of the peaks reflect the typical workday structure, the third peak is often initiated by continuing work in collaboration apps like Slack or needing additional time to focus.

Triple peak work with all apps visible in the Produce8 timeline
Triple peak work with Slack filter on in the Produce8 timeline

The triple peak is closely related to the challenges of setting boundaries and maintaining work-life balance. Here's how Slack, as a popular workplace communication tool, can play a role in the triple peak:

Morning peak: As employees begin their workday, they check Slack first thing in the morning to catch up on messages and updates from colleagues.

Afternoon peak: Slack activity tends to pick up again in the afternoon as employees collaborate on ongoing projects, participate in virtual meetings, and engage in team discussions.

Evening peak: Employees find themselves continuing tasks and conversations on Slack beyond regular working hours, leading to an evening peak. This can be particularly pronounced when employees work in different time zones and thus have overlapping communication windows.

With a tool like Produce8, we can easily identify work patterns, inefficiencies, and leading burnout indicators .

What does a lack of boundaries at work look like?

If you want to set clear boundaries, a good place to start is by understanding how your collaboration apps are being used. Here are some questions to get the ball rolling:

  1. How many times do we look at Slack every day?
  2. How much time do we spend on Slack?
  3. How does Slack affect our ability to perform other tasks?
  4. Are we expected to answer Slack messages right away?
  5. How much time in the workday is available for us to focus on our primary tasks?
  6. How often do we send and respond to Slack messages after work?

Don’t know the answers? Then you likely haven’t set any guidelines yet! It’s time to address that and understand whether unfettered collaboration may be causing problems for the team.

The reason we start with collaboration apps is because they are both essential and invasive. A messaging app like Slack can inadvertently interrupt personal or focus time , posing several challenges to employees' well-being.

One significant concern is information overload. Here, a continuous stream of messages and notifications bombards employees all day long, making it hard to concentrate on the task at hand.

Moreover, the expectation of instant responses on Slack, even during off-hours, fuels a culture of constant availability. This continuous tethering to the platform may result in burnout as employees feel compelled to "always be on."

How to create a guideline for workplace collaborations

At some point, over-stressed employees will say, “I need to focus during the day. That way I won’t have to log back on in the evening or early in the morning to finish my work.”

But simply blowing up the current work model and signing out of Slack isn’t productive if the work culture isn’t prepared for such a change.

To mitigate collaboration distractions, triple peak workdays, and other challenges, both employees and employers must study their current Slack usage and identify what’s working and what isn’t. Then they need to work together to set clear boundaries and expectations around Slack usage. Implementing guidelines for communication hours and encouraging team members to respect each other's personal time can help alleviate the pressure to be constantly available.

But how do we design these guidelines?

Since everyone’s workday and work style are different, adding policies that fit the unique style of your team will require some (you guessed it!) teamwork.

If you feel that Slack is a problem for you and your team and you want to discuss that problem, you must gather evidence. You must show your team that Slack is indeed causing issues such as distractions during focus hours . Once you have data to back up your theory, share it with the team and then measure, analyze, and refine it.

A digital work analytics platform like Produce8 enables you to acquire data and then work with your team to make the right changes.

Simply follow these steps to start making space for great work:

  1. Set up Produce8, invite your team to join, and measure the baseline.
  2. From your baseline data, identify problem areas (i.e., how much time is spent on Slack during focus work hours or off hours).
  3. Form a hypothesis. For example: “By allowing the team to mute Slack between 2-5 p.m., they won’t be pressured to check the messaging app. They will have time to focus on their work and, therefore, we will see a decrease in work activities after 5 p.m.”
  4. Validate the hypothesis by making the configurations and analyzing the data with the team.

For more details on how to kick off your Slack study, check out our How to Use Slack Better Guide .

Some changes in Slack you can start with

Turning off Slack notifications is an easy app configuration that you can start with. Read our full blog post on effectively using Slack alerts to learn how you can begin that process and analyze the results.

You can also consider these steps:

  • Set specific communication hours: Allow the team to set specific communication hours on Slack to ensure that everyone is available for real-time discussions. Outside these hours, employees should have the flexibility to focus on their tasks without interruptions.
  • Use status updates: Encourage employees to update their Slack status to indicate their availability and current area of focus. This helps others understand when it's appropriate to send a message or expect a response.
  • Prioritize important messages: Create a system to prioritize important messages and notifications. For instance, use Slack's "Priority" feature to categorize urgent channels and messages, allowing employees to filter and address critical communications first.
  • Create channels with intention: Organize Slack channels effectively, keeping them focused on specific topics or projects. Minimize the number of channels to avoid scattering conversations and information across multiple threads.
  • Encourage asynchronous communication: The use of asynchronous communication for non-urgent matters should be prioritized. Teams can do this by checking and responding to messages at designated intervals or using documentation and video recordings that can be accessed independently.
  • Schedule communication breaks: Set aside time during the workday for checking and responding to Slack messages. By batching communication, employees can maintain focus during dedicated work periods.
  • Use threads for discussions: When engaging in team discussions, encourage the use of threaded conversations to keep the main channel clutter-free and make it easier to follow specific topics.

Analyze data and refine the guideline regularly

We all have certain preconceived notions about what configurations and work styles are best for everyone. But as you and your team establish a shared understanding of what work actually looks like, your initial opinions and biases will fade.

Be open to continued learning. After all, guidelines are only effective if they offer the results you want. It’s time to help teams set boundaries and take control of the time they have for work. That way, they can focus on what really matters.

Book a demo with us ! We’d love to learn more about your goals and help you get the right data to reach them.

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