Disconnecting is harder when your home is the office


Now that pretty much everyone is working from home, one of the reoccurring complaints that I’ve seen prop up at the digital iGaming conferences of the past two weeks has been about managing a proper work life balance. When your home is your office, and everyone is receiving notifications on their laptop and phones, it can be difficult to unplug and leave work to be done the next day.

disconnecting-is-harder-when-your-home-is-the-officeFor many people, this isn’t a new problem, but they may not want to admit it. We’ve all worked with the colleague who stays at the office late because they want to finish something, or because they allegedly have nothing better to do. Others send email at odd hours and can’t stop checking their phone, for fear that if they aren’t on top of their inbox, something might sit a little too long.

A handful of panels at the iGaming Next Online conference have had me thinking about this topic quite a bit. Thanks to the mental health talk offered by Dragan Donkov, the increasing productivity talk offered by Karolina Pelc, and the Human Resources panel led by Pierre Lindh, it’s refreshed my memories of just how much the iGaming industry needs to adjust their work-life balance, and how they might do it through small steps.

Finding the right balance between work and life is no trivial matter. If you can’t manage to tame the responsibilities of the office, there’s a real risk of burning out. If you get to that point, you’ll be less productive, less motivated, and suffer in all areas of life. So now that our home and office has become a combined space, it’s imperative that you find the right balance, and be a better person and employee by the time you have to return to the office.

Always being connected is a bad way to be

I can distinctly remember the day my work life balance got shot to hell. It was the day I received my first work Blackberry. I was managing a poker customer service team at the time, and I was told that this phone was not a reward, a simple play thing, but rather a serious responsibility. I was to use it to stay in constant touch with my team, and be available to anyone who needed me 24/7. I listened, because I was a new manager, and I expected I was being given the best advice and direction.

Now, I probably don’t need to tell you that this ended up causing nightmares for me down the road. Rather than focusing on the right principles of being a manager, training my staff and delegating responsibility to them, I was hyper focused on being the hero, answering all manner of problems no matter what time of day.

That wasn’t the phone’s fault, it was my own. I hadn’t yet learned how to be a better leader. But the phone was just one symptom of the problem, and it manifested in other mediums of communication, and none worse than email.

I’ve previously touched on how the use of email can go far beyond the intended use of the communication technology. Our iGaming operation might have gone a step further. To ensure managers and upper management had visibility over everything, email groups were created to ensure the top level of the operation saw everything. For a mid-level poker manager, that meant hundreds, if not thousands, of emails per day hitting my inbox, and sending push notifications through my phone.

As this email structure was put upon the whole company, each manager adapted in their own ways. The micromanagers would spend more hours sorting and reading emails as they would actually interacting with their staff. Some would apply sorting rules to their email, but that meant many important emails might get filtered into a black hole, never to be looked at.

One way or another, email was killing us. Either we were focusing on the wrong things, missing the important things, or burning out trying to juggle them all. And as they came at all hours of every day of the week, it was impossible for a new manager like me to ever disconnect completely.

How to disconnect and regain your balance

Now, in your organization it might not be email that’s keeping you up at night. Maybe its phone calls, or maybe it’s a daunting project plan. But for me it was email, and I’m going to start there.

I’m a big advocate for learning the tools at your disposal and using them correctly, and communication tools are no exception. Most people have email, or other communication tools available to them, set to notify them throughout the day. These push type of notifications never let you disconnect, because that manager working on the other side of the world don’t care if you’re brushing your teeth before bed when that phone buzzes.

As I discussed previously, for that reason, I suggest that if your company has an email addiction problem like ours did, to advocate for tools that allow tasks to be pulled. If you need to create tasks from your team, or receive tasks from a manager, it’s much better to do so from some type of shared to do list, or ticketing system, than it is to arrive to an inbox full of emails.

As you probably suspect, I’m a big fan of Inbox Zero. But so many people get this concept wrong, thinking it’s about getting to zero emails in your inbox by the end of the day. While that’s a great feeling, the goal really should be to spend as little of your time looking at email as possible, and to be able to disconnect from distractions to get real work done.

I believe the way to get there is to combine great communication with great scheduling. First, talk with your teams about when to use email, versus when to use something else like instant messaging, phone calls, or whenever this pandemic ends, walking right up to someone for an answer. I credit a previous boss of mine for teaching me the value of a phone call to get fast answers, but for also subtly teaching me the value of holding on to questions for a weekly meeting.

He also taught me another important lesson that I carried forward: when to disconnect. Everybody knew that when our boss left the office, he would not respond to another email until he returned to his office the next work day. Although he had a smart phone, receiving all the same emails we did, he ignored it unless there was a real emergency, and spent time with his family.

I’ve carried those lessons forward. I would ignore non-urgent emails until a scheduled block of email-reading time I’d have at the beginning of every morning, instruct colleagues to enter my office if they needed anything urgent, or call me if I was at home. Notifications on my phone would be turned entirely off (save for phone calls) after a certain hour, guaranteeing peace. And everything got a little bit better when I could pull myself off of some email groups, lessening the anxiety of missing anything.

Find what works for you

Of course, this is just one of the ways we feel constantly connected to work, and it may not be the one that you suffer from. Maybe you can’t stop working on a project for the fear of missing a deadline, and need a project manager to help manage your time better? Maybe you just want to get in on every opportunity to raise your profile, or perfect your work. Whatever the root cause is, it’s important to realize there’s a breaking point where the drawbacks outweigh the benefits.

Thankfully, we have more resources to solve these problems than ever before. Communication tools can be adapted to work in whichever way suits you best. Great books like Getting Things Done or Productivity Ninja can help you manage all of the work on your plate. Bottom line though is that you’re in a team, one way or another, and you’ll need to work with, and depend on, those colleagues to finally disconnect, and enjoy the finer things in life.