Over the past weeks I saw many catch up to a communication style that has been
normal to me for years. I am really impressed by the speed this is taking place
and am curious how the lasting impacts from this episode will change office
work and day-to-day living long term. We lived in remote New Zealand for years,
one hours drive from the next supermarket and went to town normally once a
week. We lived isolated and still ran a global company from there. Today I
answered questions from pupils in a school in Austria and realised that some
behaviours I formed over years are still missing for many and that leads to
frustration. The biggest topic I took away is a lack of experience with what I
call digital hygiene.
When starting out working remotely there is initially a big confusion around
all the channels people try to communicate with you. Private communication
mixes with professional comms and you find yourself with a gazillion apps spread
between all your devices and all demand your attention. All of a sudden there
is no office door you can walk out of anymore and leave everything behind.
Everything is always around you. You find yourself in work mode all the time.
I enforce a strict separation between private and business live across app
borders. Slack and Zoom are for business, I am in work mode. WhatsApp and
Signal are for private comms, no business there. This high level separation
gives me a starting point to silence apps based on time profiles on my phone to
have de-facto office hours.
The next step is to switch off notifications in every app on my phone and my
laptop. There is no way an app can call for attention if I don't want that
attention. This means I can work hours uninterrupted and then dedicate time to
answer all the comms that piled up in all the various channels. I am aware that
this mode of communication will not work for everyone but try to limit the
amount of channels people can reach you based on the mode you are in right
now, work mode or private mode.
Email is tempting to be checked all the time, I am as guilty as many for this.
As my workload rises I lower the frequency at which I check email. In busy
times or when I work concentrated on something I go down to twice a day,
morning and evening and ignore email completely during the day. It works very
well for me and it is surprising how many things just sort themselves out in
the time you were working on something else.
Put your phone on silent and face down. My phone is normally on silent, most of
the time in do not disturb mode as well so it will not even show me all the
messages that piled up. It is tempting to just quickly glance over but it
really is not helpful to maintain any kind of flow in terms of focussed
work. I have written about the issues with phones a few years ago here
A good transition hack is to create different users on your devices that you
can switch between, private and work profiles. I used that for a while as well
and it is surprising how hard it is to switch between the two but a really good
exercise to be aware what mode you should be in right now.
In summary for digital hygiene I highly recommend to separate comms channels and set
“office hours” and stick to them as good as possible. Every change is hard and
this is a really hard one as it is paired with much uncertainty and emotion but
we are all in it together and some of us can help with what we learned over the