Remote work is amazing—but you can also make it a miserable experience for everyone on your team, if you don’t follow some basic rules. Channel hygiene is one of them. What is it and why do you need it? Let’s look at two examples.

Sunday 4pm at the gym. For twenty minutes my bike is buzzing at a comfortable 65rpmwhile I’m listening to a podcast about macroeconomics. As the narrator marvels at possible innovations of GDP, my phone buzzes: One of my colleagues is asking if it’s okay to take Tuesday off. Work is suddenly back on my mind when I least needed it.

Sounds familiar? Here the other way around:

Another day and it’s late. I just want to get this weekly summary done and go home, so I ping my colleague. He replies that he’s on a date and whether it’s urgent. Doh. That didn’t pan out as planned, did it?

These kinds of situations speak of missing boundaries between work and the rest of our lives. At engageSPARK we try to be conscious about those boundaries because we believe they are important for a healthy life.

For a development team remotely working this topic needs special consideration because we’re online almost all the time somewhere. And “being online“ then easily becomes “being at work”.

To get away from ambiguity, we established some very simple guidelines, starting with channels: Email and Slack are work-related channels, Whatsapp is for when you’re off.

When you’re working…

  • you’re reading emails at least twice a day. Something can wait a day? Send an email.
  • you’re online on Slack. Something is urgent? Send a private message. You need to make sure your colleague has read some piece of information? Send her a private message.

When you’re off…

  • you don’t read emails, certainly not on your phone, and you’re also not getting Slack notifications. You’re off. You read those things the next morning when you’re back on.
  • you’re still part of a Whatsapp group. You can choose to comment on vacation pictures or brag about your favorite peanut butter avocado smoothie.
  • When you’re off and the system is burning and the team needs you to get the boat floating again, then we ping you on Whatsapp. Vacations are off limits.

With these rules, we do pretty well communication-wise.

Of course, there are other boundary issues for remote workers, too: A lot has been written about creating an “office space” when working from home. About not working from your bedroom. About not having work email on your phone. About setting time limits for yourself. Many of these issues remote workers have to figure out for themselves.

Some issues are about the team though and it’s there where we can set clear, simple rules to help each other be off. To make that work, a leadership team needs to lead by example. In return, I read messages about vacation requests on Slack the next Monday morning—and did learn that the mafia’s revenue does not count towards GDP. Who would have thought?