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Leading a virtual team: do my ‘workers’ have the right to disconnect?

“Ministers urged to give UK home-workers a ‘right to disconnect’ is a headline that grabs my attention as the CEO of a virtually-run organisation. I regularly keep up with new legislation regarding home-working, such as the increase from £18 to £26 for Expenses and benefits for homeworking and the ICO’s guidance for working from home. But currently we don’t have legislation that covers a right to disconnect.

Polling commissioned from Opinium found that two-thirds of those currently working remotely supported the policy and wanted the UK to follow the lead of countries such as Ireland in helping workers who are struggling with keeping their personal and professional lives separate.

It’s not surprising that many people are starting to feel that they are ‘living at work’ and that employers can (sometimes unwittingly) take advantage. In France workers getting ‘right to disconnect’ from emails out of hours made headlines in 2016 and other countries in Europe have similar rules.

In my context, in the lead up to a large, international conference things couldn’t be busier. We work across a number of time zones, deadlines are putting pressure on my team every day… we are really up against it (and I have never looked forward to an event more).

That said, our team transitioned to working from home in a strategically planned way, and we have built the culture that encourages employees to disconnect into the way we work from the ground up.

We don’t send emails at weekends.

We schedule things around working hours and out of work committments including caring responsibilities.

We pay our staff the tax-free monthly ‘home-working allowance’ to help towards costs.

We build the expectation, right from day 1, as part of our induction process, that taking breaks (screen breaks, lunch breaks, tea breaks etc) is the way we do things. We are not too busy to have lunch.

We share resources on wellbeing as a home-worker. And we share our experiences. We blog, in the open, to share how we do, what we struggle with, and what we need to do better in order to improve home/work balance.

We are also a small employer, an independent charity, and we take responsibility for setting the right example, and prioritising the wellbeing of employees. During these days of lockdown, this hasn’t been easy, and there are a lot of challenges to overcome, but there are many steps employers can take without waiting for legislation giving employees the right to disconnect.

If you are in a position to improve the culture in your workplace, and set a more balanced example for everyone, do it today.

Cover Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash