How Can Startups Enforce the Right to Disconnect? Use Customer Success Philosophies
Over the past year, we’ve all come to see the value of remote work: increased productivity, reduced commute times, more time to spend with family and friends, among others. But remote work also comes with drawbacks and disadvantages, too. When it comes to remote work in the Customer Success field, one of the biggest unspoken questions is whether employees are expected to be “always on”.
High-growth environments can be some of the worst offenders of “always on” cultures. Left unchecked, these kinds of practices can lead to serious systemic issues like employee disengagement and burnout. From there, it’s a fast track to employee churn, which can then make it difficult to attract and retain top talent.
Showing employees that you’re willing to put programs and policies in place to protect their time—and by extension, their wellbeing—is going to be even more critical in the remote work and hybrid office era.
That’s why we support our employees’ right to disconnect. Here are some guidelines for managers and leaders on how you can use the principles behind Customer Success to establish a positive work culture that respects everyone’s time, capacity, and work styles.
What is the right to disconnect?
People are working longer hours during lockdown and it’s becoming increasingly challenging to find opportunities to step away from work. According to a study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), 15 percent of employees constantly monitor work emails outside of working hours.
People have become used to addressing work issues at all hours, and many do it without even realizing it. It could be a sneaky glance at a Slack message over the weekend, or correcting a typo in a presentation in the early hours of the morning. It can be hard to truly detach from work.
The right to disconnect is a system that mitigates these issues by encouraging employees to step away from work outside of core working hours.
In Customer Success (or CS), we center our work around ensuring we engage with the customer at the right time. We realized that applying these philosophies internally with our own team can help us, and other startups, enforce better remote work policies.
Finding the right time to engage
At its absolute basic level, the objective of CS is to drive an outcome that is mutually beneficial. A large part of CS is about finding the right message to deliver to the customer at the right time, and this involves:
- Learning about the person you’re collaborating with
- Using the right communication style and cadence to move the conversation forward
We have an international customer base, so there are many considerations to take into account—time zones, cultural differences, schedules, and so on. And in all of these situations, the CS team is the facilitator of these conversations. We are responsible for making sure we engage with the customer in a way that they’re comfortable with, and in a way that makes them successful.
When we flip this lens towards our own internal team, the same logic applies. Just as every customer has a different communication style and preference, so do your fellow team members, colleagues, and stakeholders. Taking the time to learn how people prefer to communicate will go a long way in ensuring your mutual success.
Here’s how I, as a leader, approach learning about different people’s communication styles.
1. Lead by example
If you want to instigate a change in behavior, then that behavior needs to be modeled from the top. Managers need to set an example.
Keeping your calendar updated is one of the simplest ways that you can manage people’s expectations around your availability. In the past we may have only needed to block out things like the occasional doctor appointment, but with remote work, anything could disrupt your workday, and that’s OK as long as you’re clear about it. If you need to take the dog out at a certain time or need an hour to pick the kids up from school, make sure that time is blocked out in your calendar.
Being explicit about these expectations is incredibly important. At Juro, we have an employee handbook that covers everything from how we share space at the office to guidelines around when notifications need to be on. We also make sure that employees know to log off at the end of the day.
Personally, I put together a team-level playbook for our group that specifically outlines things like:
- Our core working hours
- The different ways we connect and communicate (from synchronous meetings to asynchronous communications in Slack)
- My expectations for the team
… And much more. With this all clearly laid out, new team members can get up to speed more quickly and be more closely aligned with the rest of the team from day one.
2. Understand what works—and what doesn’t
Implementing a right to disconnect policy doesn’t need to involve a huge, disruptive project. Instead, it’s important to focus on committing to small, consistent behaviours internally and to look at what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t.
Here are some behaviors that team leads and managers may want to watch out for:
- Avoid messaging employees outside of work hours: Even if you begin your message with a “no need to reply” prefix, sending a message in the first place will likely prompt a reply from an employee regardless. It’s understandable that you may get your best ideas or remember something outside of working hours, but instead of just sending off your message, consider using scheduling tools so that your message reaches an employee during their work hours. Personally, I’m a big fan of Slack’s message scheduling feature. It’s also important to follow up with these kinds of intentional actions with verbal confirmation. I tend to remind my team that just because I may keep odd working hours, they’re not obligated to do the same.
- Don’t make unplugging a special event: A lot of businesses are tackling burnout by offering employees an extra day or week off to unplug. Though organizations mean well, this initiative doesn’t resolve the core problem or really even begin to address it. Burnout happens when employees work long hours and feel unable to step away. Those habits won’t change after a day of rest and relaxation. In fact, employees may have to work even harder to catch up when they return to work, which adds fuel to the fire. When it comes to avoiding burnout, managers need to take more proactive measures.
- Step off personal devices: Many organizations mandate that employees put work apps on their personal devices, which can make employees feel tethered to their phones or laptops. If your organization can’t afford to provide employees with separate devices for work, then make sure that you’re regularly reinforcing your expectations that people don’t need to respond to messages outside of work hours.
3. Appreciate different work styles
In CS, we always make sure we understand our counterpart’s calendar. It’s not just about working around time zones, we take the time to understand what their general week and workload looks like. Maybe they dedicate their morning to calls, and afternoons to deep work. Maybe they have a board meeting every other Thursday that requires intense preparation beforehand.
We know that people who require document automation tend to work in fast-paced environments, where time is of the essence. That’s why we’re mindful of how we approach customers and the format in which we deliver information to them.
Knowing all of these details about people’s work styles and needs makes us better partners and collaborators. That goes for the team too. Equipped with this knowledge, managers can be strategic about when they set team meetings.
Having this information might even inspire you to experiment with how you communicate with your own teams. Who knows, maybe instead of sending out a long email, you might consider sending a short instructional video instead or consider shortening meetings to 50 minutes so that team members can have mini-breaks between video meetings.
But if we don’t take the time out to understand how everyone works best, we stand to lose a lot of potential.
4. Redefine success
Speed of communication is something we think about regularly. An effective CS team is defined by their turnaround time, the speed of their replies, and speed of support. It can be tricky to manage the balance between being available and driving actual value to our customers. Does spending more time on something necessarily lead to more output? Those are the kinds of questions we need to be asking ourselves consistently and approach our solutions with metrics in mind.For example:
- Do customers care more about the speed of our responses or the speed in which we find them a solution?
- How can we set realistic expectations—both within the company and to customers—about communication times in CS?
- How do we ensure that the CS team doesn’t feel obligated to answer a customer request outside of working hours?
- How do we measure success when it comes to speed of response, knowing that there will be outliers, such as messages we receive outside of working hours or over the weekend? Can we take an average of our response times, and use that to define success instead?
It’s important to look at how we measure success alongside how it impacts the team and their ability to disconnect when needed, which is especially important at a results-driven, high-growth startup.
Being able to scale your business in a way that doesn’t compromise employee wellbeing is essential for every business. And as we get used to our new remote working environment, the right to disconnect has never been more important.
Applying the philosophies we use every day in customer success can help businesses retain talent, build a positive work culture, and help their teams thrive in this new reality.