Rob Freeman got all kinds of pushback when he suggested an internal policy to ban after-hours emails between employees at Tradewind Energy.
“People didn’t like the idea because they saw a negative effect on their flexibility – of being able to work when they wanted to work,” said the CEO of the Kansas company that develops large-scale wind and solar power projects.
“I did it anyway.”
After months of well-intentioned suggestions that employees needed down time, that they should disengage from their jobs at night and on weekends, Freeman had seen little change. So he dictated a policy, one that he policed by calling out violators who sent internal emails between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Now, several months after the ban, he said he sees only truly urgent emails sent after hours and sent only to co-workers who must be involved in handling the urgency. He’s also noticed that the definition of “urgent” changed.
“If it absolutely has to be handled at the moment, pick up the phone or text the person who needs to know,” Freeman recommended.
The Tradewind Energy policy dovetails with a “right to disconnect” law that went into effect in France on the first of the year. Both seek to address the always-connected world of work and the stresses on personal life.
“People who didn’t think it would work now say thank you,” Freeman said. “It’s been a game changer to help them disengage from work, pay attention to their families, pursue hobbies.”
About 20 to 30 of Tradewind Energy’s 110 employees are on the road a lot. Freeman said it makes sense for them to unload their email inboxes after a day in the field. He does that himself. But if a message seeks an internal response, he sets the answer to send the next morning.
Nothing in the policy prevents employees from sending after-hours emails to clients or customers. In fact, that can be a necessity in a business that does work across time zones. But controlling intraoffice emails was enough to make a difference, he believed – along with one other thing.
Freeman instituted no-meeting Wednesdays after he observed another cause of work stress. When workers’ calendars filled up with day after day of in-office meetings, the ramp-up and ramp-down times seriously cut into work productivity.
“I saw people shifting gears throughout the week, having to reset the table so often,” Freeman said. He instituted one meeting-free day each week to allow employees uninterrupted work time.
In another efficiency step, he combined meetings that used to be held throughout the week on a certain topic into one longer meeting scheduled every Monday.
“It kept us from going back over some of the same ground and eliminated an incredible amount of inefficiency,” he said.
Analyzing the effect of the changes, Freeman said his only regret was not doing it sooner because “for sure, it’s a retention tool and it probably helps recruiting, too.”