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Michael MurphyPeter Chatterton

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

With the rise of remote work and mobile technologies like smartphones and tablets, there is no denying that more people are reaping the benefits of an evolved work environment. Thanks to desktop virtualization in particular, employees are able to work with any device, at any given time, anywhere, leading to improved work-life balance and increased productivity.

But debating how to disconnect from work while on vacation will become a more common question, than how to best support the team while away from the office.

Technology has become something of a double-edged sword, with a 2015 Randstad Canada survey finding 65 per cent of men and 50 per cent of women say they respond immediately to work-related calls and e-mails outside office hours, and 40 per cent even do so while on holidays. In fact, Arianna Huffington implemented a tool at Huffington Post that automatically deletes e-mails sent during vacation to remove temptation to respond.

However, employees and business leaders don't need to go to such lengths for a healthy work-life balance. The following tips can ensure that a personal life be preserved during any time off.

Set strict working hours

The inability to separate work hours from personal time is an easy trap to fall into. Whether it's corporate expectations, trying to get ahead in your career or thinking that answering 'just one more' e-mail will help, employees can easily be trapped in never-ending work.

Separating personal and professional time is a two-pronged approach which includes both self discipline and clear communication with the team. On a personal front, clearly divide what time will be personal time (family dinner, playing with the kids, etc.) and what times you're 'on the clock'. While this can't always be set in stone, the more a routine is established, the easier it is to follow. Once this schedule has been determined, support these efforts by relaying your work hours to your team. Consider placing an 'Out of Office' notification so that your team is aware of when you're unavailable.

Know how to prioritize

Not all work needs immediate attention. Determining and managing priority items is not only useful when working remotely, but in all aspects of business. Not all e-mails need to be answered straight away, so it's essential to clearly communicate to your team your hierarchy of importance so that you can successfully step away from the virtual office.

Establishing priorities should also be included in any kind of employee training. Your team should have the capability to properly identify what situations require urgent attention, and which e-mails are simply important or low priority. Not only does this help the team keep on the same page on business deliverables, but it helps ensure stress arises only when it's truly warranted.

Your device shouldn't be attached to the hip

With an Intel study finding that 75 per cent of people believe it's okay to bring phones and laptops into public restrooms, it's clear the line is blurring between work and downtime – especially in the world of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). What was once a personal phone for connecting with friends, is now also your virtual office with access to your apps and data. Pair this with bad habits like sleeping next to phones, which negatively affects sleep quality, 24-7 connection has become our reality.

It's crucial to spend time without physical contact from technology to fully disconnect. In cases where this is simply not feasible (or unthinkable), consider wearables like Apple Watch or Ringly which notify of important events or emails without the individual having to constantly check their phone.

Don't be afraid to set the example

Employees naturally look to leadership to gauge what is expected of them. As a result, a leader unable to disconnect is likely going to find themselves leading a team who cannot either. This can have negative repercussions on a company's bottom line; research by John Pencavel of Stanford University in 2014 found that even if an employee works 70 hours, it's the equivalent of 55 hours of productivity. Managers must be able to disconnect and communicate to their team that they can do so as well.

Of course, the nature of some businesses means being unable to afford a team that's fully disconnected. But just like doctors, a team's time can be scheduled into segments of being 'on-call' and completely off the clock. Establishing a schedule is not only beneficial for employees, but helps to ensure businesses are effectively able to provide support to their clients or customers. Scheduling time is far more effective than a drained team that is permanently connected.

The upcoming holiday season is a great opportunity to begin implementing new processes and develop healthier habits to start the new year with a happy – and highly effective – workforce.

Michael Murphy is vice-president and country manager, Citrix Canada.

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