With smartphones, collaboration devices, WiFi, social media, and so much more, it is easy to feel like we're always connected. That's because we almost always are. But when work emails, phone calls, and meetings start happening at all hours of the day, regardless of if it is work or personal time, that's when we need to step aside to differentiate between connectivity and availability.  

Feeling the need to always answer emails and phone calls during non-work hours can lead to burnout and makes it easy to become disengaged at work. With constant availability, there's no time to rest and recuperate from work, which can drag employees down and lead to low morale and decreased productivity.  

What can we do to stop the cycle of endless connectivity and availability? The answer comes from honest communication and clear understanding from both employees and managers. 

Employees should set expectations for when they will be available. The easiest time to do this is at the beginning of employment, when you have the chance to set a precedent. However, expectations can also be set later by slowly weaning yourself off being available at certain times of the day or night. After all, if your boss knows you are always available and will respond to emails at every hour, he will keep sending them. But if your boss knows you aren't available on weekends or in the early mornings, you likely won't be contacted then. 

On the flip side, managers need to have realistic expectations from their employees. After all, employees are people, not machines. Some global organizations are actually trying to ban email, which would make their employees less connected and available. That isn't feasible in most organizations, but you can limit the times employees are expected to be available, especially the time that falls outside of normal working hours. Talk with your employees to create an availability schedule that works for you and them. 

New technology means it is easier than ever to stay connected, but we need to remember to not use it as a crutch. By choosing to be disconnected at certain times of the day or week, employees can rejuvenate, refresh, and come back to the table feeling more balanced and with fresh ideas. 

Constant connectivity can be a blessing and a curse. By taking steps to control our personal availability and creating honest expectations at work, we can have the best of both worlds of social connections and responsible work. 

How do you balance connectivity and availability?

Published on: Jul 13, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.