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Going offline: easier said than done

Published on Wednesday, June 7th 2023

We’re online a lot, which doesn't seem to cost much. Going completely offline, on the other hand, seems more difficult. To support employees in this, thus helping them strike a healthy work-life balance, the Belgian right to disconnect will be coming into force in April. Of course, in addition to the legal provisions, the agreements must also be adopted and complied with in actual practice. How does your organization approach this? Find out how to let people and technology work together to truly disconnect your employees.


Going offline: it’s your right

Companies with at least 20 employees are legally required to implement the right to disconnect, an important aspect of the Belgian Labor Deal. Both employers and employees are increasingly realizing that a good work-life balance is essential to keeping work sustainable. Therefore, the Labor Deal includes various measures to help employees better combine work and private life.

The right to disconnect means that employees have the legal right to be offline and therefore not to be available outside working hours. Employees must be able to completely disconnect from their work. As an employer, you may only contact an employee in the event of unforeseen or specific circumstances, and under clear agreements. As of April 1, 2023, it will be mandatory to include such agreements in a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) or in labor regulations.

Disconnecting requires a human effort

A company’s approach to the right to disconnect depends on the mentality of the organization and can be changed through effective change management. As an organization, it is important to show your employees that it is possible and acceptable to exercise this right. An organization may set a minimum standard and then give teams the freedom to make additional agreements that suit their specific needs.

To effectively implement the right to disconnect, from a user adoption and change management perspective, it is essential to facilitate agreements at the organizational level and communicate about them on an ongoing basis. In addition, management must also be actively involved in supporting this right and encouraging employees to make use of it. A company culture that respects work-life balance contributes to staff satisfaction and productivity.

It is important to establish an agreement framework, also known as people governance. This includes defining guidelines for managing the online status of employees. Having clear agreements in this area helps ensure organizational continuity and gives employees peace of mind when they are offline, knowing that others will be able to sort things out when they are not available.

What can you make agreements about?

  • When can or should you activate the “do not disturb” status?
  • What should be included in an Out of Office (OoO) message?
  • How and when can you reach employees who are often on the road?
  • What communication channels do we use, depending on the urgency of a communication?

It is also important to make practical agreements at the team level. For example, when someone is on leave, it must be respected, and they should only be contacted in exceptionally urgent cases. That shows respect for personal time and contributes to a healthy work-life balance. It is also essential to regularly revisit these agreements and make sure everyone is aware of who is available when. Keeping a well-updated calendar, for example, using a planning tool, can help.

Sharing these agreements and guidelines is essential, not only for existing employees, but also for new employees joining the organization. It gives them a clear picture of expectations and helps them quickly become aware of disconnection agreements within the team and the organization as a whole.

online offline

Technology can support you

In addition to implementing the right corporate culture and making practical agreements, technology tools play a crucial role in supporting the right to disconnect. It is important to see technology as a tool that can facilitate the process of disconnection and promoting a healthy work-life balance. When implementing disconnection guidelines, it is essential to first determine how you want to collaborate as a team, and then look at how technology can be used to support this process, rather than vice versa.

One of the technological aspects to consider is the conscious handling of statuses on communication platforms. By adjusting calendars and statuses correctly, team members can quickly and easily see if someone is available, offline or does not want to be disturbed. This creates more transparency and helps in making decisions about the right communication channels and methods. Asking if something is urgent and looking at the person’s status (online or offline) can help in selecting the right approach. By creating a kind of workflow for different situations, teams can make practical translations of the agreements and implement them in their daily communications.


Within platforms such as Teams, there are options to receive notifications when a person is available again. This can be useful for teams to know when a colleague is back from a break, leave or some other temporary offline moment, which helps to better coordinate communication flows and avoids unnecessary waste of time. In Outlook, too, you now have the choice to send an email to someone who is in Out-of-Office (OoO) mode, or to wait until they’re back at work. This function helps to respect colleagues’ disconnection and contributes to an effective communication culture.

It is also important to handle your online status responsibly. When you have finished working, it’s a good idea to close Teams completely and not leave it on “orange.” Otherwise, it can be confusing for others who are trying to contact you. The same goes for using the Teams mobile app, where just by quickly viewing messages, your status automatically turns green, even if you want to stay offline. Technology can therefore both help and hinder the enforcement of the right to disconnect. It’s important to be intentional about online statuses in all applications and devices and to actively take them offline when you don’t want to be available.

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