During my live training series, a VA asked me an excellent question “How do you set boundaries as an online COO, so that you don’t end up working at all hours of the day and night, especially if you’re the point person for so much in the business?” Boundaries are a very important topic because as a COO you do wear a lot of hats. You are essentially the hub of the team, the right hand (or really left brain) to the CEO, the project manager, and the team manager, and so much more. So how do you set clear boundaries as to your time and your role so that you don’t end up working ALL the time or doing ALL the things? And if you’re a CEO, stick around too because this might be a great lesson for you as well in leading your team to success and making sure you are respecting the boundaries of your team members.
One of the things I teach in the Digital COO Academy is the specific roles of the Digital COO. As I said earlier there are quite a few of them, but the biggest one being that you are essentially the HUB of the team. If you picture a wheel with spokes, the CEO or visionary is at the top of the wheel, and the COO is the hub/center and all the spokes are the other team members. There is a lot of things to juggle, including the people in the business and the projects that are in motion, which can easily lead to overwhelm. That is why clear boundaries are important.
One big boundary that I set with all my CEO’s and teams is that everything must be planned in advance. We do not do fly by the seat of our pants during launches, we don’t have an idea one day and just drop everything and run after it the next. We plan ahead and we stick to the plan because that’s how we can remain efficient as a team, but it’s also how we respect everyone’s time, especially the COO. I have set time every week that I work on planning future projects or objectives for each client. By planning out our projects and launches months in advance, we allow everyone to have clarity around exactly what tasks are due when, and they each team member, including the COO, now has control over their schedule.
Now I’m talking about teams comprised primarily of contractors here. If you work full time as a COO and are an employee, your boundaries are going to be different. But if you are a contracted COO, it’s important that you are clear that part of your process is that you plan ahead and we stick with the plan. Now of course once in a while something may go awry, or we have to change directions quickly because something isn’t working, but it’s not the norm. Because in setting that boundary, you as the COO can have control over your time and the time needed to do your job effectively.
Another important boundary that you must communicate to your CEO clients is exactly how you work. So that means, what are your working hours? When do you respond to Voxer or Slack messages? What’s is the normal process in when you work on projects for them? My clients know that I am a mom and I work and communicate between the hours of 8am and 3pm. I usually throw a workout and lunch break in there somewhere, but that’s when I’m available to them. They know my kids are home from school in the afternoons so after 3pm I’m driving my girls to dance, helping with homework, making dinner, and otherwise tending to the kids. And yes I’ll answer a Voxer message here and there, but my working hours are until 3pm. They also know that I do most meetings on Mondays and Tuesdays. I prefer to stack all my meetings those days so that I can really dig into client work on Wednesdays and Thursdays and then Fridays I mostly work on my own business.
I’m also very clear about vacations and time off. And because I rarely take time off, when I do I am gone: I am not checking Asana and I am not listening to Voxer messages. But it’s all ok because we have planned everything in advance, so everyone on the team should be fine for that time. This is all spelled out for my clients so they know when to expect to hear from me, or why I might not be responding to an Asana message at 5pm. My teams all know how and when to best get ahold of me. Communication is key with setting boundaries.
The next boundary I set can be a tricky one for so many COO’s and that relates directly to their role, or really what their role is NOT and that is an executor. The COO is not a Virtual Assistant, they are not the executor of tasks, they are the planner of tasks. They manage the team, manage the projects, and manage the back end efficiency of the business. As a COO you can’t be focused on all of that if you’re busy uploading and scheduling an email to go out, or writing social posts, or creating a landing page in Kajabi. You are not the executor and you must set that boundary.
Now again there are exceptions, if we are in the middle of a launch and a sign up link is broken and the person who normally handles the tech stuff is unreachable, then sure, I’ll jump in and help. Or if my client wants another set of eyes on her webinar landing page, I’ll hop in and give my feedback. I’m there to support the CEO and team as best I can, but I don’t ever assign execution tasks to myself in Asana. They are always assigned to someone else. Though as a supporter of the team, I do assign planning tasks. check-in tasks, or follow up tasks to myself in Asana all the time.
Lastly, batching your client work can help set up boundaries with your CEOs. To learn more about how batching can act as both a boundary and a great productivity hack, tune into this episode of Planning For Profit.