At UCL, we have been researching how people cope with work-life balance issues and the expectation of being always online. Our findings show that technology should be designed to be more in line with our values and make us stop and think when this is not the case.

But it’s not all down to technology – individuals play a key role in managing their own work-life balance. We found that there are workarounds and strategies that people can put in place to make technology work for them, to align digital behaviours to personal values and feel in control of work-life balance.
These are microboundary strategies.

Microboundaries (Cecchinato et al., 2015, Cox et al. 2016, Cecchinato et al. 2017) are strategies put in place by users to limit the negative effects of boundary cross-overs (e.g. receiving a work email on a weekend) and feel more in control. When we feel in control, we experience less stress and fewer interruptions between work and non-work. They relate to digital behaviours and can occur on devices, applications, accounts, and notifications and we have clustered them into four categories:

  • digital  (e.g. using separate accounts and/or applications);
  • physical  (e.g. deciding when not to wear a smartwatch or carry a device);
  • temporal  (e.g. enabling ‘do not disturb’ mode at night);
  • social (e.g. disabling notifications when out for dinner or deleting an app when on holiday).

We have compiled a list of microboundary strategies divided between email, other communication, notification, time, and expectation management.



Cecchinato, M.E., Cox, A. L., & Bird, J. (2017). Always On(line)? User Experience of Smartwatches and their Role within Multi-Device Ecologies. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing systems. Denver, CO.

Cox, A.L., Gould, S., Cecchinato, M.E., Iacovides, I., Renfree, I. (2016). Design Frictions for Mindful Interactions: The Case for Microboundaries. In Proceedings of the 34th Annual ACM Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM.

Cecchinato, M.E., Cox, A.L., & Bird, J. (2015). Working 9-5? Professional Differences in Email and Boundary Management Practices. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing systems. Seoul, South Korea.