03 December 2007

Office hours

Much as I love freelancing, it has its drawbacks. One of these is clients thinking they have an inalienable right to call or email at all hours. With the latter, I just ignore them until the next day, when I feel more inclined to type up a civilised reply to their emailed query. Phoning outside office hours gives me the right hump, though.

At 19.55 this evening, my phone rang. I picked it up, half-expecting it to be a friend or family member, and was all set to say I'd call back after EastEnders. It was a potential client. My heart sank. It was pure luck I was actually at my desk instead of on the sofa, because I really was about to tune into Albert Square. Quick as a flash, I apologised for not being able to talk right now as it was outside working hours and I was cooking. I scrawled his number on the back of an envelope and promised to call back next morning. Then I hung up and legged it into the living room with 30 seconds to spare before the EE theme tune kicked in.

This was a typical intrusion. I am fed up of people thinking that just because I work from home it's ok to call after 6pm. 'Cos it bloody well isn't. Nor is it ok to call on Saturdays or Sundays. I may well be working in the evenings or at weekends - I try to avoid it as much as possible, but at least if I do it, it's my choice. And nobody's business but mine. My website's contact page clearly states that my working hours are 9am to 6pm. In the evening, like everybody else who has a busy working life, I want to relax and unwind. I do not want to talk business.

Working from home has its plusses - I can nip to the shops when I feel like it, book haircuts or other appointments to suit myself, even take a nap on a slack day. Of course, it has taken me forever to instil in friends and family that my being at home does not mean I'm not really working. And that it's not ok to pop in for coffee when passing unless they've checked beforehand that it's convenient. All that, though, pales into insignificance alongside clients real and potential who think it's fine to butt in on my private time.

Time to install a second line, methinks...


Anonymous said...

Your post reminded me of a nightmare of a client I had about 2 years ago.

Even when informed I would bbe unavailable the man called continually. I was innudated with emails. I received so many emails from the client he made it nearly impossible to get work done when I was available. He really wasn't paying enough for my services to have me on call 24/7.

On top of all of those undesireable client characteristics he was demanding rude and insulting.

Sad to say it ended badly. When the opportunity presented itself to drop him like the provebial hot potato I did so. He did pay up.

I believe him to be genuinely unbalanced. I base this opinion on the fact he'd been through 3 different web designers, who, btw, are quite competent at what they do, before he hired me.

I have two lines in my home. I work from 12N-10PM Monday through Saturday. I turn off the business phone at 10PM. I do not work on Sunday as that is my day of rest. It is a rule that is strictly enforced.

I also agree with your comment about friends and family who think because we work at home we're just slacking. It's not possible to do so when your name is on the bills.

Unknown said...

Your ex-client does indeed sound like a real nightmare. Touch wood, I've yet to have one that intrusive, but I'm blunt enough that if I did, I'd politely but firmly point out that they could either have me available 24/7 on a monthly retainer to be paid in advance or they'd would be welcome to find another supplier.

A lot of my clients are either freelances themselves who hire me to work on their commercial documents or companies that are used to hiring freelances and themselves only operate within standard office hours. So it's mostly not a real problem. It's just the few who've not used a freelance before that don't grasp the etiquette.

As a post-script, I rang back yesterday's late caller as promised after 11am today. I got his voicemail so I left a message. He called again within 30 minutes and did apologise profusely for calling late last night. Round 1 to me. And I strongly suspect I'm going to get his business. Round 2 to me...

Juliet said...

Oh I do so empathise. It took years and years to train friends, relations and neighbours to leave us alone during working hours. I longed to ask them which of their office-working friends they'd be calling on next for a cuppa and a biscuit. As you say, it's our business if we sit up working till all hours or at w/ends and we shouldn't be *expected* to take calls/answer emails outside 'office hours'. My biggest problem now is clients who are so used to me being here 24/7 that they get in a strop when I DO go out for a haircut or (even more grump-making apparently), a school carol service or something to attend, and I get 'I've sent you three emails this afternoon and you haven't replied' and then all those 'cushy life' comments. If only they knew!

One very severe word of warning: NEVER get a BlackBerry. My husband has one and so is expected by clients to respond in an instant wherever he is, and no excuses, and that way madness lies . . .

Unknown said...

I'm on call daily for several clients, so I always give them advance warning if I plan to go AWOL for an hour or more - a quick email or Skype message works wonders and reinforces the notion that I have a life outside work.

My significant other was offered a CrackBerry by his employer and refused. Mind you, they had enough trouble getting him to agree to have a mobile phone. He usually leaves it at home, unless he's actually on a work trip. I manage fine without gadgets, although I do take my laptop on holiday to check my mail - regular customers get fair warning if I'm going away but I like to reply to new/potential clients just so they know I'm not ignoring them. I'll just mail back and say something like I'm working away from home for a few days and will be available again from xxx date".

L. Shepherd said...

I regularly have people email me at 1 or 2 a.m. with work-related stuff. I'm up then anyway, but most of those clients have no way of knowing that. Some of it is kind of time sensitive, so I'm wondering how other writers can even cope with that.

Unknown said...

I guess it depends where you are based, to a certain extent. But for me, the bottom line is making clear to my clients the hours I am available. Some of the stuff I work on is time-sensitive, but my clients take my availability into account. I'm simply not prepared to be on call 24/7 because I have the right to a life outside work. So laying down the law is the first commandment. If you are good and your clients value you, they will respect your availability and work with you.