How to Stop Clients from Invading Your After-Hours Time

It’s Friday afternoon. You clean up and get ready for respite. Surprise, surprise … within an hour of checking out for the weekend, a phone call comes in. What do you do? Ignore the call? Pick it up? As a web worker who can work anywhere, any time, is it possible to mark the end of the day?
The best time to deal with this situation is at the start of a relationship. “I treat my consultant/contractor work like a regular job, and set expectations when I first speak with a prospective client. I explain what my work hours are and that I’m not available in the evenings or weekends,” says Deborah Edwards-Onoro.
Like most web workers, you may be flexible and accept occasional out-of-hours work. Still, it could snowball into a regular thing. “Frankly, if you don’t set the parameters ahead of time, you’re setting yourself up for expectations that aren’t going to be acceptable,” says Michele Wilcox.
What if you have multiple clients and they all decide to call on you at the same time, or you bite off more than you can chew? Draw a line under your time by being proactive with these tips.

  • Discuss work hours at the start of a relationship. Specify your hours of availability and your flexibility. Set guidelines for special projects and emergencies that require out-of-hours work. These guidelines could include number of days or hours of advance notice for after hours work, list higher rates and how to handle emergencies. Get all of this down in a simple contract template that you can re-use.
  • Keep separate phone lines. Web workers should have separate phone numbers for home and business. It’s not professional to use one line for both, especially as there are plenty of telephony options available that can make it possible without a big expense.
  • Find a voicemail tool with features you need. Some voicemail providers offer features that give you more control over how the service handles your calls.
  • Let calls go to voicemail. Your client may be calling to share a thought without expecting you to answer. Let voicemail take the message and then check to see what the client has to say. Answering every time gives the impression you’re “always on.”
  • Turn off the phone. The phone should be there for your convenience. Despite this, some people struggle to ignore a ringing phone.
  • Set email guidelines. Tell your clients when they can expect an email response. You can set a rule that you reply within two hours during working hours and then a different rule for after hours and weekends.
  • Post your business hours. List your hours on your web site and in your voice mail, or indicate the best time to reach you. Prospective clients will respect your hours if they see your schedule before hiring you.
  • Turn off instant messaging, Facebook chat and similar tools. If clients contact you by instant messaging (IM) or on other platforms such as Skype, remember to switch your status to “away” as needed — or turn off the service.
  • Be proactive and present. Some clients don’t think to ask if you’re available for after-hours work. Rather than waiting for it to happen, tell the client that you’re flexible and would appreciate advance notice if something comes up. “If a client feels taken care of, he or she may hesitate before picking up the phone on weekends or after hours,” says Michelle I. Zavala.

Some people believe “always on” is the way to stay ahead of competitors, but it can harm your health and work quality. “How can you give your best to a client if they’re calling you, say, in the middle of the night and you’re asleep?” asks Teresa Nolan Barensfeld. “Another point is that your clients won’t see you as a professional if you don’t set any boundaries about your availability.”
Some freelancers say they compromise with after-hours work by taking time off during the day. You may run into clients who need 24/7 support. Steer away from such a set-up by asking questions and understanding their expectations. “Not everyone needs to set these boundaries for themselves and not every business model allows them. However, I have found that I am far more productive if I have a clear distinction between my office hours and the time I spend with my family,” says Laura Sultan.
How do you manage after-hours work?
Photo by stock.xchng user Hans Thoursie.