Emergencies happen. A damaging review has to be addressed on social media, a crisis in the news needs to be handled, your client’s office is on fire. I get it.
But how often are we corresponding with clients and co-workers after hours on non-emergency projects? I have been there, done that. Eventually, I realized what this was actually accomplishing. It was distracting me from being present in whatever I had been doing and was preventing my mind from taking its much-needed break from work.
If you want to spend your nights and weekends having conversations that could wait until the next business day, by all means, have at it. For those of you looking to limit these out-of-office interactions, here are a few things that have worked for me:
Clarify Expectations at the Get-Go
In the job interview or meeting with a prospective client, clarify how accessible you will need to be during your personal time. For some positions and accounts, it may be very obvious that you’ll need to be available after hours, like if you’re managing social media or crisis communications.
However, if it seems reasonable that – other than reacting to true emergencies – you can successfully fulfill your role during normal work hours, it’s worth setting those expectations up front. A good question to ask the prospective employer or client to gauge their expectations might be:
“How available would the right candidate need to be after hours? For example, are you looking for someone who’s able to read and answer emails and texts on nights and weekends?”
Keep Your Communications to Working Hours
If you don’t want to be answering calls, texts and emails after hours, don’t send them. When you send a client, boss or colleague an email on the weekends, it signals to them that you work on the weekends. This risks opening the floodgates for them to contact you at all hours.
When I have something pop in my head at 8 p.m. that I really want to get off my mind, I write the email and then use a tool like Google’s email scheduling or Boomerang to have the email send the next business day.
Set Automatic Out-of-Office Email Responses
Automated out-of-office email responses are a great way to manage expectations. Most people set them before an extended time away from the office, like a vacation or maternity leave. But here are some other ways I’ve seen them used:
- Gone for the day or part of the day: If I’m out of the office for even a few hours during a workday, I’ll put on my OOO. If I’m available via phone or text message, the OOO will say something like: “Thank you for your email. I’m away from my computer this afternoon. If you have an urgent need, please call or text me at XXX.” If I’m not available at all during that time, I’ll provide a colleague’s contact information, or simply say I’ll get back to your email as soon as I can tomorrow (assuming tomorrow’s a workday).
- OOO set always: I’ve never tried this, although I know some people who do. Every email they receive triggers an automated email that indicates when the sender can expect a response. I’ve seen: “I check my emails every workday between 10 and 11 a.m. and 2 and 3 p.m. Please call if you have an immediate need. Otherwise, I’ll respond as soon as possible.” I’ve also seen the creative: “If you emailed me during the week, you can expect to hear back within 48 hours. However, if it’s on the weekend, I am more than likely resting/spending time with family/friends and doing my best to be present with them. So, you’ll get a response as soon as I’m back into the groove on Monday!”
Address it Head-On
Even if we’ve set expectations and are following the rules ourselves, sometimes clients and co-workers will still unnecessarily blow up our phones after hours. When that becomes a habit, it’s probably best to address the offender head-on.
The best way to approach this will depend entirely on the person and situation. It could be an easy, casual conversation or it could be a more difficult conversation. But, this other person is not likely to change his or her behavior until they know that it’s an issue for you.
Have any other tips for how to limit communications after hours? Please share them in the comments below!