This article is about communicating how you want to, when you work from home.
Disclaimer: How I communicate might not work for you. You use this information at your own risk. You need to find a communication level you are comfortable with.
2021 Update: This is an old and outdated blog post that I published here in 2012. I’ve decided to leave it here as a glimpse into how I worked in the past.
I’ve worked from home for many years, and communicating with clients at times has been an issue. Some clients like to micro manage and will insist on speaking via mobile, whilst others want to Skype or chuck endless emails into your inbox. Other times I had calls at all sorts of hours, I assume because I’m not based in an office, tied to an employment contract, they feel the boundaries are down. Then as my work went more international, I had colleagues and clients around the world wanting to communicate at all sorts of hours.
Traditionally working late means you can get things done, but it started to become… ‘let’s disturb the chap in the UK, over trivial issues, I can just put in an email.’
What happened? My productivity was seriously impacted! At one time I had a SkypeIn number via a desktop. A local number via a VoIP router. My mobile phone, which also could handle Skype and also my email accounts. So three phone numbers, email accounts and instant messaging via Skype.
I found by catering so much to client’s communication needs, things got out of hand. Not only was I having to maintain all these communication channels, and communicate at times of day I didn’t want to, it ate up too much of my time, impacting my profit and my personal life.
Also clients started trying to use me to handle other work, such as qualifying the work directly with their clients, which wasn’t what I was being paid to do. They were trying to save money and free up their time. I was happy to, as long as I was paid more, but that isn’t want they wanted to do. I would receive a call, a skype message, or an email along the lines of… I need you to call my client for me, as you are doing the work and I’m too busy. The boundary between client and freelancer became too blurred, and often people when busy, try and push what you will do for them. I found the more available I became, the more I was being pushed.
So I decided to change how I communicate
So I decided enough was enough, and put my foot down. I was working from home and I wanted to experience more benefits from being self employed. I didn’t want unnecessary calls, and when someone is trying to micro-manage me, I definitely didn’t want to be disturbed throughout the day.
So I did the following:
Stopped using Skype
I decided to stop using Skype for business, even though I had been early adopter of the service. That meant my SkypeIn number was let go and I didn’t muck around with ‘away’, ‘busy’ or ‘offline’ status settings anymore. When people asked if I was on Skype, I said no and explained it was because I get disturbed all day and it stops me from providing affordable prices.
I stopped giving out my mobile number
I don’t want to use two mobile phones or turn my phone off. Plus I don’t want to be called up in the evening or at weekends. So I stopped giving out my mobile phone number. All those free minutes people are just eager to waste, were not going to waste my time! Also no more calls with clients whilst I am trying to enjoy a walk on a Sunday with my girlfriend!
I modified my email signature
I modified my email signature and now it doesn’t include a mobile or Skype number and ID. It feels great! I even use one email address where there is no phone number mentioned at all! I won’t go into the specifics, but there are times when I don’t need to supply a phone number, so I don’t bother.
I reduced the amount of time I checked my emails
Rather than checking my email every thirty minutes or less, I wanted to increase productivity. Now I check my email twice a day, but importantly I always get back to people. So they know I respond, but it won’t be within minutes.
I said No!
At times I had to say no to additional tasks, even when a client tried to make me feel like I was being unreasonable. I often do favours for people, but there is a difference between a favour and someone taking advantage!
My VoIP has an answer machine, so when it is out of hours it will send a voice mail as an email attachment. I write emails in the morning and in the late afternoon. No Skype. No mobile. No instant messaging.
What works for me, might not work for you. The restricted communication does work two ways, and sometimes I get frustrated by lack of progress by colleagues. However I don’t spend hours having virtual meetings, dealing with instant messages and basically reducing my output.
If someone is paying me a specific price for high quality work, then I do it. I don’t expect to waste two to three hours per week, per client on virtual meetings, instant messages and micro-management.
There has been some feathers that have been ruffled. I have found some colleagues want to micro-manage their freelance colleague, rather than my actual line manager manage me. i.e. take control. I don’t allow someone else jockeying for position to influence me.
Now I get to enjoy weekends with my girlfriend. When I am working late, I don’t worry about being disturbed and I am more confident when saying no to people.