Throughout my working life, I’ve found that late-night emails have always been a bone of contention. Colleagues and clients alike have sometimes felt that it added a level of pressure, that perhaps deadlines were now up for debate (because what constitutes a ‘work day’ as the boundaries between life and work blur and constant availability becomes the norm?).
Has email at all hours become just another form of presenteeism – to be seen to be working hard when others were not. If a client or a co-worker sends a late-night email, does that mean the recipient has to respond in kind? Can it wait?
I want to look at some of the things you can do if you have clients constantly needing attention plus reflection points if you hire your own team.
I’m a believer that the key here is having context, and boundaries.
We live in a world of ever-increasing connectivity where businesses thrive on work from across the globe, which subsequently means navigating multiple time zones. If everyone is working in different time zones, how then, does sending late-night emails present a problem?
My Email Stress
Recently, I had a client who needed something completed by a very vague ‘tomorrow morning’. She sent her request at 11:39 pm.
The next morning at 8 am, I read my emails. I saw the urgent email. My heart leapt.
The pressure to get it done was upon me. It was unclear if she had a time in mind, or meant anytime before noon, or if perhaps it was even less specific than that! I had a few urgent and complex tasks for other clients to complete before I could work on hers, and I honestly felt pretty stressed.
I know if I hadn’t gone to bed hours earlier (because hello 9 pm bedtimes!), that email would have bothered me through the night as well.
But the question is: did she actually send it at 11 pm because it was urgent, or because that’s when she checks her emails?
This is where having strong client relationships comes to the fore: because I know this client well, I understand that her day is hectic and that she’s a night owl; sending emails at 11 pm makes sense for her lifestyle. She was unlikely to need my response by 8 am because she wouldn’t be online at that time. But if I hadn’t known her I would have broken out in hives and felt like a hot mess!
It goes without saying that, as business owners and professionals, the prospect of letting a client down causes immense stress as it can damage a relationship irrevocably. I build personal relationships with my clients and I don’t want to destroy that connection.
Receiving emails at night can cause unnecessary stress and throw client management out of its regular pattern. The key here is communicating expectations!
It turns out this was a ‘whole day’ deadline and everything worked out just fine. Phew! For her, it was urgent because it needed doing in 24 hours and there’s no way she could have done it. Whereas for me, in that week, urgent meant within 2 hours!
If reading a late-night email causes stress (and everyone has been on the receiving end), then why do we as business owners still do it/still react to them so negatively?
What Do Late Night Emails Even Mean?
A late-night email is normally the result of one of these things:
- Navigating different time zones between client, contractor and/or business owner
- Necessity: this is just the time that works best for the person concerned to respond to emails
- Both of the above
- You’re working with someone who needs you available at all times
I’m hopeful that, for you, it’s 1, 2, or 3.
The general rules for late-night emails don’t make sense
Most guidelines say that you should never send late-night emails but…
That rule seems a little outdated, and here’s why:
- Contractors, suppliers, and customers can be anywhere in the world and cross time zones even within your own country.
- Not everyone adheres to typical 9-5 working hours, so 11 pm might just the time that’s been designated to respond to emails. That’s the beauty (or perhaps the curse) of being your own boss, right?!
- In the age of ‘self-care’, it should hopefully be a given that most people will not have their email alerts on 24/7 – so an email requesting a change to a large custom project won’t make you jump up in the night to start immediate work and the sender shouldn’t expect it either. Trust in people’s ability to manage their workloads and life/work balance.
Saying that, I also think we owe people happy interactions with our business and that we should keep in mind the power differences that others might feel.
Whoever holds the purse strings is the one in charge: internally that’s the boss, externally that’s the client. When we receive late emails from clients often the pressure to comply (and quickly) can be immense.
When the boss is working, the team oftentimes feels it should be working too. As entrepreneurs, you can be on both sides of that statement quite quickly.
Teammates who feel pressured to respond at any time of day don’t get the opportunity for a fresh perspective, time fully away from work, and self-care. All the things we need for better creativity and productivity.
So, how do you find the balance between maintaining the strength of your routines and needs with good working relationships and better creativity?
Set Time Boundaries Early On
Late-night emails can continue to be stressful if there are no boundaries in place. Make it clear from the outset when you’re available for work, and in your response to requests state when you will be able to get the work done – including the time zone as part of this (e.g. “I can get this back to you by 11 am EST”). If necessary you can also let the client or contractor know if this would have any impact on an overall deadline.
Mindfulness is a buzzword doing the rounds these days, but it applies as much to work-life as anywhere else. We’ve gone over why your late email could cause stress: make sure you’re mindful of it in how you interact with people both inside and outside of the company. You’ll make better, more mindful decisions when you know how you could be affecting others.
Not being able to switch off from work makes people exhausted and potentially resentful. No one can pour from an empty cup. Consider the impact your late-night needs will have on productivity, creativity and the longevity of your staff/contractors wanting to work for you.
Boomerang for Gmail is hands down the best experience for your business. I’ve spoken about using it before, and I’m back to sing its praises again.
It has features that allow you to improve the quality of your email, and schedule it for any time that makes sense for you and the recipient.
No more late-night emails, stressed contractors or looking like that weirdo who always sends emails at 2 am.
There are lots of alternatives that can be used in Outlook and other email platforms.
Build Your Business Culture
Business culture is an important facet of how your business is perceived both by the people who work with it and for it. What are your values, and how do these impact the way you operate? Culture can be determined from the outset, through contracts and in meetings. For example, you could say that you expect replies but only during business hours (and state what those hours are). Explain that you may send emails late at night, but if it’s truly an emergency you will call them and leave a message.
Alternatively, pop a note in your emails as you go:
“I realize this may be reaching you quite late. I don’t expect a response right now and this isn’t urgent. It’d be great to hear back from you within business hours.”
This means your team knows that your request for a new Etsy description isn’t needed ASAP. And they won’t burn themselves out trying to meet your needs at 3 am.
Is this really urgent?
Grand ideas at midnight could well be your thing, and in the moment they may seem like urgent things to action immediately. However, take a moment before you mark the email as a high priority and ask “is this really urgent?”
You’ll know this if:
- The action will stop your business from going bankrupt
- The action will increase something that you need to stay afloat
- It’s a life or death situation
- You may lose a valuable client if this action isn’t taken
If it’s truly urgent then try a different method of communicating… because I’d like us not relying on email in life and death situations. Which brings me to my next point…
Find Alternative Communication Methods
Don’t rely on email as a means of getting an immediate response. Whilst some people do check theirs frequently, or even have alerts set up, this won’t be the case for everyone. So don’t rely on email for urgency – just as you wouldn’t email the ambulance services to get immediate medical care.
Call people, leave a message, follow up with a very brief text, and then wait for a response.
Also…ask yourself: is chasing people down may not be the best use of your time when managing a crisis?
Express Ideas in Another Way
If you’re emailing to tell your team about a great idea, or you’re wanting to tell a client that you’ve just had a brainwave then don’t email.
Express your creativity and thoughts through Google Docs, Trello, or even in Facebook groups – anything to help you feel better and develop a more concrete action plan.
There is never a reason to send a late-night email with a random thought. In fact, I think that applies to any time of day.
Moving Forward with Late-Night Emails
In short, think before you send! Remain mindful of the impact late-night emails can have on the productivity and perception of both you as a boss and your business as a whole. It could set a precedent of you always being available, which can create an expectation that you can’t always meet. It could also make it look like there is no effective time management in place.
Being mindful of the wording of anything you do send so that your team knows they don’t have to jump to work at 10:30 pm. It can be a simple message stating your reply expectations. It doesn’t take much to build that mindfulness and kindness into your business.
Finally, send whatever you like but know that it can cause toxicity within your team and within working relationships. And you definitely don’t want that in your business.
Did you know that I’m a speaker at the upcoming Boss Project Summit? I’ll be talking more about how to say no to clients, building business boundaries and more. I’ve even got a brand new workbook I’m giving away just for attending, as well as an opportunity to win a free accountability session with me.
Did I mention that it’s ALL FREE???