17

I’m a night owl. I’m most productive/creative at night. I go to bed in the morning and sleep until late afternoon.

Being self-employed, this gives only a small timeframe for contact with clients, as they all follow the "tradtional" working time.

I guess you’d have similar problems working in different time zones. However, this is typically known by the client when they hire you. But they usually don’t know anything about your sleep-wake rhythm.

Should I communicate that I’m a night owl? I fear that this might deter clients to hire me.

Or should I try to find solutions without mentioning my sleep-wake rhythm? Maybe to ask for using e-mail or voice-mail (asynchronous conversation) instead of telephone (synchronous)? Would this work? Appointments for meetings/telephone calls could be made per e-mail resp. voice-mail then. I fear that most clients might not like this way as they are used to grab the telephone as soon as they have something in their mind, and they expect you to answer the call immediately or shortly.

  • Have you considered paying for a service to take calls for you during the day? – levelnis May 23 '13 at 10:10
  • @ColorWP.com: I’m not sure if your edit makes sense, as clients typically know that you live in a different time zone, but they usually don’t know that you have a different sleep-wake rhythm, especially not when we met before face-to-face. How to handle different time zones could be a separate question, I guess. Maybe we could rephrase the title for this question to make clear that the focus is about telling vs. not telling about the sleep-wake rhythm. – unor May 23 '13 at 16:30
  • @ColorWP.com: I changed the title so that it includes both reasons for having different work hours resp. sleep-wake rhythms. – unor May 23 '13 at 16:43
16

You're absolutely right assuming that your problem has very close relation to the problem of different time zones. So the answer would be much like the answer to the other question. Here are some ideas I found useful for myself, but YMMV, as usual:

Combine

There's no silver bullet. Phone, email, and instant messengers co-exist specifically because they solve communication problems in different ways, so sooner or later you need all of them.

Let Them Know Before They Call You

I find sudden phone calls the biggest plague for effective communication. It should be eliminated at all costs. How? Let's think why your client is suddenly calling you. Don't they have other things to do? The answer is — because they worry you are no longer there, or you are behind your schedule.
Or, maybe, your client is a big company, and they have a dedicated person (call them Alice) responsible for communication with freelancers. But wait, Alice has their own boss (say, Bob). Bob may have entered Alice's room and asked, "hey Alice, what's up with our freelancer?" If Alice does not know, it's a big red flag for me.
Plus, she will certainly try to call you, and you wouldn't be ready for a report!

It's your obligation to prevent it, by making sure Alice knew what you are doing at any given moment. Don't let Alice to call you. If that happens exactly when you are sleeping, you are screwed, not Alice or Bob.

Schedule Your Communication

  • Arrange weekly meetings. Make them short.
  • Keep your task-tracking system updated, always.
  • The same about source repository;
  • Be proactive. Don't wait your client called you, do it first and use your preferred communication tool.

It's just a personal opinion, but I always let people know when I'm awake and when I'm working. I make it clear that:

  • At working time, all communication tools are open;
  • At the other time (but while I'm awake) they can reach me by phone, but it can happen I'm not answering or I'm not at reach of computer. Email is preferred;
  • And yes, sometimes they catch me exactly when I'm sleeping. I call it the price for freedom. :)
7

Your client should know that you are in a different time zone and he should be well aware that you have your working hours and they have theirs. If you have a short time-frame where both of you are "awake", you may agree to use this for synchronous communication (e.g. by phone or real-time chat).

Rest of the time, you may communicate via email and the client should not expect a response from you within the next few hours. That's how business in different time zones works. Yes, indeed this will cause some clients to turn away and choose a different contractor, but I am sure you will have plenty of clients in a time zones matching yours. There is no point in forcing yourself to work during unrealistic times during the day, (usually) resulting in poor performance and results (e.g. due to sleepiness or incomfort).

Of course, there may be exceptions to this on exteremely large or important projects where things go down and need to be fixed URGENTLY (e.g. a live server experiences downtime and things need to be redirected). This shouldn't be a common thing in your business relationship though, and such scenarios (and the monetary compensation for them) should be arranged in advance in the contract.

In your scenarion, where you work on the same time zone with your clients, but prefer to work at night, I suggest you arrange a clear work schedule with your clients (something that you both agree on) or try working for international clients (from a different time zone) that are available during your work hours.

4

I work with customers in the US and am asleep during most of their work hours. In general customers should know when they can and can't get ahold of you.

You don't need to mention you are a night owl, but you should set expectations regarding your availability. For example, "My office hours are from 11am to 9pm" is fine.

I wouldn't mention your waking cycle. There could be all kinds of reasons for keeping non-traditional working hours.

One of the huge considerations though is ensuring there is some overlap with their work cycle. You want to ensure you are available to talk and there may be cases when you may want to get up early. But as long as you are clear about how to get in contact with you and you can be reliably contacted, I don't see a problem.

3

It depends on the type of services you provide and it should be taken into account before starting to offer such services in particular region.

If you offer written translation or writing company blog articles, for example, you can write in offer how long it would maximal take to finish the task (for example - translations up to 20 pages withing 3 work days). In such business model it's completely unimportant if you work at night or on day.

However, if the company usually needs some translations urgently, they will ask you about that anyway. They will usually expect that your working hours will be similar to theirs and that you will be checking mails/answering phones/etc.

If you are implementing a part of corporation's IT system, and this requires the arrangements, skype conferences etc., your working hours should at least overlap, but it also depends on client. Some companies will expect that if you're working for them, you should be reachable under phone from 9am. to 5pm., for example. But if your tasks are completely independent, they could accept, that you will become specification via mail and provide the product within N days, in that case it doesn't matter again in which hours you work.

So summming up, if you have untypical day/night rhythm, it limits your possibilities, but they are still immense.

3

Personally, I let them know that "I'm a late riser" and what my typical hours before we settle on pay.

If they insist I be available before 11 am, I insist on an increase in my hourly rate.

Being open up front, and negotiating adequate compensation accordingly prevents future disgruntlements.

3

Your client should definitely know that you have different working hours - I would just give him time-frame when I will be responding to calls, Skype, etc. And then observe the reaction and explain my working hours if needed.

At that point if they don't like that you are available for example from 15:00 to 2:00, you can do something that will gain you trust - finding out why it matters, why 2 or 3 hours overlap of mutual working hours is not enough. Because you will show you care about your client and you might find out that the reason is so important that you either need to accommodate them or reject the contract (finding ad-hoc solutions would mean you will both be unhappy and sleepy).

In short - offer them contact hours. If they don't like them, explain the reason; if they still don't like them, find out underlying cause and decide how to proceed further.

2

Admittedly, I haven't really been in any situations as a freelancer that required me to be on call 24 hours a day. But one thing that may help you communicate with international clients is working a split shift, if possible. This is an idea I got from my college days, working in retail. While our store was doing inventory, they would have me work the morning to set the sales floor and then come back in the evening to do inventory.

In my previous corporate job, I was officially supposed to work 40 hours per week, roughly 9am - 5:30pm (I wasn't paid for lunch breaks). However, I would usually get tired around 2-3pm and accomplish very little in that period - even after I started taking short exercise breaks in the afternoon. I ended up frequently working late because of this. At this workplace, we also had an offshore contractor who had almost a 12-hour time difference from us. One or two days a week, their team would stay late and we would come in early to do a phone call with them.

So since I've been freelancing, I've rarely worked an entire afternoon. Instead, I take about 3 hours off every afternoon to exercise. Then, I work well into the evening when I don't have to go somewhere else. I'll usually work a schedule like this: 8 - 8:30 am, 9:30am - ~2:30pm, 5:30pm - 7pm, 7:45pm - (anywhere between 9pm and midnight).

How a split shift schedule would impact interfacing with clients:

  • Since I have an "about 10 hours out of about 14" workday, I'm more available to clients without working a great deal of hours myself. And I tend to get more done because I'm working at my peak times.
  • In proposals, I list my core hours as 10am-2pm. I say that communication from me can generally be expected between 8am and 10pm.
  • I try to respond to emails within 24 hours (aside from weekends). For improved productivity, I only open my email client about 3 times a day most days.
  • I send status emails at least once a week. Frequency varies based on project needs and the stage of the project.
  • Although I haven't had to do this as a freelancer yet, I would recommend scheduling status meetings at a mutually agreeable time at least once a week. (Edit: One of my current clients and I mutually agree on times for status meetings. These generally take place during my core hours.)
  • I'm more responsive on the phone or if somebody tags me in a Facebook work group post.
  • Some freelancers, such as the 1WD.tv founders, recommend charging a higher hourly rate for a certain number of support hours per month. I am considering implementing this sort of policy.
0

I am both a night-owl at times and also work in different time zones. My main goal is to be responsive to my main clients in a timely manner and to not have my different hours cause a problem for their work flow. This sometimes means that I'll be up on a call at 4am in Europe with a client in New York who is working late on a deadline at 10pm. But I see this as the price I pay for being able to travel freely, work from different countries, and keep the schedule I want.

I also recommend what was said above about being proactive with your communication with clients: check in with them before they have to check in with you.

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