When you work 9-3 but your clients work 9-5.
This week Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have a chat in response to a question from Rosie Bakewell AKA Anonymous. She says:
“I’m working alongside another freelance consultant on a project, and our client is a big corporate organisation.
As a mum to a 5-year old daughter, I only work in school hours and during school term-time.
However, none of the people I work with have children, so they work 9 to 5 (and more). AND the client has team members in the US who aren’t available until 2pm in the UK.
A few times I’ve ended up having to work after 3pm, juggling work with looking after my daughter, because nobody else was available to move an urgent task forward.
I’ve had enough of this, and with the new school year coming, I’d like to set some firm boundaries. But I’m worried that I will seem awkward and unhelpful if I say I’m not available after 3pm??
Do you have any tips on setting and maintaining boundaries with clients who don’t have children and so don’t understand the challenges associated with being a working parent?”
• • • • •
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Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.
Here’s what was said in this episode:
Comments on the previous episode:
[00:02:13] – Frankie
Hello, you’re listening to the Doing It For The Kids podcast where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. I’m Frankie and this is Steve.
[00:02:24] – Steve
Hello! Yes, each episode we take a question from the Doing It For The Kids community, do our best to answer it. But we start each episode by looking back at the last episode.
Now, we’ve had the summer holidays, it was a long time ago, but last episode we were talking about…
[00:02] – Frankie
We were talking about when you only ever get into the zone when you’re due to pick up your kids.
[00:02:43] – Steve
Oh yes, Lucette Funnell got in touch, who says:
“Yes, this is me! I always thought I was a morning person, but that’s only if I’m up really early, have no kids around and have had a good night’s sleep. So basically — never!
I’m always in the flow by lunchtime, then need to eat, then back in the flow until BOOM — it’s suddenly time to get the kiddos. I’ll often record voice notes on the school run so I can eek out the last few minutes of flow. I had to pretend I was having a conversation with someone on the phone the other day as I went past a lollipop lady.”
[00:03:17] – Steve
We don’t have a lollipop person.
[00:03:18] – Frankie
No, neither do we. We should. Bloody hell.
[00:03:23] – Steve
Maybe it could be you!
[00:03:24] – Frankie
Maybe I should volunteer. Yeah.
Ella Jarman Pinto says:
“Yep, I’m exactly the same. I find that I work best at night, especially if I have a deadline. There are no distractions, it’s quiet and I have the end goal of wanting to go to bed. But now with kids, I need my sleep and don’t do the night work anymore unless I’m desperate. The last hour of my day is super productive/rushed.”
[00:03:44] – Steve
[00:03:46] – Frankie
“I’ve discovered that having a physical shake out and setting a timer using Siri so I don’t get distracted by my phone gets me sat down and looking at the work at least. I’ll also set myself ‘mini goals’ — ‘I need to email this in an hour’, etc. Whether I do this or not is another thing. I think I need a list of productivity hacks taped to my computer!”
[00:04:05] – Steve
Siri. That’s a good idea, actually. Although does anybody else have this? My daughter came in the room the other day and I went “Hey sweetie”. I rarely call her sweetie, but I did and bloody Siri went, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that”. Presumptuous! I mean, I know I love my phone…
[00:04:23] – Steve
Sally Tyson says:
“The only thing that might help is to use the Pomodoro method earlier in the day. You have to switch everything else off and even say out loud what you are going to do. Sometimes I managed to kickstart the zone that way.”
[00:04:39] – Frankie
And Helen Greenwood, who is resident comedy genius of the Doing It For The Kids community — everything she posts makes me cackle!
Anyway, she says:
“I have two questions. One, why does a haunted pickled egg make a ‘woooo’ sound?”
[00:04:58] – Steve
I forgot about the haunted pickled egg!!
Yeah, so what sound would it make?
[00:05:03] – Frankie
Well, she says:
“Surely it would make more of a sad…” I can’t read it without laughing!
Right, here we go:
“Surely it would make more of a sad squelching sound with a faint hint of last orders bell?”
[00:05:22] – Steve
Clearly I’m an excellent actor, but I’m not sure I can pull that off.
[00:05:30] – Frankie
Helen’s second question is:
“Why did no one tell me the Early Lunch Club was about being more productive? I assumed people were, like me, excitedly thinking about their lunch mid morning and just going for it. I don’t know what to think anymore.”
Our answer to this week's question:
[00:09:40] – Steve
Okay, episode 85 and we’re starting with an anonymous question.
Are we still doing the detective name generator?
[00:09:47] – Frankie
I don’t know. You can just pluck a name out of the air if you like?
[00:09:50] – Steve
Hang on, I’m going to choose a name. I’ve got flyer here from Cook. Cook? The frozen food people.
[00:09:57] – Frankie
Any names in there? Barry Bourguignon?
[00:10:00] – Steve
Rosie Roasted Vegetable Lasagna? Could be a triple barrel name?
Hello, there’s a Cherry Bakewell Pudding. What about that? Rosie Bakewell?
[00:10:12] – Frankie
[00:10:12] – Steve
Okay, episode 85 and it’s anonymous. We’re going to say it’s from Rosie Bakewell. Hey, Rosie.
“I’m working alongside another freelance consultant on a project and our client is a big corporate organisation. As a mum to a five-year-old daughter, I only work in school hours and during school term time. However, none of the people I work with have children, so they work 9am to 5pm and more. And the client has team members in the US who aren’t available until 2pm in the UK.
A few times I’ve ended up having to work after 3pm, juggling work with looking after my daughter because nobody else was available to move an urgent task forward. I’ve had enough of this! And with the new school year, I’d like to set some firm boundaries. But I’m worried that I will seem awkward and unhelpful if I say I’m not available after 3pm.
Do you have any tips on setting and maintaining boundaries with clients who don’t have children and so don’t understand the challenges associated with being a working parent?
Yours, Rosie Bakewell.”
[00:11:19] – Frankie
It’s such a good question and a perfect one given we’re about to return to school hours. I’d be interested to know actually, how this person has managed over the summer break. Because she says, “I only work during term time”. So, I mean, Rosie — you have already set a massive boundary there. How did you do that? How did you communicate that to them? I need tips!
[00:11:42] – Steve
Because whatever you did obviously worked. But that is genuinely an impressive boundary to set. And if you genuinely do not work during the school holidays with this particular client, then it’s an extension of whatever you did there. Right?
[00:11:59] – Steve
Well, there’s a few things here, aren’t there? Because there’s like, classic boundary setting, but then there’s also the parent thing, or not parents. And then there’s the America thing.
[00:12:09] – Frankie
The parent, not-parent thing is hard because, like, there’s nothing worse as a not-parent to be told, “Well, you wouldn’t understand because…” You know, that whole thing.
[00:12:20] – Steve
Like yeah, you can’t say that, can you?
[00:12:22] – Frankie
Yeah, I guess what I’m saying is the whole parent, not-parent thing can be like a sticking point. I can see how if, with the wrong personalities, that could be a really hard conversation to have and a hard thing to communicate.
[00:12:35] – Steve
I wonder whether sometimes we worry about it too much though. Do we have to justify why we’re not available? Like, you are not an employee — you are working freelance and your hours are blah blah until blah blah.
[00:12:51] – Frankie
I mean, I’m in two minds because one part of me is very like… I have no shame in telling people that I’m a parent and I can’t work outside of these hours because I have to look after my children. But also, hopefully, we now live in a world where flexible working is increasingly a thing. And people work flexible hours for all sorts of reasons. They have children, they have mental health issues, they have their own chronic health issues, they’re caring for somebody, whether that’s a parent or a child or whoever.
What I’m saying is, we don’t necessarily need to educate them about the challenges of being a working parent. That shouldn’t be the point. The point is you’re working flexibly for whatever reason and that’s the end of it. I equally think it’s fine to say, “I work school hours because I’ve got small children”, but I also think it’s fine to just say, “I work these hours because that’s how I operate and that’s been agreed with whoever gave me the job”.
However you choose to… I don’t want to use the word ‘justify’… However you choose to explain it, it needs to be communicated in as many places as possible and as clearly as possible so that everybody you’re working with — including the people in the US — know what the deal is.
[00:14:03] – Frankie
What are their expectations about your hours and what is that based on?
So, do you have a contract with these people? And does it say when you work? If you don’t have a contract, have you put it in writing somewhere as to when you work and how you work? Has it been communicated to them? And if it has, has it even been communicated to the right people? Because we talked about this before… She says it’s a ‘big corporate organisation’, right? So even if you signed a contract, the people you’re working with haven’t bloody read it.
[00:14:36] – Frankie
And if you’ve communicated your working hours in an email, the likelihood is maybe one person who hired you for the job has looked at that. But does the team know? Has that been communicated by them to the team?
I guess is it worth reminding people. In fact, now school’s started, that’s a good opportunity, isn’t it? “My kids are now back at school. Just a reminder that I work these hours on these days”.
Also, you can build that information into your… what’s it called… in your emails?
[00:15:01] – Steve
[00:15:02] – Frankie
You can build your hours into email signature.
You can also have an automated Out Of Office that sets boundaries. You can communicate that information in a way that should catch people who might not know what the setup is.
[00:15:14] – Steve
Yeah, I always admire when I, you know, like… if I get an out of office, I find that really helpful if I’m working with somebody who isn’t going to get back to me until whenever. And the thing is, it isn’t always freelancers. Sometimes it’s just people who have flexible working shifts, for that matter, in a big corporate organisation.
I also think sometimes we might get invited to calls at times that we don’t want to do. And personally, I say, “I can’t do that time” and I don’t explain, “Oh, I’ve got my kids then”. We feel like we have to explain it because of our kids. But actually it’s okay that you’ve simply got other commitments which means you can’t do a meeting at that specific time.
However, there is a point here where if we want to be flexible and work with people overseas — and this is the crunch point — it’s simply the case that there is only a window of opportunity. Just the same as they shouldn’t expect you to be having a call at 1am, you shouldn’t expect them to have a call at their 5am.
[00:16:18] – Frankie
[00:16:19] – Steve
When you work internationally, there has to be that sort of flexibility. And is it that there is a regular review meeting, for example, at 4pm UK time on a Thursday? If that’s a regular thing, then maybe there’s an after school club, maybe you can get to know other parents, they can go to this friend’s house for a playdate situation.
[00:16:42] – Frankie
[00:16:43] – Steve
And then you reciprocate — that sort of thing. I’ve already got one of those lined up for this Friday.
[00:16:49] – Frankie
The international element is the complicating factor, isn’t it?
[00:16:52] – Steve
But that doesn’t mean if you tell me there’s a meeting this afternoon that I’m going to do it, because I’ll say no. I’m working with a big corporate organisation and I often am not on the weekly call, but instead there is somebody else on the call and then they tell me what happened. So it might be that there’s a similar situation here. It’s worth exploring anyway, isn’t it? Like, do I really have to be on these calls every night?
[00:17:24] – Frankie
Can this meeting be an email? Yeah.
[00:17:26] – Steve
Can you all have the meeting and then just tell me what happens?
Sometimes we get roped into meetings that we really don’t need to be in as well. That’s worth considering. Whereas sometimes, our input is crucial to them. So it also depends on that kind of thing, doesn’t it?
Damn it! Just have the meetings at 2pm, make them half an hour long — bish bash DONE.
[00:17:47] – Frankie
It sounds more chaotic than that though. If it was that simple. I feel like she wouldn’t be asking us for help?
[00:17:53] – Steve
And it does sound like… She says, “Sometimes I work late because nobody else is available to move an urgent task forward”.
[00:18:02] – Frankie
Yeah, that’s also a good point, isn’t it? Why is it you who’s having to step in at those times? Is it — it might not be — but is it the age old thing where often people in employed jobs who employ freelancers just expect them to be available all times, all hours of all days? That is a thing.
I’ve had big corporate clients (who I do not work with anymore!) who would send me briefs at 5pm on a Friday and ask it to be turned around by Monday as though I work weekends because I’m freelance. It’s bullshit.
[00:18:36] – Frankie
I’m not saying they’re quite that bad, but is there an element of, you know, “Oh, Rosie will pick it up because she works flexibly — She’s around”? And then you fall into that trap of, you do it once and then people expect you to do it.
And is there also, like, something to be said about setting those boundaries with yourself? I’ve had that experience of big business expecting me to work over a weekend because I’m freelance — have I internalised that? Am I like, “Oh, yeah, I should work all the hours and do all the things and whenever I’m asked to like that emails come in at 8pm. Do I need to respond to it now? Is that what’s expected of me?”
[00:19:13] – Frankie
And do you know the best way to instill boundaries with yourself — particularly about emails and whatnot — is not to check them. If you don’t know that emails come in at 8pm, you can’t be stressing about the fact you haven’t answered it. Take the emails off your phone when you leave at 3pm to get your child. That’s when you leave, psychologically, that job.
And I know that we’re all going, “yeah, yeah, yeah”, because we’re freelancers — that’s not what we do! But it takes practice. And practical things, physical boundaries, removing the emails from your phone, turning off your computer… What I’m saying is, you can set all these boundaries with the team you’re working with, but if you don’t believe in them yourself, then you’re not going to get anywhere.