It is 6:30 in the evening, and you just sat down for dinner. Your phone rings and you see two missed calls from your client. Next thing you know, you spend the rest of your evening talking to your client and solving their problem. Have you been there before?
Imagine a scenario where your clients know your designated hours to communicate with them. These “urgent” calls and emails don’t happen and you can spend the night away from work. This is what “office hours” can do for you. Read more to understand why they are essential, how to establish them, and tips for maintaining them.
Why Office Hours are Important
Office hours are set time blocks, typically scheduled during the same time on a daily or weekly basis. During these blocks, you reserve your calendar to prioritize communicating with clients, handling their needs, and setting deliverables.
Office hours are a way to establish respect between both sides. You and your client are both busy with your respective daily businesses. Having an “always available” consistent flow of communication can eat into your schedule and cause inefficiencies that delay those business responsibilities. Office hours can eliminate this flow by setting designated times to talk. These blocked hours can help you be more effective with both managing clients and running your other everyday business responsibilities overall.
Regular office hours also establish consistency and expectations for communication and problem-solving. Instead of sending urgent messages with tight deliverable timelines, office hours will set clear expectations of when to communicate the issues and how long to expect the work to be done.
Establishing Office Hours
When establishing office hours, you need to first understand what times work best for you. Avoid setting your office hours for your entire 9:00-5:00 day and instead reflect on your current work habits to learn the times where you are most fit to communicate with clients. For example, if you are not a sociable person until your second cup of coffee, don’t start your office hours until later in the morning or early afternoon. It is your schedule so take charge of it.
Next, talk to your clients about their schedules as well. Office hours will be the most effective if they work for both you and the client, so listen to their input on times that work best for them. There should be a middle ground; work to find a time that works for both of you to set this up for success.
The last step is to establish expectations and parameters for the office hours. Brainstorm with your client on goals, expectations of preparedness, potential topics to cover, who should be included, and appropriate notice if the time needs to be modified.
Tips for Maintaining Office Hours
The key to maximizing office hours’ effectiveness is to correctly implement and maintain them. Once the time has been confirmed, go ahead and place a reoccurring time block on your client’s Outlook calendar so they are aware. Some other tips for effective management are:
- Place hours in your email signature. This is useful if you have consistent times for all clients & can be a friendly reminder when they reply to emails late at night.
- Don’t respond to emails or calls outside of office hour time blocks as it can give the client the impression that you have more time available and can talk outside of your set hours.
- Nicely remind clients of your office hours if they consistently try to communicate outside of the designated time.
- Periodically ask the client for feedback on office hours and what improvements can be made.
Client management is one of the most essential parts of running a service business. Remember to set clear boundaries with your clients through office hours to avoid the “always available” mentality and reduce your stress. Good luck!