The Way We Work
November 2, 2010 by Tamara Rice

Contractors can sometimes be a bit private, as few of us want to admit to solving a client’s website crisis while wearing footed pajamas and sitting in a recliner. However, there are a few things about our work life and work style that need to be communicated to clients in order to establish better trust and a better foundation for long-term work relationships.

Communicate Your Work Schedule. Let a new employer know your typical work week right away. Set the expectations up front, so the employer doesn’t assume unrealistic ones. If you never work in the afternoons, say that up front: “I am unavailable between 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. each day.” Having a somewhat regular schedule is important for your own productivity (more on that in a future post), but it also helps your client know when he can expect to reach you, hear back from you, and get results from you. Answer work calls during these working hours, but it’s a good work/life balance practice to let work calls go to voicemail during your off hours. This teaches your employer how you work: You are available during working hours. You are unavailable in your personal time. Be sure your client knows your time zone and general location as well — you don’t want to be getting work calls at 3:00 a.m.!

Why the employer needs to know – Here’s the deal: You are working for that person/business, if you are under contract. It’s good for the employer to know your general work routine. Imagine a dry cleaner in your town with unpredictable hours. You love their work, but you never know when you’ll be able to swing by and drop off or pick up, because they don’t have any sort of consistency to their schedule. It makes even the simplest task (picking up or dropping off dry cleaning) a huge headache. Share your schedule to set expectations and ease the interactions between you and your employer.

communicating work technologyCommunicate Your Work Technology. This is where the topic swings into more of a gray area, but it’s a good practice to be up front about a few things regarding your technology use. Does your employer need to know that your PC is five years old? No. But let her know what programs you use to accomplish your tasks. Are you available on Skype when you’re working? Say so. When it comes to your cellphone technology, the employer doesn’t need details on your carrier or plan, but you may want to mention whether or not he or she can expect you to be able to transfer data when you’re on the road. And do you use texting on your cell? Say so — especially if it’s a great way to get your attention quickly in a crisis or in case of an emergency during your personal time.

Why the employer needs to know – You don’t want to work hard in a certain program and then send the employer a file he doesn’t have the corresponding technology to open. You also don’t want him to be sending you text messages if you don’t pay for text service on your cell phone — reading them will cost you. You also need the employer to have realistic expectations of your availability when you drop a line like “but you can reach me on my cell.” Does that mean the employer can reach you and you can still accomplish tasks online? Or does that simply mean you can talk? Being clear about your technology use eases the communication between you and your employer, and helps set the groundwork for a great working relationship.

For some contractors, these more transparent work practices may be an adjustment or may require a new way of looking at what it is we do. However, transparency and honesty build trust, a requirement for establishing long-term working relationships. Such transparency is also valuable for you and your employer in times of crisis.

Tell us: How much about your work schedule and technology do you communicate to your clients and how do you feel about it?

Tamara Rice

Freelance Writer and Editor

Tamara Rice is one of several freelance writers on the oDesk Blog team. She joined the oDesk marketplace in 2009, after more than six years on staff at an award-winning national magazine.