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I've always thought a freelancer had the right to choose when ever to work, where to work and how long to work for, as long as deadlines are met. Or so I thought. Recently, I've noticed a trend at offices I've worked (I've been working in office for freelancing roles as a UX Designer). People get unhappy when I work, or when I leave early. Note, I don't leave when there meetings, or if there is anything due of that day. I leave within reason, such as, I've finished work for the day, and I have nothing else to do, and I've also fulfilled the minimum 8 hours that is "required of me".

For instance, recently, my manager has told me he was unhappy with me coming in early and leaving early (still doing the 8 hour minimum) because he wants more time with me. Even though I understand that, I rarely see him until later on in the day, and even then, I only talk to him a once or twice due to the amount of things he has to do. So I did tell him I work more efficiently in the mornings and am trying to avoid rush hour.

Were my notions of what a freelancer can and cannot do correct? Can I work whenever, where ever, however I want and any times I want, within reason (i.e. due dates of client)?

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    You mean your customer, if you are a freelancer you don't have a manager? – Bjarke Freund-Hansen Sep 4 '14 at 12:46
  • I'm working at a company as a freelancer. So I still do have a manager (the one overseeing me and my work). – Majed Sep 4 '14 at 12:47
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    Correct me if I'm wrong, but that sounds more like a Contractor? – Jonast92 Sep 4 '14 at 13:43
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    I think that Contractor is more of a disposable employee; you're only working for one company, but you can be fired at any time. A freelancer can work for multiple companies at a time. – Jonast92 Sep 4 '14 at 14:02
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    There is definitely a difference between a freelancer and a contractor. A freelancer is generally contracted to do specific work, a contractor is brought in to augment a team for a set time. If you have a contract to work at a company for a set period of time then you are a contractor. If you have a contract to complete a specific set of tasks or project then you would be a freelancer. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 4 '14 at 15:59
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You have a perception issue, and you resolve the perception issue by performing a bit of perception engineering.

The perception issue is that you are slacking because you are not putting in the full workday - the perception is based on the (false) premise that you work exclusively for them.

Your bit of perception engineering: stand up, let them know that you are off and on your way to another client site - don't disclose the client site - and let them know when you'll be back and tell them that they can keep in touch with you in the meantime. As a matter of professional courtesy, you should always let the people in the office know when you are in and when you are leaving anyway - that applies to the full-time employees, too. If your manager wants you to stay longer and you have nothing to do for him and he is paying you for your time - hey, why fight it? Stay on, do work for some other client of yours and bill that client, too.

I've had cases where nobody knew the dude had gone home because he picked up and left without saying a word and the receptionists didn't know because one of them was on a bathroom break and the other had left her station to pick up a couple of files in the other room. Not cool.

  • Yeah, I usually say I'm going, and if there is anything needed for me before I depart. The days I don't say anything is when I notice my manager is too busy to interrupt. – Majed Sep 4 '14 at 13:01
  • @Majed Then you let the manager's secretary or the receptionist or failing that, anyone in the firm that's still breathing in and out, know that you are on your way out and you are out the door. The manager has your cell, so he can reach you if he needs to. – Vietnhi Phuvan Sep 4 '14 at 13:04
  • Yes, and I let my coworkers know too. – Majed Sep 4 '14 at 13:12
  • @Majed Well, you did everything in terms of due diligence. As a freelancer, you are paid by the hour so if your manager wants you to stay, he'll have to pay you for your time. If he pays you by the milestones - well, a certain number of hours are built into the milestones and if he insists on you staying, that estimate goes up. – Vietnhi Phuvan Sep 4 '14 at 13:23
  • Additionally: In the US, there are criteria that determines whether a person is a de facto employee: (bls.gov/opub/mlr/2002/01/art1full.pdf). Bear in mind that it takes more than just one item to be a de facto employee, but setting the times a person is expected to be at a desk is part of the Tools and Materials and Supervision portions. – NotMe Sep 4 '14 at 14:28
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Were my notions of what a freelancer can and cannot do correct? Can I work whenever I want and any times I want, within reason (i.e. what the client wants)?

The term "freelancer" is yet another of those squishy business terms that means only what you want it to mean and nothing more.

In my experience, in my part of the world, in a software environment, a "freelancer" is someone who contracts for jobs, without going through an agency. She is basically "a company of one", but is still bound by whatever contract she signs, for the duration of that contract.

Often that contract requires working in an office, and working a specified number of hours per day/week, under the direction of a manager or supervisor.

If you want to be the type of "freelancer" that can choose when ever to work, where to work and how long to work for, as long as deadlines are met, then you need to sign a contract stating those terms. That is certainly achievable.

It sounds as though you and your manager haven't come to a common understanding regarding the terms of your contract. His statement of "he wants more time with me" is a clue to that.

You should work with him to rectify that situation immediately. He may be confused, and is expecting something different from a UX Designer. Regardless, you want the people writing your paycheck to be happy with your work, or you may want to work elsewhere.

(Note, a "freelance writer" often has a different set of expectations - perhaps that's where the confusion arises.)

  • Nothing in my contract binds me to how many hours I can work, or where I can work. I'm still considered as an independent contractor. – Majed Sep 4 '14 at 12:49
  • Does you contract limit you from having other clients? If not, then servicing another customer should be a perfectly legitimate reason for leaving the office, or just not coming in to the office some days. – Bjarke Freund-Hansen Sep 4 '14 at 12:51
  • I would agree here you need to get on the same page. If the problem is the manager is not getting enough time with you then suggest that he schedule some time where you can work together. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 4 '14 at 15:55
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As a freelancer, you are an independent business person. You're in business to serve your customers' needs.

Your present customer is this supervisor who is asking for more face time with you.

You may, of course, choose to find another customer who makes different demands upon your time. But, if you want to keep this customer, you would be very wise to choose to be present in the customer's office when the customer says he needs you there.

Yes, it's your choice. But it's the customer's choice to get another freelancer. If you're not meeting the customer's stated needs he will stop doing business with you. He doesn't even have to fire you.

Seriously, if you approach this kind of customer-satisfaction issue from a stance of what rights you have, you will have a very hard time in business. If you approach it from a stance of customer satisfaction, you'll be fine.

  • Well said. There's more than a hint here of expecting the rights of a freelancer without respecting the responsibilities. – Carson63000 Sep 5 '14 at 1:32
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I would suggest setting out a defined schedule with this client. It seems to me that your manager feels he doesn't know when you'll be leaving.

Sit down with your manager and let him know that as a freelance, you don't just work for them (if that's true) but you want to make sure that you are working well for them. Say that you want to come up with a schedule that fits their needs.

Yes, you're a freelance, but you work with people. If you are going into an office, you need to work with the people in that office. It's not always about working your 8 hours and leaving. I'm assuming you are part of a team while you are there.

I'd also suggest, after coming up with a schedule, when you get in, send out a quick "I'm in the office until [insert_time]pm today." This way you're not letting ppl know as you're walking out the door when they might already be busy that you're heading out.

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I like this question, because it allows us to share the behaviors that make someone a successful "freelancer", or a consultant (in my vocabulary) with respect to place of performance and core-hours

The key point to remember is that the person you refer to as your employer, is your client and you should treat them the same way a good retail salesperson would treat one of thier customers. Whatever they want you to do, as long as it is within the scope of your contract and legal, you should do.

The cool thing about "freelancing" is that you get paid a lot more money than if you had a regular job with your employer. The downside is that as a freelancer your contracts are going to have a specific start-date and a specific end-date. You need to continuously market yourself to new prospective clients, and your track record will only be as good as your last few clients. For this reason, you need to meet and exceed the client's expectations always. When you do your initial review of thier needs, if there is anything you can't do, don't accept the assignment.

If you became a freelancer so you could have more free-time, you made a very wrong choice. You will almost always work harder as a freelancer than you ever would as someone's employee.

In addition to this, the following things will make you very successful.

  1. Ensure that your place-of-performance of your work is very clearly articulated in your contract, and comply with it. I don't mean 90% of the time, or 95% of the time, I mean be there 100% of the time.

  2. Ensure your work hours are well understood. Exceed them always. If you are supposed to be on-site from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, be there at 8:00 am and leave at 6:00pm. When your client feels work hours are important, they can focus so tightly on work-hours that they overlook other areas of strong performance. Just remove it immediately as an issue and exceed their expectations.

If you have to travel weekly to a job-site at the expense of the company, they will quickly tire of paying for travel and seek to move you to a "remote" work category. By exceeding thier expectations when you are onsite, you will build the trust necessary to make that move.

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