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I work in a couple of IT departments, and often I'll end up doing my email from home. Usually, this ends up being when I'm bored and/or waiting for something else - usually for my coding assignments to finish building. Oftentimes, this ends up being very late - maybe 10 or 11 PM, sometimes even after midnight. (I'm a night-owl.) I've gotten some responses from supervisors that are (good-natured, but still critical) remarks on the timestamps of the emails, and I want to get some external opinions on how after-hours emailing should be handled in a few situations I usually find myself in. I have the option of doing a delayed send through my email client(s), but I'm not 100% sure when I should or shouldn't be using it.

  1. Suppose I'm emailing an indirect supervisor after-hours and they respond from a mobile device shortly thereafter. We engage in a conversation, but it ends up getting to around 10 PM or so, and my (research-laden) response isn't finished until 11ish. Should I set my responses to not send until the next morning, shortly before my supervisor arrives?
  2. Suppose I'm emailing a customer with regards to something that I completed near the end of business that day, but forgot to email them about when it occurred. Should I delay my response until the start of business hours, so that I don't have the possibility of disturbing their evening?
  3. Suppose I get an email from a customer or external contractor after-hours that will inevitably (but not immediately) need a response on my part and/or forwarding to my supervisor(s). Should I do this at my leisure, or only once I'm back in the office?
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    You need to ask your employer these questions. – Marv Mills Jul 24 '15 at 7:52
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    Apart from what should you do, beware for one pitfall: you are training the people around you that you are available outside work hours. Do you really want them starting to count on that? – user8036 Jul 24 '15 at 8:01
  • Two things: 1) what is the content of these 'good-natured but critical' comments about the timestamps, are they saying "don't email me this late"? If so stop 2) have you tried talking to people? – AakashM Jul 24 '15 at 8:11
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    If you're a night owl, you're probably also not sending/responding-to emails early in the morning. Everyone has their own speed. No need to fuss about it if the emails are not "real-time". – teego1967 Jul 24 '15 at 16:05
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    @JoeStrazzere: That's absolute heresy. Suggesting someone deal directly with a human being than consult the Internet. Who let you on the web? – Joel Etherton Jul 24 '15 at 20:47
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How should I handle emails after-hours?

Simple: Don't

Unless you're on-call or in some sort of position where you're expected to be available 24/7 (and being paid accordingly), just don't do this. As Jan Doggen points out in his comment, you're basically conditioning these people to assume that you can be reached and do work at any and all hours of the night.

Unless lives or millions of dollars hang in the balance, the email can wait until the next day. Do your work during work/office hours, and when you're at home, you're at home. If you have so much work and email that it's not possible to complete it during a normal working day, then you need to have a frank conversation with your supervisor(s) about your workload.

Right now, your employer is getting free work from you and you're ruining any semblance of a healthy work/life balance. Put a stop to that.

  • Although I agree with the principle of this, it does depend on your environment. My current role is very strict 9-5:30 and I get little flexibility from my employer. I don't mind that, that's just the culture here: but it means we have a much stronger "at 5:30 you go home" culture (barring serious events). At a previous role this was very much not the case, and I would work flexibly during the day in exchange for an hour's work that evening. As long as you're getting work/life balance in exchange for life/work balance, it's not automatically a problem. Sometimes it works for everyone. – Jon Story Jul 24 '15 at 13:48
  • Don't do it regularly/daily. Consider having the email sit unsent. Consider only answering an email that is either a blocker or just a quick question. Consider using a mobile device with a mobile sig line like "Sent from my mobile, please forgive auto-correct or typos." Consider doing it once per week. (I have an international meeting/call once a week and end up on email before/during/after that.) Consider your work/life balance, and the work/life balance of others - don't make everyone look bad. Work smart, not long hours. – MikeP Dec 5 '16 at 20:21
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In general, I wouldn't recommend engaging in work-related conversations after hours if not absolutely necessary. Separating work and private life is important for many, and carrying out conversations with those kind of people after-hours will be impolite.

While it kind of depends of position (f.e people who work in management or those with critical knowledge in the company are usually expected to stay in contact after-hours), if it can't be done in exchange of 1-2 emails, I wouldn't engage.

  1. If it's after 10 pm, leave the man alone. You might be tired, he might be getting ready to bed. He'll understand lack of reply.

  2. I think it's ok for you to let them know. After all, it's only a confirmation email.

  3. Do it in office-hours. If they notice that you are available whole day, this might lead to abuse sooner or later. If it's not critical, let it go.

I had similar situation like you, luckily I learnt to value my spare time before work managed to consumed it.

4

Personally, I hand in my emails whenever I write them - I've sent emails at 2 AM. I do it this way because once I send those emails,I sleep like a baby and I don't think about them until I get to the office. If my boss stays up at night reading my emails, too bad for him. If I have to suffer writing my email, he (and the clients) will have to suffer reading it(*) :) Having said that:

I suggest that you send status emails at 4:30 PM saying that you are done with what you are doing and that they'll get the full emails the next morning. Add in your email is that if it's important to them that they get the full email from you tonight, to let you know and you will accommodate them. If it's imperative that they get a full email from you tonight, state in your end-of-day status email that you will send the full email tonight. Then go out and get a life :)

(*) In case you haven't guessed it, I am not a very sympathetic person and my heroes tend to be anti-heroes :) I am an early riser, so I delight in sending emails at 4 AM knowing that they are in no shape to reply. And yes, I used to pull the wings and the legs off the flies when I was a cute seven-year old boy. To each their own personality :)

  • You send emails at 2am, sleep like a baby and rise again at 4am? That's doesn't sound very restful. – Laconic Droid Jul 24 '15 at 15:19
  • @LaconicDroid I would go to sleep at 11 PM or midnight and be up at 4 AM. Occasionally, for whatever reason, I'd still be on my feet at 2 AM and then crash until 6 AM. I would then pay the accumulated sleep debt over the weekend. That was when I was younger and I had no 24-36 hour hackathons to compete over the weekend. These days, I am liable to pay my sleep debt off any time, any place so I am struggling to find more sleeping hours during the week. In case you haven't guessed it, I am not very smart at taking care of myself :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Jul 25 '15 at 10:19
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    I would add that unless it goes to someone that has to read it (they are on call and have to read it it to determine if it is something that has to be dealt with now or can it wait until they wake up), when you send an email is much less important than the content. Email is not a real time medium, don't treat it that way. – jmoreno Jul 26 '15 at 1:16
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Emails sent after work hours involving critical production work stoppages or other urgent issues are always appropriate.

Everything else can and often should wait until the next day. When you send emails after hours these are the expectations you set unless you have specifically made an agreement with the other person:

If you are sending to a subordinate, you set the expectation that they should be reading these in their off time. In other words, you are telling them that the company owns all of their time. This is highly inappropriate.

Now if you have told your subordinates that you like to answer in off hours but they do not have to take action until the next day, then it is better.

However. if there is a combination of things you want them to act on after hours and things you do not want them to act on, then only send the emails for production emergencies that you want action on.

Many people have the emails tied to their phones and don't appreciate getting bothered with things that can easily be handled the next business day. Subordinates may not feel they can bring this sort of irritation up, but a supervisor who insists on bothering subordinates after hours may subordinates often don't stay for long.

If you are a subordinate sending information to your boss and send emails that are not critical outside of business hours, you may cause him to check them to see if they are important or not. This is particularly true if you sometimes need to send critical emails concerning after hours emergencies. It is intrusive of the boss's personal life. Some bosses are ok with that, others get irritated. It is never in your best interests to irritate your boss, so if you want to send non-critical emails outside of work hours, then clear the idea with your boss before you send the first one.

If you are sending emails to people outside your normal chain of command and especially to clients who work for a different company, think twice before you send after hours. If you know the people fairly well and know how they will react, you can send, otherwise it should wait until the next work day.

  • I don't read email out of business hours. Feel free to send mail to my company email any time of the day or night, any day. I'll read it shortly after I start work. – gnasher729 Dec 3 '16 at 22:54
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My rules:

Email that is "important" gets answered.

Email that is not important gets answered if it was send in the after-hours too (e.g. the other person could continue his work right now with my answer).

  • That rule wouldn't work for me at all, since I don't read the email outside office hours, so I can't know if it's important. In the unlikely event that my company needs me now, someone in HR has my home and mobile phone number. – gnasher729 Dec 3 '16 at 22:59
  • Well the question was about people that work during non-office hours. If you only work during office-hours that's perfectly fine. – arved Dec 3 '16 at 23:55
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In the first situation you shouldn't have started the conversation after office hours. Regarding your question number two: If you are sending an email after work hours of receiving person, you are still late. The only reason you want to send it before the next day is that you could forget it or maybe you couldn't be able to send it tomorrow.
Third situation is quite obvious: it depends if you are obliged to do it. Urgent requests should be sent to 24/7 service desks or contact person on shift.

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