101

I work in a company that spans multiple timezones, and I work with people who are in wildly different timezones from me.

For example, some of my coworkers are in the USA and work local hours, others are in the USA and work odd hours, and I'm outside the USA and work local hours to me (GMT+2).

As you can imagine, often emails come and go in the middle of the night for all of us. It doesn't bother me, I will often just turn my notifications on my phone down/off and it won't wake me up in the night. I then respond in the morning. (I have a work phone with my work email on it).

I have one coworker who insists on replying to emails immediately. He complains that the emails in the middle of the night are rude. Sometimes I send an email to everyone during my day and it's their night time.

Now usually it is considered rude to phone someone in the middle of the night. If someone phoned me and my phone rang loudly then I would also be upset because my sleep is disturbed. We don't ever phone eachother, it's all email. Phoning is only for emergencies.

Is it reasonable that sometimes work emails will happen in the middle of the night? Or should I put off correspondence with him until morning? I don't want to be a disturbance but still need to do my work and send emails.

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    E-mail is not chat/IM, and should not be treated as such. – Jeremy Nov 2 '16 at 9:28
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    @Jeremy I am going to switch this question to email only. I don't IM him in the middle of the night. According to his complaints other people do but I don't. The one person I do IM in the middle of the (his) night is because (1) he has mentioned it's ok and (2) he works overnight regularly. I don't usually IM people at odd hours otherwise and understand it's different from email. – user5621 Nov 2 '16 at 10:13
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    So your co-worker cannot manage their work/life balance and is requesting that people do not communicate when this co-worker is not working. If this is honestly their complaint then leave that person off threads completely and see how long it takes for them to beg for forgiveness. Sounds like a bad case of FOMO. – MonkeyZeus Nov 2 '16 at 12:40
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    Unless your coworker is employed specifically to provide instant response to emails, he is not using his time efficiently doing that even during normal work hours. I check my emails at most 5 times a day (start, mid morning, lunch, mid afternoon, end of work day) and often fewer times than that. If something can't wait a few hours for a response, email is the wrong way to communicate it. – alephzero Nov 2 '16 at 13:59
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    I work in Texas, and frequently correspond with someone in Tiawan, if we didnt email each other in the middle of the night we would never communicate. I often get emails that say they were sent at 4 am my time and by the time i respond it is the middle of the night there. As long as there is nothing disturbing that person it shouldn't matter, they will attend to it first thing after returning to work. And if they get their email on their phone they should have it on silent at night. – Nate W Nov 2 '16 at 15:05

10 Answers 10

199

You might want to assure your co-worker that an immediate response is not expected to emails. Email facilitates "asynchronous" communication, letting people read and respond to them at their convenience. This is in contrast to face-to-face or telephonic communication, which requires presence of all parties at the same time. This is especially useful for communication across timezones. It cannot be rude to use email for a purpose it serves so well.

If he still cannot contain his urge to respond immediately, preventing any "rudeness" is well within your co-worker's control. He could easily stop checking emails in the middle of the night, for example. This is a lot easier than demanding everyone else to remember not to send him emails at certain times.

As for IMs, I would suggest pinging him only when his status shows "Available" (or equivalent). IM should be preferably used when instant responses are expected, so your co-worker's concern is more understandable here. However, your co-worker checking IMs at midnight is still a problem, and he seriously needs to stop doing that.

  • Good answer. Agree completely that email and IMs as you describe are conceptually different. However - many people simply do not recognize the difference and just use whatever they personally prefer. – morsor Nov 2 '16 at 8:16
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    Also IM can be used without expecting immediate answer, I had one client who shot a number of questiong to IM and I answered on my own pace. Worked well as this was mutually agreed. – Tero Lahtinen Nov 2 '16 at 14:57
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    In my company we almost completely use IM for communication. If someone wants to sleep during his night, he either doesn't install the IM client on his private phone or mutes it during the night. If someone sends a message to a colleague who did that, he immediately gets a notification, that the receiver has muted his client and doesn't get an immediate notification. – dunni Nov 2 '16 at 15:46
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    @dunni: Is it called Slack by any chance? =P – Mehrdad Nov 3 '16 at 6:43
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    Slack was marketed as "e-mail replacement" and that's a good direction. I recommend using an instant mesenger as an async tool that can sync when necessary. – Kos Nov 4 '16 at 16:18
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I have one coworker who insists on replying to emails/IMs immediately. He complains that the emails in the middle of the night are rude. I am very careful to not IM him when it's late for him because I know he doesn't like it, but other people don't and he complains about the disturbance.

I work with an off-shore team. I don't consider emails addressed to me in the middle of the night as rude. First, we are supposed to be a 24/7 operation. Second, I don't need to respond right away if I am sleeping soundly. Your coworker considers midnight emails as rude because he requires himself to respond to them right away. He needs to change his approach and let those emails float until he wakes up. Because I doubt that the company is going to change policy on emails just for him.

With regard to IM: my off-shore team is always careful to email me before we go on IM. With this synchronization, we never had a problem and I don't expect a problem going forward.

In summary, I believe that with respect to IM, he can be accommodated if he gets email traffic before the IM session starts. However, with respect to receiving emails, he'll just have to get used to sleeping soundly and not responding until he is awake. :)

My attitude is that NOT responding at all to emails is rude while not responding to emails during sleeping hours is perfectly acceptable. Don't tell me that this guy's laptop or desktop dings every time an email or an IM comes in :) However, it's up to him to fix his equipment.

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    I agree. This other employee is completely wrong. If he continues to be irrational, know that there are some products that will allow you to send messages on a timer (email, IM, sms, voice mail) depending on the current platform your company is using. This way, you can press the send button, and not worry about him receiving the message before he comes in for work during his time zone. Also, some companies choose to use tools like Asana, Slack, or Wikis, to further cut down on email noise, and at the same time, allow employees to maintain their own granular control over notifications. – Stephan Branczyk Nov 2 '16 at 10:36
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    I am active in a couple of Apache Software Foundation projects. They are held together by mailing lists, and have world-wide participation, so I get e-mails 7/24. I use a soft beep on my phone for incoming e-mail. I can hear it if I'm awake, but it is too soft to wake me if I'm asleep. – Patricia Shanahan Nov 2 '16 at 13:27
43

Just carry on. It's totally normal to communicate by email during your working hours. I work with people all over the World. Sometimes I don't even get replies to emails for several hours, it's just the price of doing business and we get used to it (for urgent stuff I will stay up if I have to).

Your colleague has his own issues, hard luck to him if he can't see the simple logic in it. Most people aren't going to wait up until midnight to accommodate his needs and would ignore his complaints and think him rather silly for making them.

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    Common sense advice as usual, @Kilisi. – Armada Nov 2 '16 at 10:46
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    Essentially this person is saying: 'I keep email notifications on at night so don't email me at night because I don't want to get email notifications at night'. Some people are just silly. – JimmyJames Nov 2 '16 at 16:37
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It is rude for him to expect you to honor his local time instead of yours. When companies are international, then each group is supposed to do their work in their own hours. Sometimes it means a delay if someone who is not currently working is not available to answer, that's the price of doing international business and should be built into project timelines as an unavoidable delay.

You have two options here. You can wait until he is online to send him emails either by working his hours or by sending emails on a delay or sending them only when your hours overlap. If you choose to do this to maintain your relationship with the person, then choose the delay one as that is the least likely to cause problems. Delaying sending the email until a later time manually will result in times when you get busy with other things things and forget to send it hours later. This will cause more work issues than sending it when the need arises. Imagine explaining to your boss that the reason why something was delayed was because you noticed you needed something at 10 am, but put off sending the email until quitting time because Joe didn't like getting emails in the middle of the night and by quitting time you had forgotten about it. It is even more likely to happen if your overlap hours are in your moning, so you would be waiting until the next day to send.

However, I think the better option is to work with your manager and his to get a written policy on emails which would make it clear that he is required to get emails in off hours, but should not be responding to them until he is actually the working. But he needs to know this from mangement, not from you.

  • Agreed, and why does the OP not work around the clock like the rest of us ? – mckenzm Nov 3 '16 at 2:54
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I also work in an international company and regularly have emails at any time of the day or night. Like you, I haven't set my phone to jangle whenever I have an email. If I get an email in the evening that I can answer with a quick one-liner (and it'll immediately help), I'll answer. Anything that can wait for (my) morning waits until the morning.

To me, this sounds more like his problem with managing his work/life balance.

Then again, I don't see the harm in showing some sensitivity in sending emails - don't let his time zone stop you, but you could preface by saying "this can wait until morning" or something like that. Or you could agree to use email priority ratings to indicate urgency.

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The way I handle emails is simple: When I go to work, after I start my computer, I check if there are any emails, and I sort them out. During the day, I check for emails from time to time. I don't mind at all if you send me a dozen emails at 2am, or on Saturday / Sunday, or during my holiday. I'll look at them when I'm at work.

Now my colleagues know how I can be reached when I'm not at work. I expect them to use these methods when reaching me is more important than being polite. I'm not in a position where I expect reasons why I must be reached, so my method is my private phone (mobile and landline). If you are in a position where such things are expected, the company might supply you with a pager, or with a company phone that you never turn off - with the understanding that if anyone calls you on your holiday or on a Sunday afternoon for something not important, there will be hell to pay when you are in the office.

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    Exactly. Email stays on the computer, and only gets checked when I'm working. (Which admittedly may not be conventional working hours.) If it's an emergency, people can call or text, but that only happens once every year or two. – jamesqf Nov 2 '16 at 17:55
9

Not answering the "rudeness" part of the question (I personally think not, since it is asynchrounous messaging and should be treated as such).

However your second question

"Or should I put off correspondence with him until morning?"

might be solvable technically.

If you are using Outlook there is in Options -> Delay delivery. If you use another tool, then it might have similar possibilities.

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    This is a great answer! I don't think this should be necessary, but it is a nice tool to have if you have to keep working with the mentioned coworker and they continue to complain. – called2voyage Nov 2 '16 at 16:47
  • Agreed, especially if the enterprise utilises "Store and Forward" of any kind, low priority mail could be hours in flight. – mckenzm Nov 3 '16 at 2:56
  • Good option, but would that sync your mail to a central server and then send to the recipient at the scheduled time? Or does it sit in your Outbox? Just from the OP's point of view, would be wary that in the interest of being considerate, it ends up that the mail isn't sent at all (e.g. because his computer is powered off at the scheduled time). – anotherdave Nov 5 '16 at 10:32
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    @anotherdave, i actually don't know. I guess it will be sent at least, but might be sent when he powers up his PC the next day. – Viktor Mellgren Nov 7 '16 at 8:53
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I think you should check this with other colleagues too and not just depend on an opinion of a single person. Often, the company leaves it to the employees to decide.

For example, in my previous organization there were certain rules laid down: If it’s a production issue (in the IT field, a live website is referred to as a production environment), then everyone has to be up in the team regardless of the time. It hardly used to occur once or twice a year, but we made sure that we were ready for it. An email at the middle of the night should be replied to only if it’s very important. All other emails regarding information and stuff can wait till morning. It would be better if you advise people who are sending mails to you to add something like “ASAP” to the subject line so that you can differentiate whether or not the email really needs attention at that time of the night.

Situations like these don’t necessarily have a written rule, but are more of a self responsibility where the company expects you to stay up alert all night and be prepared but is okay too if you sleep it off: just make sure you have a good reason to do so. I would suggest that you talk to more other colleagues of yours, and check what they do in such a case.

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    I agree about emergencies, if it's an emergency then my boss will phone me on my cellphone or my fixed-line phone number. To use email as a means of communication for emergencies isn't the best idea because emails can get delayed or are not read immediately. We don't phone eachother in the middle of the night, it's all email or IM. – user5621 Nov 2 '16 at 7:17
  • IM is fine if you are up at that time , if not then you can just change the status in ur IM ...For example - In skype , you can put it as AWAY . That way , the person knows that you are not available . – Caffeine Coder Nov 2 '16 at 7:23
  • Having said that , this behavior is different from organization to organization . Some companies offer laptops to employees to take home while some have PC's at workplace so that they don't have to take their work home . – Caffeine Coder Nov 2 '16 at 7:25
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    "An email should only replied to if it is very important" - if you send me an email at 2am in the night, I'm not going to get up to check if it is important. Alternatively, if I must reply to very important emails, then I'll have to get out of bed for the unimportant ones to check whether they are important. – gnasher729 Nov 2 '16 at 8:50
2

As mentioned before, under the condition that your work hours are acceptable to your employer, you are to do your work during your work hours. If those do not match up with your coworkers' work hours, that is a consequence of your employer having decided their employees can work this way. It's not any employee's fault, and as @HLGEM explained, one employee demanding others match their hours, is rude, unprofessional, and counterproductive.

I work in a somewhat similar environment. My employer's head office is in a time zone one hour ahead of mine. On top of that, I generally start work relatively late in the morning, and my co-workers at the head office start relatively early, as is the custom in their country. This results in a daily difference of 2-3 hours in when we all start and stop working. Deviations occur when co-workers decide split up their workday in smaller periods (we officially have the freedom to do this, for whatever reason we see fit, after discussing this with our direct coworkers).

As you can see, this means that we often do not work at the same times. Some co-workers don't care about the communication lag, and do not enable work communication unless they are actively working. Others have trouble with this, ranging from feeling the need to reply immediately, to wanting to process communication at a later time, but forgetting to do so. I have witnessed people of whom I suspect they felt the need to respond immediately at all times because they did not want to look like they did not do enough work.

These symptoms are inherent to remote/distributed teams and asynchronous communication. I have, in the past, accepted a coworker's request not to IM them after they had left the office, which was easy enough in that context, and it made them happy. In most cases, this would impact our productivity, and then we have to explain that asynchronous communication is part of how we work, and help coworkers make this a part of their daily workflow. This includes telling people to enjoy their free time, because compulsively answering work communication when you are not working, is very similar to staying at the office late to look productive. Other solutions include teaching coworkers how to be able to ignore work communication when not working. Notification settings and turning off work-related applications are the two solutions that seem to help the people around me most often.

TLDR; aynchronous communication is the rule in many companies, for whatever reason, and issues related to this are mostly human/social, in my experience. Finding out the real problems that bother someone, and helping them address those, goes most of the way, in my practical experience.

0

A very simple example why your colleague is wrong: imagine you have two colleagues, one in Europe, and the other in Australia, and you need to send a work e-mail to both of them.

As they work in two regions without overlapping working hours, it is impossible to send a mail on the hours where both of them are working, so following your colleague you wouldn't have any choice but being rude.

You immediately understand this makes no sense: you just send the mail, and it's up to them not to understand this as bad or rude in any way.

  • Even: you work in the UK, your colleague in NZ. No overlap in working hours. Is (one-to-one) email banned? – Chris H Nov 4 '16 at 11:40

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