This week, I am diving in and answering a great question sent in by K. Acevedo:
“Hey guys! Love your journal! It's one of the best out there in my opinion. I had a question: How do you guys handle studio hours & do you have any recommendations to get clients to respect those hours? We're just starting off & are having some issues with clients that call our personal phones at odd hours. We're trying to create a structure to prevent that & make our communication more effective. #Struggles Thank you!”- K Acevedo
Thanks for the great question!
Studio hours and setting boundaries with clients are very important here at Focus Lab. In my previous life, I was an architectural designer at a design firm in New Haven, Connecticut, and we worked all hours: day, night, weekends, vacations. All the things. It was my life… in fact, I didn’t actually have a life or friends outside of the office. I was pretty young and in a new city so I didn’t really mind that much, but looking back I could slap myself upside the head. I can see now all the things I missed out on and the opportunities to explore the Northeast while I was living there. Live and learn.
Fast forward to my experience at Focus Lab, and the amazing company Bill and Erik have spent not only time and energy building, but deliberate thought and planning. Planning not only the business itself, but also the culture and values. In fact several of our standards tie directly to this question: “Work to Live,” “People Over Profits,” “Quality Over Quantity,” plus “Keep it Real.”
Let’s start with “Work to Live.”
“Life comes first. Work is only one piece in the personal pie chart of life, and we aim to keep it that way. Since we are only as strong as our people, we encourage them to work hard, play hard, and rest hard. Whenever possible, we help cultivate their passions. And we consider their interests and strengths when we take on jobs. After all, if you love what you do it’s never really work.”
A big part of this practice is not letting your life revolve around work. And it shouldn’t. We make it very clear to our clients what our working hours are and how to communicate with us. This starts from the very beginning in kickoff meetings. If you start answering emails and messages on weekends and after hours, clients will start expecting that. At first this was hard for me to adjust to. But once you get used to putting your phone down at night and on the weekends, you really get back to appreciating what and who you have in your life.
So step one: make your working hours clear and stop responding after hours. Unless you offer website support, almost nothing is life or death and can wait until the morning. As part of this step, we don’t give out personal phone numbers to any clients. We direct all communications through Basecamp. This makes sure all team members are aware of what is happening with a project and no side conversations are occurring. Side conversations can often lead to miscommunications and other negative outcomes.
“People Over Profits”
“It ain’t about the benjamins. Relationships are our gold standard. We want to work with awesome people. Because, for us, success is measured by positive experiences, not the bottom line. As such, we strive to surround ourselves with both smart and passionate team members and clients, those who will grow our minds and hearts and not just our wallets.”
This standard is relevant because we focus on building a relationship with our clients that leads to mutual respect — which is more valuable than anything else. Developing and maintaining respect for the talent and knowledge you are providing also supports respecting working hours: ours and theirs. For example, we know that when clients live on the West Coast, they might not be in until later in our day. We use this knowledge to best structure our meeting and feedback schedules for each client.
“Quality Over Quantity”
“Less is More. Mental energy is a depletable bandwidth, so we concentrate our time and talent on fewer projects/clients. A greater investment on our part, but we’re not running a creative services mill. Plus, prioritizing quality over quantity supports our other core values.”
By making sure every team member takes the time to power down in the evenings and on weekends, we are able to maintain a consistent and high level of quality. More is not better, it is just more.
And last, but definitely not least:
“Keep it Real”
“People are people. And that’s how we treat them, regardless of rank or association. Everyone deserves respect, transparency, and honesty — the three pillars of our every interaction with colleagues and clients. Bonus: work, and life in general, will become easier and more productive.”
We are people working with other people. Our people have lives outside of the client’s project and the client has a life outside of this work as well. We all need to respect that and be honest about it. There will be days when the client is struggling to focus on the work and provide feedback and there will be days when the client is only focusing on it and providing more input than we have time to respond to. We all just have to be honest, straightforward, and communicate what is realistic.
I hope that helps answers your question. It really takes discipline and deliberate planning to make your hours work for your schedule and the work itself. Best of luck and thanks for reaching out!