I recently served as a panelist at a conference, and the organizer was trying to coordinate logistics in advance. He sent an email on a Tuesday at 11:11 p.m. – clearly a time that worked for him. One of the panelists responded at 2:18 a.m., three hours later, and another panelist weighed in four hours later. I had business to attend to that morning and didn’t respond until 10:04 – less than 11 hours after the initial request. As the last person to respond, I admit that my initial feeling was that I let everyone down since I was so “late” to the conversation.
I get it that the responses from the other panelists came at a time that was convenient for them and most appropriate for their schedule. I get it that the “anytime, anywhere” work environment means that we all get communications like this at any time of the day, and that we should expect that going forward.
This not-so-unique experience quickly turned to curiosity as to how these kinds of communications – while exceptionally flexible and convenient for the sender – may affect the receiver. When you shoot off an email to your staff at midnight because you just thought of something and didn’t want to forget it, is it accepted that way, or does the recipient feel stressed that he or she let you down by not responding until 10 a.m.?
What about when a client sends you an email at 11 p.m.? Do you feel compelled to respond before the sun comes up? Are they expecting you to? Is it a hallmark of great client service or is it a recipe to stress yourself – and your staff?
There are clearly no right or wrong answers to these questions, but you should develop good answers for your firm. If 24/7 access and the promise of an immediate response is a competitive advantage you believe in, and one that is a core value, then go for it!
I’m not against responding to emails whenever it is convenient. But I do wonder, as technology and expectations continue to speed up, if it is the right expectation to set. Society may have already answered that question for us (“It’s inevitable, get used to it!”), but maybe there’s another way to look at it.
Maybe it can become a competitive advantage to not move so quickly. After all, research has shown that a client values a professional’s opinion much more when delivered in a timely but considered manner – rather than an immediate response. These are all good questions to ponder. I wish I could spend more time sharing my opinion, but it’s now 11 p.m., and I’ve got some emails that just came in that I need to respond to . . .