59

I'm a contractor who has recently joined a new project in the last month or so. I am ~8 hours ahead of the rest of the team and so often send emails outside of their working hours.

After almost every email I address to my client, especially ones sent after hours or on weekends, I will receive a reply from another teammate on the project who has been cc'd. His email will go something like this:

It is very late/weekend here, so X will get back to you first thing in the morning.

Or

X is out of the office today, he will get back to you tomorrow.

These emails are not automated. The text changes each time and often my teammate will include unhelpful comments like "That's a good question, I'd also like to know the answer" or "y should also know, you can ask them too". I have been quite impressed at their response time. It's almost always within 3 hours, even in the middle of the night.

As far as I can tell, this is not this person's job. He's a developer in a technical role. My client has an assistant who is also cc'd , and if anyone were to be sending these kinds of emails, she would be doing so.

I find these emails annoying. I don't want to take time from this person's weekend to reply to every email I send. I know about the time difference; I know it's weekend there. I am perfectly aware that there will be some delay in receiving a reply. These emails seem to assume that either (1) I don't know about time differences or (2) I am expecting a reply immediately.

This has been going on for a month now, and practically all emails I send outside of work hours receive this reply. I had hoped the person would stop after a while, especially since it's weekend for them too.

During this time, I took a couple of measures:

  • I was particularly careful with the tone of my emails, to ensure that I didn't include some degree of urgency in them.
  • I delayed my email sending until their working hours. This is very inconvenient for myself since a lot of my workday does not overlap with theirs.

I hoped that my client would address this, he is receiving these emails too (this teammate is replying to all) and this is his employee.

Nonetheless, it has been a month and there has been no change. I an getting to the point where either I need to get over my annoyance and live with this, or write some kind of tactful email to someone to figure out (1) why this is happening or even if (2) my emails during their night are particularly bothersome.

How do I get to the bottom of why these emails are being sent, and how do I get them to stop?

  • 1
    Are you sure the "X is out of office today" isn't an automated response? Or the weekend notice, for that matter? – Magisch Nov 13 '17 at 10:05
  • 6
    @JarkoDubbeldam wouldn't be the first time I've seen it or experienced the fallout of what happens when 2 people get caught in an endless loop of sending those (and the email server isn't properly configured) – Magisch Nov 13 '17 at 10:07
  • 32
    Why is this person being cc'd? Sometimes someone cc'd is required to respond if the person addressed is not available. – Separatrix Nov 13 '17 at 12:21
  • 2
    @O.R.Mapper I mean it's unhelpful in the middle of the night when Y is also asleep. Neither person is going to be around to answer my question until the morning. – user6818 Nov 13 '17 at 13:53
  • 5
    @Separatrix They're cc'd because they're relevant to the technical parts of the discussion. My client added them to the email chain and they contributed helpful information at other times. – user6818 Nov 13 '17 at 13:54
74

Since you're sure this isn't some automated out-of-office notice script running haywire, you probably should have a word with the person in question. Phrase it not as you being annoyed by them (even though you are) because that could come across as unintentionally insulting.

I suggest something like this, addressed to the dev himself and him only:

I appreciate your effort of informing me about the absences, but I'm aware that nobody is in right now and I'm not expecting an immediate reply. I'm sending these emails at these times due to time zone differences, and a reply once X is in the office again is perfectly acceptable.

Please assume for future notice that I know the business times of X's office.

Key points to look out for:

  • Informative
  • Not accusatory
  • Appreciative of what they might percieve as a sincere effort

Your objective is to make the developer realize that there are better uses of his time, not to make him feel bad for trying to help (I'm assuming he's trying to help here and you should too - no reason to assume bad faith without any inclination that bad faith is at play)

  • 4
    I see 2 issues with his responses: 1. The time difference and "X is not in right now"-Answers. - This is adressed perfectly in this answer. 2. "Intersting! You may ask Y about this, too."-Answers. I think those are somewhat legit but they shouldn't send them outside (their) work hours. I just couldn't come up with a suggestion to frame that that doesn't sound different from what's intended. – Fildor Nov 13 '17 at 12:15
  • I think the tactful way to initiate the conversation here is to follow reirab's answer & ask beforehand – Nathan Smith Nov 16 '17 at 3:18
  • 1
    @Fildor 2 seems less of an issue anyway, it can be useful to know that X isn't the only one who can provide the answer. It seems like this is where the 'teammate' is actually adding value rather than just being a busybody – Cronax Nov 17 '17 at 16:25
25

Is it possible that your client has some crazy thing set up where they get alerts for their work e-mail during non-working hours? Or perhaps that this particular dev is "on-call" for emergency situations and, thus, gets alerts for work e-mails during non-working hours? If that's the case, I could see how it would annoy him. Otherwise, his behavior is confusing at best.

In order to determine what's going on, it's probably best to send a message specifically to the dev that is responding to you. For example, something like this:

Hi Dev,

I've noticed that you're responding to the e-mails that I've sent to X outside of X's working hours. Given the time zone difference, I'm aware that X will not be available to respond when the e-mails are sent, so I wasn't expecting an immediate response. I was just sending the e-mails during my own working hours and not expecting X to respond until their work hours begin.

Is receiving e-mails at this address disturbing you outside of working hours? If so, is there a different address I can use that will not disturb you or do I need to schedule e-mails to not send until the beginning of your workday?

Thanks,
You

This way, you can:

  • Make sure dev is aware that you aren't expecting responses outside of working hours and so his responses before X arrives at work aren't necessary to you in case he thought they were.

  • Avoid accusing dev of being intentionally annoying.

  • Find out if your e-mails are causing some unintended annoyance to dev (such as alerts to an account dev is supposed to monitor outside of hours) and, if so, how you can find a compromise that will work for both of you.

  • 1
    Just putting myself in "Dev"s shoes here... I used to exactly do what he does whenever I got disturbed by emails I had no business being on the distribution list of. In my case, further pointing out that you have no idea how email works by putting 1960's-era smail-mail letter salutations and valedictions on the email is liable to compound the negative impression. – T.E.D. Nov 16 '17 at 10:14
  • @T.E.D. It probably should be moved to the question body itself, but in the comments, OP said regarding the person who replies, "They're cc'd because they're relevant to the technical parts of the discussion. My client added them to the email chain and they contributed helpful information at other times." So, apparently at least OP's client thinks they should be on the chain. If they feel otherwise, perhaps they could express that when OP asks. – reirab Nov 16 '17 at 16:03
22

This doesn't address the cause of the emails, but as a workaround, you could use an email scheduler like Boomerang for Gmail. This would allow you to only send emails during their working hours (although it might then confuse the client by giving them the impression that you are working during the same time they are).

I often work across huge (10+ hour) time zone differences and have been told in the past not to send emails at certain times, so I looked for software so that I could "send" the email but sending would be delayed until the scheduled time.

EDIT Why to use scheduling software instead of engaging with the person directly

Since you're new to the project, are you sure this isn't just the way the project is run? You say you're annoyed by the emails, but I would be annoyed if I was the client and I had arranged things a certain way and then a new contractor came in and started telling other people what to do.

So as you said, you have the option of getting over your own sense of annoyance or trying to write a tactful email to figure out what is happening. In my own life, I have found if there's something I can do to solve the problem myself (schedule my emails at a different time), that's easier than potentially upsetting other people who may already be working in the way they like.

If you were going to write an email, I would not tell the person to stop replying to your emails as some of the other answers suggest (it's not your job to tell others how to do their work unless you're the project lead); instead, I would apologize for sending emails outside work hours and ask if they would prefer you only send emails during their work hours.... But then again, since the person is replying to you outside work hours saying "you sent an email outside work hours, so please wait," then I feel it's safe to assume they don't want emails outside work hours, which is why I would go with Boomerang or a similar solution.

18

You may not be able to prevent this behaviour, as it could well be a result of an unhealthy office culture at the clients end. As you say, you're working considerably outside their usual working hours, but getting responses from someone involved in the chain.

The gist of the message you're getting is "I'm working too". This is a declaration to someone else who is also getting that email that this person is working when they could be doing something personal. Effectively this person is engaging in competitive working hours.

Unfortunately as this email isn't really directed at you but is in reality directed at someone else, it could be hard to prevent.

6

The most effective way would probably be adressing this to your teammate directly. As is the solution with many problems: be clear about it and talk about it.

So far, what you've tried is beating around the bush, hoping not to trigger them, but it doesn't seem to be working.

So the next time you get a reply like this, you can politely respond by saying that you are aware, that you are sending it at that time because of your working hours, and (most importantly) that it isn't urgent, so that it can wait till the morning.

As an alternative, which would take away their reason to reply, you could also start your email with a message acknowledging that you know they are not in office at the time, and that you don't require an immediate response. That should get the message across to your teammate, but might look weird to the actual recipient.

4

That happens all the time when teams are spread across the globe. Personally I use two features to ensure that I don't end up disturbing someone in the middle of the night.

Outlook's Delayed Delivery option. Downside is your device needs to be on all the time for the delivery to happen. Not always the case with laptops and mobile users.

Boomerang for Gmail. It's a paid subscription based solution which lets you draft an email and will deliver at the scheduled date and time. It work's offline so it solves the downside of Outlook's Delayed Delivery.

You may be using some other email provider, so look for something compatible with it. Also consider the implication that some user might have updated the email thread before your email is delivered and it may be outdated by then.

Edit 1:

I am assuming that there are only two timezone involved. Been part of teams where two or more time zones are involved, we make it a point to discuss the timings with the other members. If there are periodic conference calls, I would suggest you to discuss this with all stake holders. This specially helps when there are more than two timezone involved. Conference calls are the best place to discuss this as everybody involved in the project becomes aware of the instructions you receive.

Few of the advice are to be firm and to respond that you are aware of the fact. I partially agree with the advice but try not to rub it on their face. Rather ask for a suggestion, marking everybody who has prematurely responded on something on the below lines :

Hi, I am aware about the client's timezone. Can you please advice what is the best time to reach the client?

The reason to ask for advice is the fact that you are the latest entrant to the project, and projects once started quickly builds up their own sub culture. Hence be a part of the sub culture will help rather then coming in strong on someone for responding to your emails.

The advice will either be to reply in your timezone or to honor client's timezone. If later, the use an email scheduler as described in the start. If later, enjoy your newly found freedom :)

Edit 2:

A sub culture example :

  • People marked in CC do not receive alerts during their off time.
  • Emails are schedule as per the timezone of the recipients in TO
  • If multiple recipients with multiple timezone, emails are scheduled with priority to the recipient with earliest timezone.
  • Your solution is indeed interesting. If you could explain why you would be taking this route, and are not suggesting an Interpersonal solution? As @Vylix said, users posting here are specifically looking for interpersonal solutions, not life-hacks... So, if you're going to make an answer suggesting a non-IPS solution, at least make an argument as to why it is necessary to go that road. – Tinkeringbell Nov 13 '17 at 13:53