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“When can I expect a response?” — The Importance of Availability Expectations

“When can I expect a response?” — The Importance of Availability Expectations
Photo by Austin Distel / Unsplash

Are clear expectations the most important component of a good relationship? I think they might be.

This is true in personal relationships and even your relationship with yourself, but I was recently discussing, with a friend, the importance of this in a professional context:

The conversation started around communication preferences for work—when and how is it okay to contact you?

We both had the same perspective: I don’t mind if people message or email me at any hour of the day or night, weekends or holidays. The important thing is the clear understanding of when they can expect me to read, act upon, or respond to that communication.

What should that expectation be? Well, that will depend on you, your role, and your industry.

Personally, I'd recommend pushing toward the most patient end of the spectrum that your situation can accommodate: this kind of flexibility, where work can be done asynchronously and immediate responses are not expected, has a lot of benefits: Reducing the stress of always being on. Allowing collaborators to carve out more extended time for the deep work that requires more focus, but yields the best results.  More intentional responses and replies. This does require more intentional planning on the front end, to make sure that things won't slip through the cracks, but with an appropriate escalation system, I've found that the work still gets done. Even if that system is simply "If you don't hear back within a day, feel free to ping me. If it's a real emergency, call me."

I realize that this isn't the same for everyone: Whether it’s because you’re in an industry where immediate availability is required or that’s simply a value that you choose to provide to your clients or colleagues, this kind of flexibility may not be feasible.

The point is the be clear, up front, about when someone can expect to hear back from you.

And as an employee, you may not get to decide this for yourself, but hopefully you can open this conversation with your manager or boss. And if you are the leader who controls these types of things, have this conversation with your team! Completely accommodating every person may not be possible, but I’ve always founds that just understanding your teammates’ preferences makes everyone happier.