Smartphones, tablets and laptops small enough to fit neatly into a purse are all reasons that business connectivity rarely ends during the evenings or on the weekends. Your clients can reach you at all times — and you can respond at all times as well.

While it’s important to maintain a sense of personal space and occasions for family and rest, you probably want to make sure your business doesn’t lose any prospects during those off hours. Helping employees learn how and when to respond — and learning yourself — can mean the difference between a hot lead slipping through the cracks after 5:00 p.m. and keeping a fickle client happy at all hours.

How to Make the Business Welcoming After Hours

Whether you think it’s time to hire a night crew, or you’re simply looking for a way to gather information during the evenings, your business should appear welcoming at all times.

1. Consider hiring help

If your business has so many after-hours contacts that it makes sense, both financially and otherwise, to have someone there during non-professional hours, there are a couple of options you could address.

  • Human voicemail – Many companies have a person who serves as the “answering service” after hours. This person may not be able to answer specific questions like you and your team are able to do, but they will provide a human voice to take messages when someone calls and you’re home for the evening.
  • Evening/weekend crew – If you think you can make more money than you’ll lose in overhead by paying a few people to work weekends, go for it.

2. Let someone virtual do the talking.

Perhaps your company doesn’t require an actual human being, or group of human beings, to work in the off hours, but you’d still like to handle the few phone calls or emails in an appropriate manner. You can set up a voicemail that courteously lets people know that their message has been received and someone will return it promptly in the morning. You can also set up an “automatic response” email to messages received after hours.

3. Gather information in the morning.

Since you are letting clients know that you’ll get back to them ASAP, make sure someone does. Check phone and email messages, or have someone else do so, first thing in the morning so that your customers don’t end up feeling slighted.

When Communication Becomes Necessary

Sometimes, you will need to reach out to employees, or vice versa, on weekends or late at night. In these instances, it’s important to have a few ground rules for the process.

4. Establish boundaries.

First things first. Some simple boundaries are required for after-hours communication. Host a meeting and ask the team the best way to contact them at night or on weekends — whether it’s an email, phone call, text or instant messaging — without having them feel you are intruding. Don’t assume that they have no problem hearing from you after hours. No doubt, your employees have vastly different lifestyles and family situations.

5. Don’t abuse the privilege.

Once you’ve established the communication protocol for your employees, make sure you follow it yourself, even if you’re the supervisor. Your employees will feel more confident in what is required of their position and it will ensure respect and better rapport with your team if you don’t text them on Sunday afternoons after everyone has agreed email is best.

6. Acknowledge emergencies.

Sometimes direct communication is inevitable. It’s best if you let your team know exactly when those occasions might be. Depending on what your business is, you may have nothing that truly counts as life-or-death. Still, you’ll want to make sure that challenges are addressed as soon as possible.

  • Make a list – Let everyone know what qualifies as an “emergency.” Consider keeping a list in the office and giving everyone a copy.
  • Have a chain of command – Certain employees may need to be contacted more often than others if there is a problem.
  • Use a different communication form – If your company uses emails over the weekend for simple, non-emergency communication, let everyone know that a phone call means something more important.

In today’s world, your business hours may be longer than you ever anticipated. But that doesn’t mean that productivity and lifestyle need to suffer. With a bit of savvy planning, you can address the needs of clients and of the team without becoming a place of all work and no play.