Freelancers' Questions: How to tell the client of my covid-19 concerns?
Freelancer’s Question: With the government’s new coronavirus guidance spelling out that "everyone who can work from home should do so" from December 3d, how do I tell my client that this ‘WfH’ recommendation applies to us self-employed too?
There are whispers that my client wants to have in the office some key people, of which I’m one despite being freelance. To get out of it, would it be easier to inform the client that I just don’t believe that the office is covid-secure -- yet how could I communicate this, delicately?
Worryingly, my workplace representative is suggesting reopening just before lockdown lifts, so maybe I should object to that too? But again what would I actually say, without causing a stink -- or worse, losing my contract outright?
Expert’s Answer: Broadly, your first query is how to explain that you should be freelancing from home, in light of recommendations from the government that to keep safe from covid-19, workers should be working remotely and not in the staff office.
How we perceive risk is not uniform
First and foremost, always look to partner with your client and consider their point of view while maintaining your own. This allowing of viewpoints to co-exist is critical.
Although this is a freelancer’s best-practice generally, at this time of heightened emotion, potential confusion – and let’s be frank – dangerous personal exposure to a disease, it’s even more important.
One of the reasons most people ‘go freelance’ and switch to self-employment is to be able to drive their own career decisions and work choices. It’s worth reminding yourself about this when outside pressures are really challenging these choices.
Polite push-back looks like this...
Depending on the level of pressure and, of course, the actual work you carry out for your client, your push-back could go something like the following – whether in writing or spoken:
‘It’s such a tricky time right now, trying to translate the actual day-to-day government instructions we’re to follow and I get how frustrating it is as a workplace.’
‘With the latest guidance from the government stating… “[quote the most relevant aspect which suits your position],” I know you’ll understand that I’m going to continue to do whatever it takes to support you and [add organisation/workplace name] while I continue to work from home.’
Ready some evidence
Next, it will be helpful to your case if you can cite examples of what you have already achieved (succinctly) by working from home.
And specify what you’ve made happen/sorted/saved/inputted in terms of value, while working from home for this client.
In terms of another resource you may wish to draw upon to help your cause, there is the new guidance from the government concerning the Tier system.
Be like the government
Keep in mind -- exposing yourself to a form of law-breaking isn’t what you signed up for with your customer.
Being both delicate and direct is you driving your decisions and way of working.
But you - a bit like the government does - should offer the customer an ongoing revision of things as they unfold, perhaps with wording like:
“Let’s both review the situation on December ‘[insert date]’ or when project ‘[insert name]’ is complete.”
So you’re not saying, ‘I’m never going to be in the office.’ You’re saying, ‘Just not now.’
As to your second query, if you want to convey to the client that you don’t think their workplace is covid-secure, then yes, being delicate is key. As is reminding yourself why you chose to be a freelancer (i.e. driving your own decisions while supporting clients you want to work with).
Initially to broach your belief with your client, I recommend following the guidance I outlined above regarding quoting relevant government directives, and peppering in your achievements that you’ve managed so far.
If you have to respond to a direct challenge about how or why you don’t feel covid-secure, your reply could run along the lines of:
“I so appreciate all that’s been done by the business to make the environment covid-secure and I know it’s also a critical time for businesses to bring in a strong year end.”
“My personal position is that I’m going to continue to do whatever it takes to support your business while I carry on working from home. Not only for personal reasons, but also so as to follow directives from our government.”
Next, again (and if you can do so without labouring the point about your good remote working track-record), offer recent examples of what you’ve made happen working from home previously.
State the obvious
It’s so easy for clients when we’re all remote working to overlook, forget or skip over results that freelancers achieve for their business.
Penultimately, it’s all about intention. Your intention of broaching your belief with your client, we can assume, is to maintain the work diligently and to remain within the law while staying safe.
Well, sometimes we have to state the obvious, particularly when not working face-to-face :
“You know John, I always think about intention. And my intention right now is to continue to work from home to maintain my commitment to work diligently for you, and for [insert workplace or organisation name] to operate compliantly and to stay safe.”
Then add: “I know you’ll understand this.” And while they might not, it’s hard to refute what you’ve said!
Try gentle, firm - and agile
Finally, I agree with the suggestion in the last part of your question that preparing for ‘business as usual’ is ok, but operating as usual (at least right now) isn’t.
To respond to a re-opening which may be premature, I would recommend a combination of the above. So gentle and firm reminders of the rules, boundaries, dates to review and also your personal preference. It’s still important to remind yourself why you chose to be the freelancer you are. I’ve got a feeling that being bullied into things you don’t want to do was not on your list!
In closing, remember -- there’s always a compromise or a balance to find. The key here, especially as we all face a challenging road ahead to an abnormal Christmas, is to take your position but be agile and respectful in how you convey it. Keep communication lines – and minds – open.
The expert was influential communication expert Kay White, the author of two bestsellers – The A to Z of Being Understood and It’s Always Your Move.
Kay works with corporations, SMEs, and private individuals to show them how to become more savvy, influential communicators. For more details and to connect with Kay, please visit www.kaywhite.com.
26th November 2020