• Advice

The Office Episode: Working On-Site from a Client's Office

As a freelancer, you may suppose that you’ve left the cubicled, political world of office culture behind. Until that special day you return to the ambiguous, sometimes awkward, always thrilling role of non-employee office worker.

Here’s what you need to know to survive. Some tips are from our founder Sara Horowitz’s Freelancer’s Bible.

1: Ask for Guidelines!

You’ve already laid out the project schedule and such in your contract, but what do they expect from you day-to-day? Ask them:

  • Who should I report to? (Try to only report to one person. It’s the easiest way to avoid office politics.)
  • Do I have a phone number/email address/voicemail? (Normally freelancers don’t have this, but just make sure.)
  • If there are project meetings, should I attend?
  • Who should I come to with questions?

2: Play well with others

The biggest challenge for freelancers working in an office is that you’re an “outsider.” People may even treat you as a second class employee, not as an independent professional. Being an outsider can be a good thing (again, no office politics or staff meetings), but if you’re working on a project for a longer period, it could be isolating.

  • Be friendly and introduce yourself whenever you can to new people, making sure you let them know you’re working on X project for a few weeks/months.
  • Wash your mug: Always clean up after yourself and be polite about others’ working space.
  • Mirror office norms. If other people dress up and never eat lunch at their desks, try to do the same. Just because you’re a freelancer doesn’t mean you shouldn’t respect the workplace.
  • Don’t gossip. Remember: it’s about the project, not the people. You’re in, you’re out.

3: The project meeting

The most important thing to remember is to listen. This is an opportunity to pick up cues about the desired result of the project that your supervisor may not have explained to you.

You should contribute diplomatically. If it seems like your project supervisor wants to shine and inform other people about what you’re both working on, let him/her. That said, don’t be shy about contributing fresh ideas and demonstrating the value you’re bringing to this project, especially when asked. Draw on your experience in previous gigs -- chances are you have more experience on projects like the one you’re working on than anyone in the room.

Try to save background questions for your project supervisor so that you don’t waste everyone’s time as they explain the answer to you.

4: What happens if someone undermines you?

Bring it up to your project supervisor, with the focus not on your hurt feelings but the good of the project. Remember to stay as un-political as possible and never gossip about what happened to other workers.

5: Time boundaries

If your client asks you to work from the office, make sure that they’re not asking you to work a set number of hours a certain number of days a week, as they would an employee.

As explained here, independent contractors and employees have different rights. You don’t want to be misclassified as an independent contractor if your client really just wants a new underling without benefits expenses. You are independent, which means you can choose NOT to come into the office when you don’t want to and you can choose to leave whenever you want to.

That said, normal wroking hours are normally required. "I enjoy working at odd hours, and 3am is when I get my best writing done," Kate Hamill, a writer from NYC told us. "Working from a client's office encourages you not to procrastinate because -- you know -- you're putting on pants, but working at the same hours every day took some getting used to."

6: Check-ins

If your client keeps checking in on your progress, you may want to kindly remind them that they’ll see drafts at the project deadlines. They’ll be able to submit requests for revisions at that point. Just because you’re there doesn’t mean you have to be available for constant revisions.

7: Ask before you eat cake at the office birthday party

You don’t want to be a party crasher, but you also don’t want to be the only one sitting in their cubicle slaving away while everyone else eats ice cream (especially if you really want some ice cream). Either wait to be invited, or ask your project supervisor if it’s appropriate to attend.

Any other tips for working from the office? Do you try to avoid it?

Everything you need to know to have the career of your dreams--on your terms. Pick up a copy of The Freelancer’s Bible now.