What to Do If Your Client Wants You to Work Onsite

Depending on the nature of your business, sometimes there is a need to work directly at a client site.  However, in many instances, it may be more efficient for you to work remotely or from home. The challenge comes when a client strongly requests or demands for you to be onsite and won’t budge on the approach. 

If you have a new client that is demanding that you work onsite, make sure to negotiate and set expectations from the start. Then work to establish trust with the client and evaluate whether or not it’s worth the effort.

Things to Do If Your Client Wants You Onsite

Below is a list of what to do if your clients wants you to work onsite:

Set Expectations with the Client from the Start

If you are in a position to discuss the assignment prior to sign off, then you should set the expectation from the start of the project.

In my experience, when delivering this message, it’s better to be onsite face to face with the client.   However, this is not always necessary depending on your availability, the size of the project, the cost of the opportunity, etc.   The key is for the client to know that you’re being genuine and honest upfront.

Be clear about how you typically operate projects remotely and explain your success track record of completing assignments without being onsite. The more organized you are, the more you can show the client your methodology works. Here are some examples of things you might include:

  • Provide them with your office hours – Make sure to factor in time-zones.  If your client is on the west coast and you’re on the east coast then you need to have a clear plan to be able to communicate with them during the appropriate business hours.
  • Schedule regular touch base and/or status calls – When you are working remotely, communication is key. You have to use the right type of communication depending on your situation (Phone vs email vs instant message).
  • Provide them the right tools – There are many tools that you can utilize to help you remotely manage your client which includes project management software, email, instant messaging, etc.

The next thing to do is to let the client know all the benefits and savings they get by you and/or your team working remotely. Here are some potential benefits you can list:

  1. The client is saving on costs with the time it takes for you to travel vs being able to apply that time to work on their solution.
  2. The client is saving costs on travel expenses. Travel costs are very expensive, especially last minute travel.
  3. Working in the comfort of your office helps you speed up the solution.  Explain that your normal office tools such as multiple monitors, on faster machines, and being able to be in an environment built for your work helps you to be more efficient and produce quality solutions.

The other thing I would check is if there are any contracts or state rules that you can use to your benefit.  I would do some research in this area and make sure to include that in your discussions. In some places, depending on your relationship with the organization, you may hold the cards on what amount of time can be spent on-site.

Negotiate with the Client Upfront

If the client pushes back on the expectations that you have laid out to work remotely, your next option is to try to negotiate with them and come up with some sort of mutual agreement. There are many great negotiation tactics you can use or work as an angle.

The first thing you might try to figure out are the most critical points of the project or assignment.  It all depends on your industry and your methodology. For example, in my software experience, I usually felt the requirements, the start of testing, and production deployment were the most critical.

In my situation in the above example, I would try to negotiate to come onsite initially for the requirements to capture everything for the assignment and make sure I’m on the same page with the client.  Then I would tell them during the hand-off phase for testing, that we can run a 4 hour conference pilot to get them started. Depending on the cost and criticality of the project, I might offer to be onsite when the solution is deployed so that the project can close smoothly.

Find out the true motives of why they want you onsite. Do they want to watch you work so they can use it as a training activity?  If so, maybe you could potentially offer a training solution outside the scope of this engagement.

Build Trust with the Client

If you come to an agreement with the client and they are good with your work arrangement, then you need to make sure to continue to build that trust.  

The best way to earn that trust is to deliver on your commitments! While you are working at home or at your office remotely, here are some suggestions to help you build that trust with the client:

  1. Keep them updated regularly so they don’t have time to worry if you are working on their project or not.
  2. If you get stuck, make sure to have a process in place to quickly engage the client as needed.
  3. Make sure to set reasonable timelines factoring in your communications method, and hit those targets

If you don’t follow through on your expectations and the client loses trust in you, it might be possible to end up losing the agreement you have in place.  Or you might just have an upset client, which is never a good thing and will make it much harder to complete the assignment.

Decide If It’s Worth Taking the Project to Work Onsite

If the client does not budge on any of your expectations and refuses to negotiate with you, then you need to better assess the situation.   If you are the decision maker you have to think if you or your team are willing to work onsite. Some questions that you will need to think about:

  • Will this client be reasonable to work with and not burn you out?
  • How long do you have to be onsite for this project?
  • What happens if something else goes wrong on the assignment, are you able to effectively work with this client?
  • Is the client wanting to drive all your decisions?
  • Does the client want to look over your shoulder with all the work you’re doing?
  • Do you have to travel on weekends or Fridays?

You should evaluate every aspect of an engagement before making a final decision to pursue it.  For example, let’s say that you are onsite for weeks on a project and somehow several gaps were discovered in the solution because the client failed to provide requirements.  Does this mean you will now need to be onsite for more additional time? What will be the impact to your family and other business opportunities as a result of this?

If you’re an employee and don’t have the authority to make the final decision on the project, it can be harder to navigate since you are more limited in your options.  I remember when I was a full-time consultant, traveling was a component of my job. However, if my negotiations failed with the client to work remotely, I was able to work through my managers at the time and try to figure out alternative solutions.  Some ideas include:

  • Running rotations with other teammates, so one person doesn’t have to work onsite all the time.
  • Getting additional time off to make up for travel outside of work time.
  • Having the client fly into your offices.

At the end of the day, clients will always demand or request their own preferences when it comes to the work environment.  However, with your guidance, hopefully you can come up with a solution that works well for all parties.