I do this often because this is when I wrap up the stuff for my day. But I wonder if it is considered intrusive. I imagine a scenario where a phone that is linked to gmail rings due to my email, and that wakes up the person I intend to email.

Can people chime in whether it is out of the norm to email around midnight?

Should I try to refrain from doing this?

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    I got a review request for close vote of this question. The close voter chooses "off-topic" reason. After scratching my head for several minutes, I failed to think of any reason this question is off-topic. Would the close voter offer an explanation? – scaaahu Oct 5 at 8:05
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    @scaaahu I'd speculate that the close voter misinterpreted "undergraduate admissions, life and culture" as meaning "life, culture and undergraduate admissions" (the question is about culture) rather than "undergraduate admissions, undergraduate life and undergraduate culture". – David Richerby Oct 6 at 13:24
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    @scaaahu I voted to close (not the one you were talking about, but a second). This question has nothing to do with academia; asking about "academic social norm" doesn't change the fact that it is no more rude to email a professor, student, colleague, your mom, etc. at midnight than anyone else. – Morgan Rodgers Oct 8 at 4:19
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please do not answer questions in comments. Also please read this FAQ before posting another comment. – Wrzlprmft Oct 8 at 13:01
  • If a person's phone is set to chime every time a email comes in then they quickly learn to ignore the chime since they probably get dozens of notifications throughout the night. Your desire to communicate via a passive medium such as email should never be hindered by fear of them not knowing how to configure their chimes. Do you try to time letter mailings around the convenience of the receiver too? – MonkeyZeus Oct 11 at 13:33

The good thing (maybe the only good thing) about email is that it's by nature asynchronous. A phone call in the middle of the night is intrusive, because there is an explicit expectation that the receiver does something about the call right there and then. An email is not like that - if you send an email, it will happily sit in the inbox of the recipient until they explicitly take an action to react upon it. Consequently, it does not matter when you send the email.

I imagine a scenario where a phone that is linked to gmail rings due to my email, and that wakes up the person I intend to email.

This is, in my opinion, not a valid concern. First of all, the kind of person who is annoyed by getting disturbed by email outside of work hours has a very easy fix to the problem - turn off notifications. In my opinion, if you explicitly have notifications enabled you can't at the same time be annoyed that you get notified.

Second, you'll need to understand an almost universal basic truth - starting from a certain seniority, most people in academia get a lot of email. Hundreds per day, in some cases. Many of these emails will come in during the night. If you wake up every time you get an email from one of your collaborators on a different continent, you won't get much sleep at all. So your email is highly unlikely to wake anybody up, because it will drown in the flood of other emails people get over the night.

That said, as discussed in a somewhat related recent question, if you are a supervisor or manager, it may pay to be somewhat careful about what "message" you transport with when you send emails. In this question, a student was stressed because their supervisor kept sending them mails in the night, and the student interpreted these as work items that needed to be done by the next morning. Also, if you as a supervisor are clearly working until midnight, it may implicitly communicate certain expectations and standards that you don't really want in your team.

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    +1 for the final paragraph, make sure anyone who reports to you knows you don't expect an immediate reply. – Jack Aidley Oct 5 at 8:31
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    I agree, +1, but plenty of academics need help dealing with a very easy fix to the problem - turn off notifications. In my opinion, if you explicitly have notifications enabled you can't at the same time be annoyed that you get notified. I find that opinion perfectly reasonable but not all humans are -- so I'd do a few things: check with them; include language like "could we discuss tomorrow?" to make it clear that you're not expecting an immediate response; keep considering whether the asynchronous approach works; use clear subject lines that don't imply a panic that's not there – Chris H Oct 5 at 8:33
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    @ChrisH My general approach is that I expect people to be reasonable until they give me a reason to suspect otherwise. So unless the person I am sending emails either tells me, or sets actions that lead me to assume, that they are unhappy about receiving an email in the middle of the night I wouldn't worry about it. – xLeitix Oct 5 at 8:52
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    Related to that final paragraph--I communicate with a professor that has the following note in a small font at the bottom of her email signature to prevent this: Due to my scheduling balance you may receive emails outside of normal working hours, please to not feel pressured to respond outside of your own normal working hours. – spacetyper Oct 5 at 17:38
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    It might be useful to think of the comparison between this and sending them an instant message or a phone call. Phone calls obviously expect the other person to wake up. Instant messages fit somewhere in the middle, but generally the word "instant" implies that people treat them as more timely than email, which is explicitly asynchronous. – Cort Ammon Oct 5 at 19:00

No, you do not have to refrain from doing this.

What is midnight to you? Is it now? Because if it's midnight for you now, halfway across the world, it's noon. It's completely logical that someone halfway around the world will be active right now. If this person wants to email you, should he or she wait 12 hours until it's noon for you?

If anything, I'd say you (or the person you're emailing) should turn off your phone when going to sleep.

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    "...you should turn off their phone" sounds... weird. Doesn't seem to be what you intended to write. – Ruslan Oct 7 at 16:54
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    I once received an email in Europe from someone based in the US. I replied with 'why are you still awake at 3am?', to which I got back 'I'm currently in Asia'. – Jessica B Oct 8 at 14:18

People have different wake/sleep and work/relax rhythms, and with flexible working hours and home office, it's hard to guess when people do work and when not (especially in academics).

Therefore I think the responsibility shifted from the sender to the receiver of the message: Most (all?) smartphones nowadays have a "do not disturb" modus which automatically turns off the sound and vibration at night or during personally defined times. Send me e-mails whenever you want or call me whenever you want, because if I don't want to be disturbed, I take care I won't.

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    +1 but I would say that, in general, don't call people at unsociable times. Not everyone has DND set and a phone ringing is much more disruptive than the boop-de-boop of a notification. – David Richerby Oct 5 at 13:18

I would say it somewhat depends on the nature of the message and overall context.

I am not troubled if a message from a colleague working in another country comes overnight, there are obvious reasons for it.

However, when I see a couple of emails sent by the Head of Department to the whole Department in the middle of the night, it's slightly concerning. In addition to the things explicitly requested in the email, it also implies that these requests are particularly urgent and important and keep the HoD working overnight. This in turn creates an expectation that such email has to be acted upon immediately, particularly if some colleague responds to it and triggers a discussion. A few repetitions like this solidify a culture, when colleagues are expected to take work home and are falling behind if they don't.

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    I've seen colleagues append a message along the lines of "Due to carer responsibilities I work flexible hours and sometimes send emails late at night. This does not mean that you are expected to respond outside standard business hours." IMHO helpful for preventing the sort of issue that you describe. – Geoffrey Brent Oct 5 at 6:12
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    @GeoffreyBrent A message like that could of course cause the impression that one needs an excuse to be allowed to send emails late at night... – Arno Oct 5 at 8:43
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    @Arno on the whole, that might not be the worst thing that could happen. – Geoffrey Brent Oct 5 at 12:07

Can people chime in whether it is out of the norm to email around midnight?

It is not out of the norm

Should I try to refrain from doing this?

Yes. Despite other answers, I think your worry is justified and you should not send emails at midnight.

I agree with others that the receiver is in control of turning notifications on/off. With or without reason, some people will still get annoyed by your email and you don't want that. They might have notifications on by mistake or because they are waiting for another more important email.

More important than this, if they receive your email at midnight, they might read it! It's very likely that they won't spend much time doing so and are more likely to misunderstand, overlook or forget about it next morning when it's marked as read in their inbox.

Or they might reply to it! You have finished your day and want to take that email from your head and go to bed but, if they reply, I would feel obliged to clarify any questions that they have before going to bed as they are doing you the "favour" of working late for you.

I believe the best time to send an email is when you want the other person to read it, even if this is not guaranteed. I like between 9-10 a.m. when they have had their breakfast and read their inbox but probably not started seriously focusing in any task yet. It gives you the time to sleep on it and maybe modify it before sending it.

Furthermore, some people will flag those who are working at midnight as people with poor time management. I would try to appear to others like you work office hours, even if you don't. Depends on the environment but I think that it makes it easier for other people and more people will think of you as reliable, consistent and professional.

If this is something you are concerned about, there are some email clients (ie. Outlook) that allow you to delay sending emails until a specified time. I often do this to avoid the problem you describe.

I disagree with the notion in most of these responses that it is solely the responsibility of the receiver to turn off their notifications. I think very few people can resist the urge to check their emails when they 'shouldn't', particularly since they are so accessible. With delayed message sending it is not necessary for someone to receive an email outside office hours unless it is urgent.

This solves both your problem of wanting to wrap things up for the day and avoids interrupting others during the times they are not at work.

EDIT: To clarify my point, if you are concerned about disturbing people because you know you work different hours to them, you can use email delay to avoid this problem. I think it is generally good practice to use this if your email isn't urgent because a) if they do have notifications on it won't bother them and 2) you are helping you colleagues by not allowing them to work when they shouldn't be.

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    It's absolutely the responsibility of the receiver to turn off notifications if they don't want to be woken by them. Especially in academia where one can receive emails from all around the world at any time of day or night. It is trivial to avoid being woken by your phone during the night and unreasonable to make it the responsibility of everyone who might ever communicate with you to know when you might be asleep and avoid communicating with you at those times because you can't be bothered to set up your phone properly. – David Richerby Oct 5 at 13:24
  • I should clarify that I don't think it you shouldn't turn off notifications and get annoyed at people from emailing you outside of hours. Merely that if you send an email outside work hours and you don't want others to answer it outside of hours (perhaps you know this person struggles to clock-out of work) you can avoid this, and help them, by using email delay. – SamPassmore Oct 5 at 17:13
  • I agree with you that delayed e-mails can be nice in a situation like this. I use them, too, but mainly because I don't need other people to know what hours I keep. One thing to consider is, what if it crosses some other e-mail by the same person? If someone e-mails you at 6.30 A. M. about something, and your delayed e-mail appears to ignore it because it arrives only at 8 A. M., that gives the wrong impression. But I suppose that can be remedied by another e-mail to explain the situation later. Regardless, I do think people should turn off their sound at night and it's their problem. – Cerberus Oct 6 at 0:03
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    It is your responsibility to decide when you want to read mails. Especiall midnight is a time, you get quite a few automated e-mails. If you feel disturbed by your phone, turn off the alarm at night. If you feel the urge to respond asap, it is your problem to deal with. Some people even like responding at night and possibly already having the reply in the next morning. You just may not demand a fast reply, but often you may not demand a fast reply at day time either. The only thing op should consider: Your sending time communicates something about your working times. – allo Oct 7 at 18:49

The word from Singapore is NO-Problem. We are on the opposite clock from your clock so my night is your day. If I send a message to America in the afternoon it's most likely after midnight in America. If the user hasn't disabled their mobile and you get a flame message back it's most likely that they forgot to enable their go-fish (ie. gmail out-office) responder. AI was invented years ago to handle this. Your more likely to get flamed if you tweet or instagram someone or send an IM to them after midnight.

I don't think I would worry about disturbing people - that is the point of email and what makes it different from instant messaging.

It is more of a worry that you may give people in the impression you want their attention outside their working hours. Particularly if you are emailing people junior to you they might think you are suggesting that since you work all hours, so should they.

We are encouraged to use the following email signature here:

Due to my own family/work balance, you may get emails from me outside of normal working hours. I don't expect you to respond to my email outside your working hours.

At the University of X we value and encourage flexible working patterns, so please be assured that I respect your working pattern and I am looking forward to your response when you are next working. "

In addition to @Katu's answer, which I like, you can...

Just schedule a delayed send and avoid the problem

Most mail clients (including webmail IIANM) allow for some sort of mechanism for scheduling messages to be sent at a later time. For example:

"Send Later" add-on for Mozilla Thunderbird

and:

MS Outlook | Email | Delay or schedule sending email messages

or you can just Google "delayed send message" and the name of your mail client / webmail solution.

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