It’s Saturday at 3pm. Over a dozen members of my review team have been in the office since 8am, helping to complete a population of documents that are urgently needed for Monday. While we had a bit of advance warning, we received approval for weekend work less than 24 hours ago. Most of the team had met their weekly hours on Thursday and were looking forward to a long weekend. But, when their help was needed, they answered the call. It’s impossible for me to thank them enough for that.

Sure, there are rewards for working the weekend (additional pay, extremely casual attire, fewer distractions, and sometimes even a free lunch or dinner) but those rewards don’t always make up for the inconvenience or last-minute notice.

Life as a contract employee is hard. One never knows how long the next break between projects will be. As a reviewer, I personally jumped for overtime; it allowed me to store up some unbudgeted cash for the lean times. Many, however, value their personal time far greater than I could ever pay; weekend work that might cause them to miss their Saturday yoga class is out of the question.

Contract attorneys who can be flexible with their time, however, are highly desirable on projects. To the extent possible, I try to ensure a team is large enough to eliminate the need for weekend and overtime work. Litigation is filled with uncertainties, however, and schedules or populations must change to meet new needs. Even projects that require rigid hours and have strict caps will occasionally run into unexpected emergencies. When staffing, I try to always include at least a few people who have demonstrated flexibility.

This desirable trait isn’t just limited to time. Some team members can’t work outside of certain hours, but are willing to help with special assignments during the day. Often, as the result of feedback, there will be follow-up items that need to be resolved in existing documents. I often rely on team members with a strong ability to focus on certain tasks to solve those issues. A new issue is identified as responsive? I’ll set up a special set of documents and they will focus on finding the newly-relevant docs. Complex spreadsheets need to be decoded and analyzed for a specific transaction? They’re happy to dig into the problem and learn how to best identify the information (and possibly even teach us innovative ways to use a native app or review tool in the process). The project they worked on three months ago has two extra days of work? They’re willing to focus their time and experience on that matter. Need a last-minute courier? Someone is usually happy to make a delivery.

Knowing that part of the team will help when things get complicated makes my life as a project manager far easier. I try to reward the commitment; flexibility demonstrated during a project is frequently a decisive factor when choosing which team members to retain as projects wind down.

Having a team that is flexible makes it easy to be flexible in return. Instead of rigid hours, I favor generous opening and closing times with an hour cap. If your project is limited to 40 hours, there’s often little reason to insist everyone report at 9 and leave at 5. Instead, I try to maintain a schedule that would allow a team member to complete their hours in four days (usually, 8 to 8). Everyone can arrive and leave on a schedule that best suits their needs, take breaks or vacation days as needed and not worry that a sick child, doctor’s appointment or late bus will cause their paycheck to fall short this week.

Yoga Class Image courtesy of lululemon athletica.