In my last post I talked about how I think managers should approach off-hours work with their teams. It's a two way street, however, so today I'll share my thoughts on how non-managers (i.e. the rest of us!) should handle the situation.
Understand what's expected of you
Imagine you've been called in to work on a weekend and show up thinking you need to do A, B, and C while your manager really wants you to do X, Y, and Z. If you don't figure that out before you start working you're in for trouble. Do yourself (and your manager) a favor then and make sure you understand exactly what your manager expects to get accomplished while you're there.
Be the solution, not the problem
Sure, it's the weekend and you'd rather be anywhere else besides work. Guess what? Your manager feels the same way, and so do all of your co-workers. Talking about what you'd rather be doing or how much it sucks that you have to work on a weekend isn't likely to win you any sympathy points. Rather, it'll probably create tension and make you look like a complainer, and no one likes a complainer. Instead, focus on finishing what your manager called you in to do and remember the phrase, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all!"
If you are unhappy – and sometimes you have every right to be – take a minute to write down your reasons then give it some time to let your emotions settle. Revisit your list later and see if you can create some positive suggestions for how to do things better the next time, then bring them up in a one on one meeting with your manager or at a post-mortem when people are open to constructive criticism.
Shut off TweetDeck. Avoid logging into Facebook. Close Outlook & Gmail. Do whatever it takes to eliminate distractions so that you can focus on getting work done (and as mistake free as possible). The plus side of working during off-hours is that no one's there to interrupt you with their problems every 15 minutes. With no distractions or interruptions you're putting yourself in a zone of super-productivity. The more productive you are the sooner you finish what you came in to do. The sooner you finish, the sooner you can go home and log into Twitter, Facebook, and do all those other distracting things.
Work first, negotiate later
When your manager tells you that he\she needs you to work outside of normal hours it's natural to try and negotiate up front for overtime pay or extra time off as compensation but I believe that you shouldn't if possible. Do the work first and then talk compensation once you know how much time you put in. By contributing to your manager's success first and putting yourself second your manager will probably be more than willing to help you out in the end.
Note that there's a difference in negotiating for compensation and setting expectations. For example, if you're getting called in but you had a previous commitment that you can't back out of it's OK to work out what time you can come in beforehand…but it's not OK to tell your manager that you expect a few hours off on Monday because you are coming in on a Saturday.
The Big Picture
We all value our personal time, but from time to time we're going to have to give some of it up to go into work outside of normal hours. When it happens, remain positive, focus on getting the job done, and be a professional about it. Handle it wrong and you'll have to dig yourself out of a proverbial hole, but handle it right and you'll earn yourself a few extra karma points which may come in handy at some point in the future.