We’re all pretty comfortable with the concept of job-sharing. It involves two people working on a part-time or reduced-time basis and sharing the workload and responsibilities that would normally be performed by one, full-time person. It’s a form of working that gives employees flexibility together with the comfort of actually having time off knowing that the workload is being covered when they’re not there. It also provides an organisation and co-workers with confidence that someone in that role can assist when needed.
But how does that job-sharing translate when the job itself is a flexible one? Is it possible to layer job-sharing on top of a contract legal position? How would it work? And what are the benefits of doing so?
At Orbit, we know it is possible and can work well. We recently supplemented a Corrs Chambers Westgarth secondee with an Orbit lawyer to offer the client both diverse expertise and full-time coverage. This job share arrangement worked well because of the different skills each lawyer bought to the role: Theonie, an IPT&C specialist, managed ACL queries, while Cate, a general commercial lawyer, assisted the business on transactional matters.
Job-sharing a contingent position is the same as job-sharing a permanent position – it requires cooperation and excellent communication between the job-sharers and with the business, as well as a commitment to make it work from the organisation and co-workers.
A few years ago, Harvard Business Review published “How to Make a Job Sharing Situation Work”, an article that included commentary from experts in workplace environments at US business schools.[i] They identified a number of factors that make job-sharing successful. We’ve summarised what HBR had to say – all of which has stood the test of time – and added some thoughts of our own about how the arrangement can work best when one, or both, of the individuals are working on contract:
HBR says: Choose the right job-share partner - find someone with complementary skills, experience and perspectives, with whom you can easily communicate, collaborate and safely disagree with.
Orbit says: Some clients specifically look for contract lawyers who can cover a job-share arrangement due to one of the in-house lawyers taking leave or departing. We agree that it is critical to match both the experience requirement for the business and the personality of the job-sharing team to set up the arrangement for maximum success.
HBR says: Decide how you’re going to divide the work – this can be done by splitting the work by the type or by sharing the same work on different days.
Orbit says: We have seen work divvied up by type and by coverage, but think the most important thing to do is to ensure that each job-sharer has autonomy over the work they’re performing. This keeps both individuals engaged and delivers a better result for the organisation.
HBR says: Communication between individuals is key – both about the actual work and the approach the job-sharers are going to take to complete it. Copying each other on emails, the US experts say, isn’t communicating at the “mind meld” level required for job sharing to work.
Orbit says: Putting a structure in place across the working week helps promote effective communication. For example, scheduling a 10-minute handover and work in progress call at the end of each working period is more efficient than drafting lengthy emails to one another. Talking things through also helps to reinforce relationships and common work goals.
HBR says: Supervisors and organisations have to support the job-sharing arrangement.
Orbit says: When we’re called by clients to find a person for a job-sharing role, or if we suggest a job-sharing option with two Orbit lawyers, we try to understand how job-sharing has worked in the past in that business and tailor the arrangements to meet business expectations.
HBR says: Manage expectations and reinforce the benefits to the organisation and co-workers.
Orbit says: Our clients tell us that when contract lawyers arrive to fill job-sharing arrangements, the team they are working with are usually very relieved. In part, this is because work allocation and team structure is generally preserved. It’s also because those team members can hand back extra duties. The contract lawyers covering the gap also need to be mindful of the team dynamic as it is more complex in a job-sharing situation.
HRB says: Try it as a pilot arrangement first, get feedback, be prepared to reassess the arrangement and tweak it to make it succeed.
Orbit says: We constantly communicate with our contract lawyers and clients about how the arrangement is working. We’re always willing to work with the client to make any change that’s needed.
According to the 2018 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, the workforce ecosystem is rapidly changing. “In the United States, more than 40 percent of workers are now employed in “alternative work arrangements,” such as contingent, part-time, or gig work. This percentage is steadily rising—increasing by 36 percent in just the past five years—and now includes workers of all ages and skill levels.”
Our clients are looking for creative, flexible solutions to address this trend and meet their business’s needs. Increasingly, we anticipate that placing contract lawyers into job-sharing roles will help clients to tap into a talented legal workforce looking for flexible work options.
We have opportunities available for exceptional lawyers with 5+ PQE. You must be established as an ILP or sole practitioner, carry an unrestricted practising certificate and have PI insurance. Email or call Greg for a confidential conversation on how legal contracting can work for you.
Head of Orbit
Phone: +61 3 9672 3187