This is probably karma for putting jury duty on my bucket list.
That was my first thought when I saw a small, but intimidating, letter in my mailbox. In bold, red letters on the front side: SUMMONS TO GRAND JURY DUTY.
My knowledge of jury duty was limited. I had never done it before and my friends had always managed to get out of it, for reasons of work, school or being uncomfortable with a murder case. On my court date, I wasn’t asked about my preferences. I learned that my mandatory service would last one month for three hours a day.
I started a new job in November and I was nervous to approach my bosses about something that was this much of a time commitment, even if it was mandated by the state of New York. While grand jury duty temporarily took me out of work, it ironically gave me some lessons about how to improve my performance at the office.
While I would have preferred to do jury duty for just a day, that wasn’t an option. If I decided to postpone it, I would have received another summons six weeks later. It made sense to take on the commitment in late April so it wouldn’t affect my summer travel plans.
I was given the choice to pick jury duty from 10-1pm or 2-5pm for one month. Since my office is in midtown and the court is in the financial district, I picked 2-5pm so that I could spend the whole morning working. This ensured that Michelle, my coverage, would get a smaller time frame to take on my responsibilities in addition to her own.
Office Application: Part of minimizing your losses is setting reasonable expectations for when your work can be completed. If you feel stretched with projects talk to your manager about extending one of the deadlines, often a better alternative than blowing off a date your boss is expecting you to finish.
UPDATE YOUR BOSS
As soon as I knew I would be taking on a time commitment that interfered with my regular work schedule, I texted my bosses. Your communication schedule with your managers may vary (emailing, calling, in-person) but the method matters less than the timing. As soon as I got out of court, I texted my bosses that I had been called for grand jury duty, detailed the time commitment and ensured there would be coverage while I was away.
Office Application: When you’re presented with a challenge at the office, communicate with your manager by identifying the issue, giving a time frame for completion and providing a solution. A succinct explanation is a better way to get your boss on board rather than detailing your personal feelings about the issue.
ACCEPT DIFFERENT PERSONALITIES
The courtroom, just like the office, has a mix of personalities. My jury slate had 23 people in it who were across the spectrum in age, gender, race, careers, etc. These variables naturally combined to different opinions, some of which escalated when people disagreed. Playground rules still affect us as adults: You may not like everyone, but play nice.
Office Application: In your team at work, there’s bound to be someone that you don’t get along with as much as everyone else. Feel confident in expressing your diverging opinion but respect that other people may disagree with you too. Rather than letting emotions run high in a meeting and lashing out in front of a group, have a one-on-one conversation when you feel confident you can do it calmly.
GET TO KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORS
New Yorkers aren’t necessarily known for their generosity, but given the chance they can surprise you. A few days before jury duty was over, I found a card on my chair. A happy dog with a pink commencement outfit wished me a happy graduation, with the majority of the jury members signing the card. Jury members can take one day off of duty and I used it for my graduation ceremony of my master’s program.
I didn’t talk about my then upcoming graduation with many people in the courtroom, it was one charitable person who had the idea to wish me well, get others to join in and leave the card on my chair as a surprise. That wouldn’t have happened if I shut myself off from everyone else in the group simply because I would have rather been at work. Get to know the people around you for no other purpose than to be friendly (if you’re in the city, this may sound horrifying.)
Office Application: Use some free time to engage with your colleagues about topics that aren’t work related. People are remembered more for their personalities and how they present themselves than those who keep their heads to the ground.
MAKE THE BEST OF IT
Once I accepted that my civic duty was calling me, I actually got really interested in the cases. This was like a crime show that you can’t help but get sucked into and that came to a head when my jury group and I listened to multiple cases a day. We heard trials that sometimes took weeks for all the evidence to be presented. In grand jury duty, you don’t deliver a verdict of “guilty” or “not guilty”; your job is simply to listen to the prosecution and decide if there is enough evidence to go to trial. Listening to comprehensive evidence that could alter the course of someone’s life is a great responsibility.
Office Application: You may be asked to do tasks you’d consider “not part of your job description.” Make the best out of it by being efficient with the smaller tasks. The quality work you put into these “less important” projects will encourage your boss to give you future assignments with more prestige.
THANK YOUR COLLEAGUES
I’m lucky enough to work in a place where when I go on vacation (or need to be in a courtroom for a month) I’m provided a coverage partner who takes on my work. Similarly, when my coverage goes on vacation, I take on her role. Although it was part of Michelle’s job to take on my responsibilities in the afternoon for these circumstances, I still wanted her to know that I appreciated her efforts. I made sure to thank her both by telling her, as well as giving her a hand when I was in the office in the mornings.
Office Application: A little “thank you” can go a long way in maintaining positive work relationships. It’s easy to fall into the rote behavior of everyday responsibilities but remember the people who help you to succeed at your job every day!
After four weeks, I received a piece of paper confirming that I had completed grand jury duty. We were told to keep this document in case we were called again. Once you complete grand jury duty in New York State, you don’t have to return for eight years. However, a district attorney told us that rule is contingent on individuals having the paperwork to prove that you served.
The system doesn’t keep airtight records of which individuals have served; we were told that some people were called for grand jury duty soon after they had completed it. If you lose your proof of service, the state can compel you to serve again. To avoid this, make an electronic copy.
Office Application: Scanning important documents to your email not only guarantees you won’t lose it, it’s also a faster way to find it on your computer rather than shuffling through folders on your desk.
Maximizing your performance at the office starts with being prepared. I expected grand jury duty to be taxing (it was), but it was also an opportunity to show I was capable of shouldering many responsibilities and still able to do my job well day-to-day. Consistency matters to employer; knowing that they can count on you will ultimately aid you in positive office performance.
Elizabeth Roberts works at CNN Digital and obtained her master’s from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Her previous work experience includes NBC’s Content Innovation Agency, Vanity Fair and the TODAY Show. She is an alumna of the NBCU Page Program. Elizabeth lives in New York but is proudly from the Washington, D.C. area. When she’s not writing, you’ll see her gasping through a half marathon or avoiding tell you the shameful number of hours she spends watching both good and bad TV.