Like it or not, remote work is a part of our professional landscape for the foreseeable future. Although for several years it was commonplace for many companies to allow professionals to work remotely some or all the time, law firms have typically not been part of that group. Attorneys may work from home on occasion, but it was not the norm. Same with paralegals. Rarely did you hear about a legal admin, billing clerk or receptionist working from home. Now they are.
This has been a challenge for managers, human resources, IT departments and logistics, in general. Early in the pandemic it was an “all hands on deck” to keep law firms running smoothly and with as little disruption to workflow as possible. After three months, what are we hearing?
How Are Law Firms Currently Handling Remote Work?
Smaller law firms have returned to their offices. These include 50-50 home and office, a rotating schedule of staff and some that have returned full time in the office, among other scenarios.
Larger firms are still primarily working remotely as of early July. It’s possible the logistics of managing a larger group make it impractical until an “all clear” is sounded.
Law firm IT departments moved quickly to accommodate remote workers in March and April. Creating avenues for access, including accounting and billing that was previously not easily accessible. How will work be distributed? How will co-workers communicate that were accustomed to being across the hall or in the office next door?
Fielding Incoming Calls — Although many office phone systems support essential remote work features like call forwarding, the staff may not be familiar with how to use the features that can help make working from home more efficient. Firms have implemented a system that seamlessly route calls to the intended recipient even when everyone is working remotely.
Home Internet Connections — Internet speeds at home can be an issue. Home speed was perfect for viewing social media and personal email at night, but you may need more bandwidth now. Also, some internet providers have data caps in which the speed slows down after you reach a certain amount of data usage.
Videoconferencing and Text Communications Best Practices
Teleconferencing or videoconferencing has become the norm. Should have bought that Zoom stock! Choose one platform and make sure everyone is using it, ask everyone to use the most stable connection they have available to them, and make sure you have more than one option in case your primary platform goes down.
In addition to teleconferencing and videoconferencing, many firms have a platform that can be used for the firm’s staff to exchange instant messages. You can use group texts on your cell phone for this, but it is usually easier and more efficient to use an online platform like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Facebook Messenger. Also set clear expectations with regards to what documents and other information can be shared through a messaging platform.
Firms have implemented systems to efficiently and securely manage sensitive and/or confidential information. A cloud-based document management system is often easier and more efficient to back up the documents. Make sure to set up strong policies for how documents are to be handled to avoid any security breaches that would expose your clients’ information. For example, do not allow the staff to send documents back and forth through personal email accounts or other less secure forms of communication.
Overcoming Work from Home Challenges
One of the most common issues is that working from home can often blur the lines between work and personal life. Spouses, kids and pets can interrupt, and it may be easier to get distracted by things like social media or just putting a load of clothes into the laundry.
To address these issues, it is important to have detailed discussions with staff about the work/life balance and sticking to a schedule. Letting them know that you understand the challenges they are dealing with and stressing the importance of separating their work from their personal lives. You should also have daily teleconferences or videoconferences to stay in touch and make sure everyone is on the same page.
Where Do We Go from Here?
We are already witnessing, organizations across a wide range of industries are moving their employees to virtual/remote on a permanent basis. Many of these are technology companies that have always had remote employees and have the infrastructure to support it. We believe law firms will return to their offices in some capacity. It may be on a rotating schedule or some other alternative arrangement, but they will return.