Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020
By Gideon Grunfeld
The shift to working remotely came suddenly for most without much lead-time for planning. Law firms adapted to the new normal thinking it would be a few months or maybe just a matter of weeks. It’s become clear, especially in cities like Los Angeles where social distancing measures haven’t contained the virus, that we are now looking at a much longer period of fully or partially remote work.
This means that firm leadership should be implementing strategies for managing a remote workforce over the long haul. In advising our clients on this issue, we’ve been able to provide a number of specific strategies for maintaining efficiency and employee satisfaction. Today, we’ll start with communication.
When your team members aren’t in the same office, an information vacuum is likely to appear, as each memo or notice needs to be consciously relayed to those whom it concerns. Email is a great way to pass along information that many workers need to know, but more frequent phone calls will help to re-create a space for ideas and suggestions that would have been tossed around casually from one desk to another.
If you aren’t holding staff calls in addition to one-on-ones, you should be. Whether these are for the whole firm or separated by practice area will depend on the size and scope of your firm, but these calls can be key to keeping everyone on the same page and making sure all concerns are heard. If you are a senior lawyer, it might feel like you are constantly communicating with colleagues, but the perception of more junior workers is often different. More frequent phone calls with smaller groups of junior attorneys, paralegals, and staff are especially important now.
More communication doesn’t need to mean more of a burden on your workforce. Send agendas in advance for staff calls whenever possible, and keep department meetings to an hour or less. Checking in with each person on your team for twenty minutes a week can also be extremely effective without interrupting their work or yours.
Finally, while Zoom was all the rage when stay-at-home orders went into effect, don’t insist on video conferencing when it’s not adding to the conversation. There are instances when you might want to share a screen or where you could expect some benefit from seeing each other’s faces, but much of the time, this is just more intrusive to your workers and wasteful of their time as they coordinate their appearance, the room’s lighting, and the activities of others in their households. So stick with traditional phone calls unless there is a very good reason not to.
Even as law offices gradually reopen going into 2021, it’s increasingly unlikely that all of your people will be in the office at the same time. Thus, you need to obtain feedback regularly from the full range of your workers to determine how your modes of communication need to evolve to keep up with the needs of a remote workforce.