The arrival of the pandemic in early 2020 forced legal organizations into swift action. The choice was pretty straightforward: adapt to a remote working environment or shutter your business. Most firms rose to the challenge but did so—necessarily—without much planning or forethought. They made quick decisions on process and technology changes that would allow their employees to accomplish at least some of their work at home. They found new ways to communicate, if not collaborate. They gave employees more time and options, if not genuine flexibility. In short, they made it work. After all, “normal” was just around the corner…
Except that it wasn’t. A year later, we find that much has changed—and not in the ways we would have predicted last March. Employees who’ve had a taste of improved work/life balance want to keep it. Employees who were thrilled to give up their grueling morning commutes have no desire to resume them. Stop-and-start school schedules have made schedule flexibility a necessity for working parents, not a luxury. While many firms have brought at least some employees back into the office some of the time, most are still working within a hybrid model, and a few, realizing that remote work offers opportunities for reducing overhead, have downsized or relinquished their physical office spaces.
In a time in which it seems that the only thing certain is uncertainty, here’s one thing we do know: the ability to work from anywhere isn’t optional anymore—not for any business that wants to stay in business. For this reason, it’s time to stop thinking of remote work as a temporary solution, and start making it a permanent part of your firm’s culture.
So what does that mean in practice, exactly? Where do you start?
Put People First
First, focus on your people. It's easy to assume what they want. You won't know if you don't ask them. Some may want to come back full time once they feel safe to do so. Others may want to stay at home indefinitely or come into the office a few days a week.
As you consider their wants, think about what the past 12 months revealed about their strengths and weaknesses. Some people have more distractions at home and can't focus as easily during the work hours (anyone dealing with virtual learning and young children can attest to this). They may benefit from continued flexibility in the hours they work. Others may struggle with technical challenges at home - in the office it's much easier to ask a coworker or IT to help with something.
Consider where your people need better support and training to be able to work effectively without direct daily supervision. Training can come in the form of one-on-one remote training done via video conferencing software, recorded training, or group sessions. Having easy access to on demand training content in the form of videos and written materials is key - help them help themselves.
Get Serious About Collaboration
Next, embrace online collaboration. Let’s be clear: email is not a collaboration tool. If your team is still using email to share copies of marked up documents, you’re wasting time, likely duplicating effort, and compromising the security of your clients’ data. If you already have a document management system, get familiar with its collaboration tools and update your processes to include then. Consider bringing in a consultant to help you find the best ways of working within the systems you already have or to identify a cost-effective solution.
While you’re at it, bring a more critical eye to your firm’s processes. Where can you create a smoother handoff or eliminate redundancy? Facilitating efficient, real-time online collaboration is often an important key to cutting out wasted time and reducing the potential for error.
Take on Your Tech
Finally, take a fresh look at your technology. Maybe you implemented stopgap measures to make legacy systems work for a remote team. Maybe you implemented new technology but did so without the benefit of real any real up-front analysis of your firm’s unique needs. In either case, now is the time to take a step back and assess whether or not your technology is equally effective for remote workers as it is for those working in the office.
Start by inventorying your technology - both hardware and software. Do people working a hybrid model have the hardware they need at home and in the office? If they are schlepping a mountain of hardware back and forth, it's time to invest in duplicate docking stations, monitors, keyboard, mice, webcams, and audio devices. Ideally, they'll only need to bring their laptop to-and-from the office. Ensure that everyone has a quality webcam and hands-free audio device for video meetings.
After you take stock of the software you have, think about what inefficiencies are making your team's lives harder. Do systems that don't integrate require duplicative data entry? Is remote access fast or are people wasting time trying to get connected and waiting for documents to open?
If your people need to enter the same data in more than one system, it's time to get things talking. Investigate whether your existing software can be integrated or whether switching platforms may resolve data entry headaches. Especially if your software is server based, now may be a good time to consider cloud-based software that is accessible from anywhere with an internet connect.
If your software is server-based and you don't want to change platforms, consider moving from an in-house server to a hosted server. Hosted servers allow people to access all of your software and files from anywhere with an internet connection simply by logging into a website. Not only do they make remote access possible, they can save you a bundle on IT.
While uncertainty is still a constant companion for now, pivoting to enable your firm to work from anywhere is certain to enable and empower your people while enhancing your firm’s culture.
If you could use a little help as you shift from a temporary to a more permanent remote work environment, Affinity is here to assist. Just contact us at 877-676-5492 or request a free consultation.