With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority of law firms have now converted to a work-from-home system to comply with stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders. For most of the legal industry, this is a new situation that requires a different set of management techniques and best practices. Here are some tips on how to strategically and effectively manage your remote team.
1. Check-in on a Regular Basis
Daily or weekly check-ins can help reinforce the collaborative culture of your firm. Managers can stay on top of what is happening while also providing an opportunity for employees to express concerns, ask questions, or seek help. Check-in days and times should be as consistent as possible so that everyone is aware of how important the check-ins are and keep those times clear on their calendars.
2. Communicate Regularly
In addition to team check-ins, communicate regularly with smaller groups or individuals (without crossing the line into being a micromanager). Since many of your communications will be over email or through text messages that are stripped of body language, tone of voice, etc., try to assume that whoever is sending the message has good intentions. Finally, if it appears that something is falling through the cracks or an employee isn’t performing the way they normally would, make sure to ask why and try to get to the root cause. You may find that there are easy solutions that can help get your team back on track.
3. Don’t Be Afraid of Technology
If an email or text thread appears to be going in circles, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone or have a video chat. Oftentimes, using alternative forms of communication can cut through a lot of assumptions resulting in a clearer message for both sides. In addition to video conferencing solutions, consider utilizing messaging apps like Slack for quick, time-sensitive communications. Finally, make sure that everyone on your team has access to the right tools, such as laptops, mobile devices, internet access, and work-from-home software solutions.
4. Set Realistic Expectations
Many people working from home will be juggling a multitude of responsibilities from fulfilling their work duties to suddenly being impromptu teachers to their children. Even employees who are used to working from home are most likely faced with new challenges such as supervising their children or having to care for a loved one with minimal assistance. Working from 9-5 may not be possible and turnaround times may need to be extended. Be clear about what you expect as a manager while being realistic and sensitive to the logistical struggles your employees may be experiencing.
5. Focus on Outcomes
While it may be difficult to transition from a culture of tracking billable hours and other metrics of productivity, with remote work it is wise to focus instead on outcomes. Concentrating on ensuring the highest quality of work as the main objective will be more fulfilling for your team and less of a headache for you to manage. In addition to focusing on outcomes, explaining why a project is being pursued can also help give your team the motivation it needs to do a great job. Employees want to be valued and know that they are helping achieve a worthy goal, but to do that, you may need to share what that goal is and why you’ve set it as a goal.
6. Embrace Flexibility
Studies have shown that remote work can increase productivity and lead to other benefits. However, working from home can also lead to issues with managing work-life balance and negative effects on mental health. Allowing employees to set their own schedules outside of mandatory client meetings and other time-sensitive obligations and encouraging numerous breaks in the day can provide your team with the freedom to work in a way that’s best for them and ensure they will put out the best work possible.
While change can be scary, embracing the switch to working remotely can provide your firm with stability in uncertain times, foster a sense of appreciation in your team, and a potential boost in productivity in your employees.
About the Author
Graham Sutliff is the co-founder of Sutliff & Stout, Injury & Accident Law Firm. Graham is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law, and he has been actively trying personal injury cases for over fifteen years.