A good policy will combine the best of both worlds. Working from home has many benefits for workers including saving up to $4,000 per year in travel, parking, and food spending, as well as gaining back 11 days (or more) of time without a commute. Employers save, too. Up to $11,000 annually per employee due to increased productivity, reduced rent, less turnover, fewer sick days, and having their talent pool unrestrained by geography.
Working at an office has advantages, too. Caregiving duties, inadequate home-office space, and poor internet aren’t as common at an office as they are at home. It is also easier to secure a workplace from vulnerabilities threatening corporate data integrity, among other risks. Plus, when everyone is in an office, employees feel more connected to each other and the organization.
Chances are, if you’re a law firm, you’ve already been forced to experiment with work from home policies since the start of the pandemic. And if working remotely is part of your new normal, here are a few tips to avoid common pitfalls in this new world of work.
Maintaining proper security protocol at each worker location, as well as on-site, is extremely important. According to a 2020 report from the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center, 29% of law firms have experienced a security breach while moving to virtual workplaces. It may be worth hiring a robust IT company to see to your security needs and ensure each worker has what they need to keep your firm’s information safe at the office and at home. If you’re more into DIY fixes, solutions like VPNs, password vaults, and similar tools have become less expensive and are relatively simple to implement.
Some other best practices you can adopt:
- Require employees to use firm-provided IT equipment and to abstain from personal usage on those devices;
- Provide trustworthy and secure services, such as a single cloud storage provider, rather than leaving employees to “pick their own” with or without your consent;
- Train employees on how to recognize phishing scams and other common data security threats;
- Review security terms and settings with your technology partners and cloud-based tools your firm uses to understand what security is in place for stored data, and whether there are additional actions you can take in the settings of those platforms to enable two-factor authentication, or similar account protections;
Making the work environment inclusive is a big challenge with hybrid law offices. Do only some employees get the privilege of working from home? Do those who work in the office get better visibility with their bosses and better opportunities? Having a hybrid office will mean checking in with each employee one-on-one more often, or leaving time during regular briefings to discuss work-life balance and how people are doing. Also, make sure that every meeting or event has a virtual invitation, even if it has a physical location. This will keep those who are virtual from being left out. Encourage those who are physically present to hop on the virtual side even if they are in the same building, so those who are virtual can still see their faces and hear their voices in equal measure. Try to keep in-person meeting attendees from blocking virtual participation by dominating conversations.
Loneliness can be a major struggle for remote workers. Without the opportunities for shared lunches, watercooler conversations, and small talk, team members who are remote can feel isolated. Virtual events where everyone is invited to participate regardless of where they work can really help boost team mental health and morale. Earmark a little time at the beginning and end of team meetings for personal updates and small talk. Dedicate an instant message channel for friendly office chit-chat. Anything you can do to discourage a ‘them and us’ culture between virtual and in-person staff will go a long way towards keeping your team strong.
New Tools for New Solutions
A plethora of tools are available, and more on the way, for knitting teams together across the globe. Be open to exploring options as you optimize for better communication, organization, and fitting together technology pieces that enable your team to be effective from anywhere. Do you need to reconfigure any of the tools you’re already using? Perhaps there are features you’ve never used before that would be helpful now.
Here’s a helpful article about managing the process for improving your firm with technology, if you’re interested.
For example, one common pain point for law firms in this new landscape is document management across a distributed team. When the pandemic hit, many firms had staff drafting legal documents from Word document templates stored on local drives, or accessing court forms from an office server that wasn’t remote-accessible. When the pandemic shut down offices, ensuring that team members had access to the most up-to-date versions of necessary documents was a disruption.
Focus on Impact, not Productivity
Sometimes, the biggest impact an employee can have is going to be attending an in-person meeting, even if it means less time for other meetings in their day because of the commute. Other times, what’s impactful might be a quick Zoom meeting that gets the job done and allows more time for other things (whether that’s more actual work, or letting someone leave early for a vacation and increasing employee satisfaction.) Quality meetings are most certainly better than quantity. Understanding when circumstances should decide where and how a meeting is taking place can ensure the best possible outcomes for everyone.
No one can predict what the impact of the pandemic will be on our workplaces in the future. But we do know that staying flexible can make the difference between being able to adapt to unforeseen circumstances or falling behind. With a renewed focus on what the best of working at an office offers and what is great about working from home, you can design policies that suit your firm as well as your employees.