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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 work without a commute. For employers, they 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 actual office. It is also easier to make a workplace secure from vulnerabilities threatening corporate data integrity. And, 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. And if working remotely is part of your new normal, here are a few tips to avoid common pitfalls of straddling 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 make sure each worker has what they need to stay secure both at the office and at home.
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 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 risks.
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 more opportunities? Having a hybrid office will mean checking in with each employee one-on-one more often, and leaving time during regular briefings to discuss work-life balance and how they feel they are being treated. 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 space, so those who are virtual can still see their faces and hear their voice in equal measure.
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 time at the beginning and end of team meetings for personal updates and small talk. Dedicate an instant message channel for friendly chit-chat. Anything you can do to discourage a ‘them and us’ culture will go a long way towards keeping your team together.
New Tools for New Solutions
There is a plethora of tools available, and more on the way, for knitting teams together across the globe. Be open to exploring these as you optimize for better communication, organization, and fitting each moving piece into place. Do you need to reconfigure the tools you are already using? Perhaps there are features you’ve never used before that would now be helpful. Click here to read about a no fail process for improving your firm with technology.
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 over the long-term. But we do know that staying flexible can make the difference between being able to adapt and 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.