In an ever-changing work climate, remote work is becoming the norm, especially during uncertain times. Alternative working environments are gaining more traction in the legal industry as well.
In a July 2019 survey conducted by Robert Half Legal, nearly 6 in 10 lawyers (58%) cited flexible scheduling as the top policy to help them strengthen work-life balance. Remote work arrangements ranked second at 57%. Now, it is time to put remote work arrangements to the test.
As a legal professional, managing a team of remote workers might be uncharted territory, especially for smaller law firms. It can be challenging. Fortunately, the following strategies can help you manage a dispersed team.
- Communication is key: If your team members have different schedules and work in different time zones, make sure pertinent information is easily — and frequently — communicated. Otherwise, you risk having a disjointed and unproductive team. Setting up processes and tools for documenting and sharing information is a great way to keep the communication flowing.
- Keep in daily contact, and DON’T micromanage: When creating a calendar for your team, set times for when everyone will meet online and remind employees who are working remotely to keep and share their home office hours so projects stay on track. As a manager, you’ll want let your staff know how and when they can reach you throughout the workday. After all, team members who are working from home won’t be able to swing by your office to ask questions or get immediate feedback. You never want your employees to feel like they’re on a deserted island.The lines can get blurred between keeping in contact and micromanaging. Keep in mind that remote workers need to feel confident that their managers believe they will work just as hard as they would in a regular office setting.
- Building morale: Coming together and fostering morale can be done from a distance and it will take some creativity. If your team is tackling a big project and juggling multiple deadlines, consider sending them each a personalized note in the mail thanking them for their efforts, especially during these difficult times. Little gestures like that can go a long way toward making a difference in any employee’s day, whether they are a telecommuter or a contract employee.
Everybody collectively needs to ensure that when working remotely, they’re doing so effectively. A lot of organizations cannot afford to lose productivity. Here are some tips to ensure staff engagement levels don’t fall short. As a leader, it starts by setting a good example:
- Get off to a strong start. Just because you have the freedom to spend the day in sweatpants and slippers doesn’t mean you should. Rather than rolling out of bed and heading straight for the computer, give yourself some prompts that it’s time to make the transitions from personal to professional, similar to what you would do if you were going into the office.
- Be disciplined. Stay on track by creating a prioritized daily to-do list, establishing interim goals for big projects and then holding yourself accountable for meeting each self-imposed deadline. Taking scheduled breaks is a good habit to get into as well. Get up and walk around the house, and check in with your family and colleagues to give yourself an energy boost.
- Stick closely to a set schedule. Without the benefit of an established routine or cues from colleagues, remote workers may end up working overtime. By starting and stopping around the same time each day, you’ll keep your job from bleeding into what’s supposed to be your downtime.
- Stay connected to the office. Be accessible during core business hours and provide regular status updates with colleagues. Look for opportunities to interact with your manager and teammates online; hold a virtual coffee break or happy hour to catch up on the personal lives of colleagues.
- Schedule breaks: Get fresh air, take short walks or schedule workouts during lunch or after hours. Breaks can improve productivity levels and allow you to focus while being cooped up in the house.
Even with the uncertainty that we’re all operating under, remote work will continue to grow in popularity. It’s essential to help every remote employee feel connected to each other, their work and the organization as a whole while staying productive.
Debra Montero is regional vice president of Robert Half Legal, the premier provider of experienced project and full-time professionals for law firms and corporate legal departments in South Florida.