Lauri Kavulich of Clark Hill. Lauri Kavulich of Clark Hill.

In this unprecedented time of work-from-home law firms and legal departments, it is crucial to find a way to keep our employees motivated and engaged. This month, I had planned to write on providing employees with effective feedback, but as the global situation progresses into unchartered territory, everyone’s plans have changed, including mine. Therefore, instead, I am outlining the best practices for keeping your employees engaged during the work-from-home-period with several tips for to create a remote law office that is both focused and productive.

New Normal: Business as Usual

 We cannot switch to vacation mode during this time. The full firm must remain productive and engaged in the remote environment to ensure that the firm that survives this pandemic and comes out even stronger. Now, more than ever, our visible firm leadership is needed. Employees need to know we care and that we are on top of our duties to the extent possible during the ever-shifting landscape. Your employees need to know that you are conducting business as usual in your remote environment to the best of your and your firm’s abilities. Employees are worried about cash flow as much as you and are willing to do what it takes to stay on track during this time. Get bills out on time, and keep the business going as best you can. Cut out unnecessary expenses and do what you can to keep the business healthy.

Morning Video Conferences

Our full office has Zoom video conferences three days a week at 9 a.m. They are limited to 30 minutes and serve several purposes. First, we meet to maintain a sense of normalcy. Everyone sits at the computer at 9 a.m. at least three days a week to start their workday. Second, we meet to promote community within the firm and to keep in touch with our colleagues who we would normally see every day. Third, this video conference helps to manage workflow. We find out who is slow and needs work, and who has work to give. Finally, we discuss and disseminate any information from firm leadership. A call such as this may not work in a very large office, but in that case, a video conference can be set up by practice group or by smaller groups who have similar functions in the office. The video conference is a good way to circulate information, get feedback and answer questions.

While the leadership of a firm is meeting even more frequently trying to make sure we can pivot on a dime, we must remember communication to the employees. They are scared and need to know what is next, if that information can be made available. Reassurance and communication with employees are key and has won time and time again. In our firm, the members-in-charge meet every day via video conference, and then communicate the information to their specific offices in a personal way. Again, this structure can be altered depending upon your firm’s size and culture, but from experience, more than 25 or 30 participants on one call gets unwieldy.

For those not used to video conferences, they can seem daunting or awkward, but Zoom has features, such as backgrounds like palm trees, that make the videoconferencing fun. It also has a “Touch Up My Appearance” feature that acts like portrait mode on your iPhone and softens your appearance.

Personal Check-In Calls

It is important for firm leadership to check in with personnel with a phone call. These calls can help answer employee questions, and simply be a wellness check. Firm leaders do not have to make every call, but a system should be set in place where each employee is touched on a weekly basis. An example of this flow: senior partners call junior partners, who call senior associates and so on; from there, each attorney should call their support staff.

There are so many added stressors in peoples’ lives during a time of crisis, from homeschooling children to living with someone who works on the front lines to simply performing the job function when not being used to working from home. Sometimes, the employee just wants to vent. Show them you care about them by asking what they need, specifically, about what they need to make their work-from-home experience easier. It may be as simple as a monitor or a change in hours for hourly employees so they can work in peace. People need a window to ask the question, and these simple requests can make a world of difference. This will be over at some point and given the competitive market that existed before the pandemic, you want to make sure your key employees know you cared.

Insist on Good Business Hygiene

It is hard to gauge the productivity of your employees while they are working from home and you cannot physically see them. If you see someone slipping in hours, call and ask them about it. Find out why; it could be as simple as not practicing good business hygiene in entering time. While inevitably work will slow down, it could be some other factor, such as not having a place to do work except at the kitchen table with everyone in the house around. While this is about business, it also goes toward making sure they know you care.

Encourage Healthy Habits

Talk to your employees about going outside to get fresh air if they live in an area in which it is safe and recommended to do so. Encourage them to use their commuting time to exercise; it is suggested that we be physically active for 30 minutes per day; this is even more important when stuck inside all day. Many yoga studios, gyms and other fitness centers are streaming classes for free online; post these links on your firm’s intranet. Remind employees to continue to stay hydrated and maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet that is low-fat with lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. You can start a group discussion asking for recommendations on websites for recipes, free education classes, books, movies, and other media online during your morning calls.

Don’t Forget About You!

Don’t panic and take care of yourself. Our employees need leadership, and this is the time they need most for you to be healthy and have a level head. Manage your stress in whatever healthy way you see fit, because it is the only way we will survive. Put on your oxygen mask first. Then, take a breath, and keep leading and moving forward. They are counting on you.

This is a scary and unprecedented time not only for firm leadership, but for employees. Remember them. The crisis is not bigger than the employees; their wellbeing will keep us in business. Remember, human capital is our only capital. Keep our human capital healthy.

Lauri Kavulich, member-in-charge of Clark Hill’s Philadelphia office, reports on the most prevalent issues affecting in-house counsel today.