If remote work is here to stay, then let’s get it right.

 

Could you ever have imagined as we all bid farewell to 2019, that we’d walk into a year like this? When work-from-home (WFH) would be the norm, and work-at-the-office not so much?

There have been so many ups and downs that, for the first time ever, Oxford Dictionaries are unable to choose just one ‘word of the year’. Which, president Casper Grathwohl states, ‘is both unprecedented and a little ironic – in a year that left us speechless, 2020 has been filled with new words unlike any other’.

However, instead of a recap, let’s talk societal shifts. A major one being – if you’d care to look around you – we’re at home. We moved our professional lives into our personal space, and it hasn’t been an easy transition for a lot of employees.

Firstly, we’re now without office comforts like ergonomic chairs, peace, printers, an IT wizard and a top class mixed legal team just down the hall. For some, work happens at the kitchen table, for others it’s the sofa, with knees moonlighting as desks. The speed of the internet depends on who’s watching Netflix upstairs. The level of distraction depends on whether the little one has had their nap yet. So many, particularly our junior talent, have struggled a lot.

But what employers are realising, is that despite all these challenges, the wheels of work are still turning. Employees have proven that they’re still performing just as well, if not better from home. In fact, this report claims that remote workers work 1.4 days more than their office-based counterparts. Remote work works. So much so, Microsoft reckons that companies believe 45% of employees will go on working remotely.

So if that’s the case, you’d best read on to discover how to make this WFH transition permanent:

 

 

“Employees in high-trust organisations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies.”

Paul J. Zak -- Harvard Business Review

1. Don’t obsess over virtual face-time

 

Are we working at home or living at work? Sometimes it’s hard to know. It can be very difficult to leave the office after work when the office is your kitchen or living room. Which means that more people are working longer hours as there’s just no ‘cue’ to finish work anymore.

Back in those non-work-from-home days, if someone needed a break, they’d go make a cup of tea, chat with a colleague or just… potter around. And that was fine, because staff knew they weren’t far away if they were needed for something.

But now, because employees are very aware they can’t physically be seen, they’re semi-obsessed with making sure that they can always be seen virtually. Be that instantly replying to every email – day or night – or repeatedly clicking on Slack/ Teams/ Zoom to make sure that little circle is green, not being ‘available’ at all times can almost feel like a mortal sin.

So on top of working hard, people are working hard to make sure employers know they’re working hard. And it ends up in them working so hard, they end up hitting a wall and burning out. Which isn’t good for anyone.

Basically, that’s a long-winded way of saying not to worry about people slacking. Because 99.9% of the time, they’re not. So instead of virtually micromanaging work-from-home staff, heads of legal teams need to shift the focus from counting hours to project-based goals.

 

 

Here are some tips to help make it happen:

 

  • Quality Over Quantity: Instead of fretting about how many hours of work-from-home have been logged, or how much virtual face-time has happened, bring in goals that are based on milestones and achieving results that your clients expect of you as a team.
  • Leave Them To It: When team members feel trusted, they thrive. According to Paul J. Zak, for the Harvard Business Review, “Employees in high-trust organisations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies.’
  • 9-5 Doesn’t Work For Everyone: In the office, your employees are just that – employees. At home, they may also be parents, carers, concierge, chefs, chauffeurs, teachers, or housemates. So if they need a little extra flexibility to juggle all these new extra roles, give it to them. That way when they do complete their tasks, they won’t be distracted, meaning the standard of work will be higher.

 

Changes to meetings during work-from-home lockdown:

  • Number of meetings 13% 13%
  • Number of meeting attendees 14% 14%
  • Average length of meetings -20% -20%
  • Time spent per day in meetings -12% -12%
  • Durable increase in workday 8% 8%
  • Change in internal emails 5% 5%
  • Number of email recipients 3% 3%
  • Emails sent after hours 8% 8%

Source: Harvard and NYU researchers in National Bureau of Economic Research, published by Bloomberg August, 2020

2. Get ahead of the tech game

 

By now, what feels like several years into this never-ending pandemic, you should be pretty familiar with the world of remote-working tech. Hopefully the initial shock to the system has worn off, and everything is running as smoothly. If not, fear not. While still undoubtedly frustrating, everyone is now so used to glitches and freezes and slow file downloads, they’re shrugged off in meetings. Because from top partners to interns to the British Prime Minister, nobody has been immune to them.

But thankfully, we won’t be work-from-home forever. So, we need to get tech ready for stage two: PRTO (partial return to office). And we say partial because even when we go back in, this will have to be staggered and with measures in place to ensure staff safety. The office we return to will be a very different space to the one we fled from in March, but as always, technology will be here to help:

  • Pre-Entry Wellness Checks: As lobbies are the first point of contact for all employees, this is where the screening measures need to be. Tech here can range from the super simple – no-contact thermometers, to the in-depth – biometric health passports. Using a 5-question ‘Daily Wellness Check-In’ survey, Salesforce were able to successfully reopen their offices in South Korea, Hong Kong, and China.
  • Touchless Entry: When it comes to entering the office, it’s out with the old swipe card and in with tech solutions like eye and voice recognition software, gesture detection technologies and smartphone-powered entry.
  • Remote Collaboration Tools: A limit in numbers will mean that not everyone who needs to be in a meeting, can be in the meeting room. Zoom is ok for now, but in the future, we need a better long-term solution. Systems like MURAL offer a more dynamic virtual environment that helps staff to work together in a much more visual and connected way.
  • Booking Systems: With social distancing now the norm, physical desks will be limited. So to make sure people can access them safely and fairly, a workplace experience software platform like Robin might be worth adopting. They’ve created a hotel reservation-esque system that allows employees to easily book desks and meeting rooms.

 

3. Broaden your talent search criteria

 

While the pandemic has brought many pains, it has brought many opportunities. Especially when it comes to hiring. Pre-covid, staff either had to live within commutable distance from the office or relocate. This is no longer the case.

Now that we’ve proven that we can work from anywhere, we can employ people from… anywhere. The talent pool has transformed into a talent ocean.

  • Open Your Borders: Thanks to technology, geography is no longer a limitation to the hiring of top legal talent. Now you can look in neighbouring cities, countries and even continents. Since relocation is now no longer a deal-breaker, talented individuals with in-demand skills can live and work wherever they want.
  • A Mixed-Talent Team Is Best: Certain areas of law have been impacted differently to others, so you need a team that’s agile, adaptable and able to deal with the niche-est of demands. Build a team of multi-skilled legal professionals around you – from paralegals to junior lawyers and to general counsels – so when you need to move, you can move quickly.
  • Diversity Is The Secret: The more diverse your team is – the better the counsel, the more creative the solutions and the greater the financial performance. If you’re a multinational, you already have a diverse talent pool at your fingertips. Bringing in ‘outsiders’ is a simple, but highly effective way to get a fresh perspective on projects.

 

Work-from-home trends since March 2020:

%

Overall productivity

%

Telephone call frequency

%

Email frequency

%

CRM frequency

Source: Published by BusinessWire, May 2020

4. Virtual meeting etiquette

Show of hands: Who else thought that the pandemic would finally mean an end to meetings? Oh, how naïve we were.

Having been mercilessly thrust online earlier this year, we’ve since discovered that video calls are not only taking up a large percentage of our day, they’re literally sucking the life from us. It’s called ‘Zoom fatigue’ and yes, it’s a thing. Because we have to concentrate a lot more to take in exactly what’s happening on screen, we’re ending up exhausted.

As Liz Fosslien states, ‘On a video call the only way to show we’re paying attention is to look at the camera. But, in real life, how often do you stand within three feet of a colleague and stare at their face? Probably never.’

But there are ways to make Zoom encounters a little easier for everyone:

  • Camera On Or Off: This one is tricky. On one hand it’s good to see the people you’re meeting with as it makes for better connections. Back in the summer, a tech company CEO asked staff to keep their cameras on, “No lurking. I want to see you! We all want to see you!” He felt that a camera-off approach ruined the flow of the rest of the meeting and it became unproductive, particularly for hosts. However, on the other hand, if it’s a large meeting with multiple attendees, does it matter if your camera is on? Plus, some days people just feel like crap (there is a major pandemic happening!) and just don’t want other people to see them.
  • Being Camera Ready: Loungewear – the 2020 uniform. Who’d have thought it!? And while uber-casual attire is fine for small, internal meetings, is it really a good look for those client-facing calls? Probably not. Rule of thumb should always be business on top, comfy at bottom. Same applies to your background. Try to keep your surrounding work-from-home space clean and unbusy. Nobody wants to see those old cereal bowls loitering on the worktop behind you. For background disguises – click here.
  • Stay Muted: There is nothing more distracting than hearing a car alarm blaring in the background of someone else’s neighbourhood when you’re trying to participate in a call. If you’re not talking, hit that mute button.
  • Signing Off:  When you invite people over to dinner, do you go off to bed while your guests are still finishing their dessert?  Probably (and hopefully) not. So if you’re hosting, make sure you’re the last to leave a call. For non-hosts, a simple hand wave is more than enough.

 

 

A final note

 

While it felt like the world was ending when the pandemic struck, we’ve handled things pretty well. We overcame. We adapted. We adjusted. And now that we’ve settled into this new WFH-way, the many benefits of remote working are rising to the surface. As was stated in the Harvard Business Review, ‘We are building culture outside of buildings, with work that supports life on a more even playing field, with talent that can come from anywhere.’

The flexibility of work-from-home means that employees can now be in two places at once. So, if they need to take care of a sick child or supervise home repairs, they can do that and still work. They may complete tasks when the child is asleep, but it will be done when it suits them, which results in less stress and higher productivity.

Improved technology has shown us that the world really is our oyster. Whether it’s from a desk in London or a sofa in Timbuktu, we know that employees are capable of delivering top quality work from anywhere. Meaning that people have a lot more freedom in where they live in the future, and law firms can look much further afield for top class legal talent if they can accommodate a work-from-home quotient.

In short, remote working is here and is now part of the future workspace fabric. It’s now up to the organisations to have the culture, confidence and technology to tap into it.

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