So, the Coronavirus is here and is likely to be with us all for quite a while. As a result, many of you have gone remote with most or all of your law firm employees
rchestrating this shift from a brick and mortar law firm to remote status can be challenging even when you aren’t under the time constraints presented by COVID-19.
If you are working through the technical logistics of setting your employees up to work remotely, whether, by server or Cloud, I encourage you to go to the PILMMA Website, and listen to Ken’s first COVID-19 Law Firm Survival Webinar, recorded just a few weeks ago. In it, Ken talks with PILMMA member Rebeccah K. Sapp, (who took her firm to Remote status in mid-March), along with IT Guru John Simek. This Webinar will give you practical knowledge to help you make the transition.
However, Going Remote is only the first step- Now, you must figure out how to Motivate and Manage a Remote Team of Employees and do so for an unknown amount of time.
10 tips for managing your remote law firm employees
Here are 10 Tips for Managing Your Remote Law Firm Employees, so that you can remain operational, keep your staff motivated and productive, while keeping your firm moving forward during COVID-19 and thereafter.
These are strange, unprecedented, and difficult times for all of us, firm owners and employees, alike. Your employees are dealing with the stress and fear associated with COVID-19 while simultaneously trying to adjust to working in their home environments. They are isolated from their co-workers, friends, and management and are apt to feel overwhelmed. Many will also be taking care of small or school-aged children, and trying to supervise their schoolwork, or keep them entertained and busy during business hours. Your employees will suddenly have a great deal of additional weight on their shoulders, but with encouragement and consistent communication lines, they will rise to the task. You and your team will likely experience an unavoidable learning curve. You must adjust to leading a group of employees remotely, and they must adjust to working in an entirely new environment. Empathy and understanding should be the order of the day. Employees won’t care about YOUR business if they don’t feel that you care about THEM. If you want them to be vested in your firm’s continued success and exceptional client service, you must be vested in them. Reassure them that you understand that they are adjusting to substantial immediate changes and that their jobs are safe. Your job is to rally your troops! You are your firm’s key Leader and play a pivotal role in keeping your team calm and focused. While fear is contagious, so, too, is steady strength and calm.
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2) COMMUNICATION: This is the most critical component to ensuring effective remote employee productivity. You will need to create and consistently maintain methods of daily and weekly meetings and communication with the team. You need to know what everyone is working on each day and be ready to address challenges and formulate solutions to problems as they arise.
Since you and your employees are no longer able to just walk into each other’s offices, gather in conference rooms, or congregate by the water cooler, you must create systems for frequent communication. By doing so, you will help the team remain focused, feel connected and keep workflow moving forward. Use communication tools like Slack, a collaboration workspace that will make it easier for firm members to send messages and share files or place direct voice or video calls with each other throughout the day. Other collaborative programs such as Office 365 SharePoint, Basecamp, Google Docs, and Dropbox can help with document sharing and accessibility of files and projects.
3) VIDEO and AUDIO CONFERENCING TECHNOLOGY: Use Video Conferencing Technology to stay connected with your team.
Thankfully, today’s wealth of technology means you have many video conferencing software options, such as Go to Meeting, Zoom, Skype, etc. Although it may initially feel a bit like the “Brady Bunch,” seeing each other’s faces on the computer screen and discussing issues together can help remote team members feel connected to one another and more vested in the firm’s ongoing workload.
PILMMA is a virtual office, and we use ZOOM to conduct our weekly video conference meetings. There is no question that these kinds of meetings are productive and invaluable in insuring team cohesiveness and increased productivity.
AUDIO CONFERENCING: Stay in frequent communication with team members and departments with audio conference calls. Sometimes it is not practical or convenient to gather your firm together, but audio conferencing gives you another easy option. It is an excellent way of getting remote team members together quickly and wherever they might be, even if they are away from their computers. There are times when a short Verbal conversation can solve problems more efficiently and effectively than multiple back and forth emails or texts, so don’t shy away from picking up the phone to talk with your staff. Encourage them to do the same with you and each other.
4) THE DAILY HUDDLE MEETING: Going Remote means all your employees are isolated in their homes and away from the office but are still expected to work together as one cohesive team. The right hand still needs to know what the left hand is doing. There is no substitute for short daily meetings, preferably in the morning. Using either video or audio conferencing, you can rally your troops quickly and cover a lot of valuable ground.
Even when you have great case management software and clear job responsibilities defined for each employee, problems will still arise and must be worked through. Sometimes priories or tasks need to shift, be reassigned, or tabled. Hosting a short daily meeting will keep your team on the same page and allow you to manage workloads and reallocate assignments. It will enable you to identify and solve glitches or miscommunications before they grow into bigger problems later.
Time: Set Your meetings for an odd time, that will be easy for your team to remember, such as 8:17 or 8:49. Make attendance short, sweet, and mandatory. Because these meetings are short, you could hold one with only your team managers or department heads, and then they could hold a second brief team meeting with the employees they manage.
Format: Keep these meetings short- no more than a few minutes each day and save lengthier conversations and discussions for private calls or your firm’s weekly meeting.
Each member of the team shares three pieces of critical information: 1) their WIN from the day before- something positive they accomplished; 2) their STICKING POINT- anything they are struggling with or stuck on. (After this quick team call, someone else on the team may be able to contact the team member directly and provide guidance or assistance that will help solve the sticking point) 3)their PRIORITY for TODAY- By sharing what each employee plans to work on, you foster a sense of accountability. It also keeps everyone in the loop. Lastly, it gives you the opportunity to shift employee priorities around before a team member spends an entire day working on tasks that you don’t need done yet and fail to accomplish the tasks you consider more pressing.
5) CLEAR EXPECTATIONS Remote employees need a clear understanding of your expectations for them. Make sure their tasks and responsibilities are specifically defined as well as the hours they need to be at their computers. This is a time when having systems and processes in place for each task and responsibility is most important. If you don’t already have these in place, take time during COVID-19 to start creating these policies and procedures for every firm task so that future employees will have responsibilities and expectations clearly defined and work is streamlined and consistent.
Many lawyers worry that employee productivity will drop if employees are working remotely from home, and without direct supervision and oversight. However, many businesses have found that productivity even increases when employees can work off-site. While many of your remote employees may be juggling childcare issues, they won’t be congregating at the water cooler, or getting caught up in conversations with co-workers.
6) SYSTEMATIC OVERSIGHT: People Respect What They Know YOU Inspect. Set your employees up for success by making sure your employees know that you are pulling case and firm management reports, case manager notes, etc. so that you can see what work is getting done and by whom. If you aren’t on the Cloud, then you are probably having employees log in to their office computers via software such as LogMein or ConnectWise. If that’s the case, and you are in your office, you will be able to observe firsthand who is working and who is not. But there is no substitute for management reports. Utilize them to keep yourself informed.
7) PHONE COVERAGE: Making sure your firm’s phones are covered 24/7 remains important. You want to continue to sign new cases and take care of your existing clients. Using a cloud-based business communications system, like RingCentral Office or Nextiva will allow you to connect your office, remote and mobile employees under one phone system, so that calls go directly to your remote employees. If you aren’t already set up with that system, you will need to determine how phone calls from clients and intake calls will be handled. Be mindful that employees working remotely may not be able to take calls throughout the day if they are juggling childcare issues. You may need to block out specific times for each team member to receive calls so you can ensure that you maintain complete call coverage and keep your clients happy. If employees are sending calls to voicemail, make sure the messages are consistent, and give clients a clear understanding of when calls will be returned.
You may want to consider using an outside vendor like Alert Communications for additional nights/weekend intake phone coverage.
Texting and Messaging Apps can be utilized to make communication with clients even easier and may allow your remote employees flexibility in responding to client concerns quickly.
8) WEEKLY MEETINGS MOTIVATE THE TEAM AND REINFORCE CORE VALUES: While Daily Huddle Meetings are important, they are not designed for in-depth communication or problem solving.
Schedule Weekly meetings with all employees, as well as a separate weekly meeting for department heads. These weekly meetings give you the opportunity to tackle more complex issues and initiatives and to reinforce your firm’s core values.
Try to conduct meetings at a set time each week, and do so with video conferencing, if possible.
This is a time to discuss Metrics, KPI’s, and issues that may have arisen during the week. It is also a great time to obtain valuable feedback from all your team. Ask each one to share what they believe your firm should: 1) Start Doing; 2) Stop Doing; and 3) Keep Doing.
Your team is in the trenches of your firm’s work; They are working up your cases, using your case management system, and communicating with your clients. They may be able to give you invaluable insights or observations about what’s working and what’s not or provide great ideas that will make things run more effectively or efficiently.
You should also use this weekly time to hear from employees who are communicating with your clients and taking intake calls, so you can receive valuable feedback. You want to maintain excellent client service and this feedback will help you keep your firm on track.
Core Value reinforcement: The weekly meeting is your golden opportunity to keep your employees pumped up and motivated. Recognize and celebrate any wins from that week. Reiterate and discuss one of your firm’s core values, or its mission statement. You are the driving force for your firm’s success and these weekly meetings are your platform, so make the most of the opportunity!
9) FLEXIBILTY: While your employees are working remotely, it is best to think in terms of job and task completion rather than how long it took them to complete the work, or what time of the day or night the work is completed. If your employees are team players, they will want to continue to do their jobs well. Give them the flexibility they need to take care of their other responsibilities and allow them to work early in the morning, or later in the evening if that is what will allow them to do their best work. (The exception, of course, is making sure client and intake communication is handled asap. That is non-negotiable, barring emergencies.)
Many of your employees are taking care of small children or helping school aged children with online classwork; Some may have even contracted the coronavirus or are caring for someone who has. It is a stressful and uncertain time.
The more flexibility that you can give your employees, while still maintaining accountability for task completion, the less stress your employees will feel and the better their productivity will be. COVID-19 has created challenges for all of us; If your employees know you are there for them, they will reciprocate.
10) SIGNING UP CLIENTS REMOTELY: While many attorneys were already completing some of their sign-ups remotely, the need for this measure has increased dramatically as a result of the Coronavirus. It will be important to ramp up these efforts in the coming weeks and months. To streamline your processes and make it easier on clients to complete sign up packets, consider programs such as DocuSign that will allow your clients to complete necessary documentation digitally.
While there is never a good time to experience a pandemic, the technology available to law firms in today’s marketplace means it is easier than it has ever been to go remote. By leveraging technology, and keeping communication lines open and active, your firm will not only survive, but thrive during these challenging times. Remember, You’ve Got This!
Tiana Hinnant Hardison
Tiana practiced law for over 27 years, with an emphasis on personal injury and disability law and now focuses her time and energies with PILMMA as the VP of Development and Communications.