Operating your law office remotely means thinking about more than just the nuts and bolts of Zoom calls and document sharing. It also means managing a team remotely. Being able to ensure you’re your team is completing work according to instructions and on-time can be challenging. This is particularly so where there is a good chance that the members of your team face challenges of their own, from navigating distance learning for their children to dealing with COVID-19.
As an entirely remote organization that assists attorneys daily, we have the following suggestions for keeping your office running efficiently.
Project Management System
The unfortunate truth is that many law offices assign projects without a structure in place for ensuring that the project is done properly and on time. Too often, attorneys assign work by forwarding emails. Clarifications are made in the email thread and deadlines are mentioned, but junior attorneys and paralegals alike have to hunt through their inbox to try and recall what the assignment and due dates were. Too often, details are lost.
Law firms should ensure that they have a project management system in place to manage projects and constituent tasks throughout their lifecycle. Apps designed to assist with project management typically provide a task management board, which allows for easy visualization of outstanding tasks and deadlines. Tasks can be assigned to individuals, deadlines can be set, comments can be exchanged, and relevant documents attached.
Examples of apps for us include practice management systems, such as Clio, which has a task list feature and automations, by which a list of tasks is automatically generated following a particular event. For example, a thread of tasks can be created and assigned when a prospective client contacts the firm. Attorneys can also use task general-purpose task management software, such as Trello or Asana. If your clients are larger organizations with their own tasks management system, you may consider using the app that they use, such Slack.
Shared Expectations for Staff Availability
Members of your team have likely been impacted by COVID-19, with many workers taking on additional domestic responsibilities, including homeschooling their children. Staff members may be trying to “muddle through” without volunteering information about their additional responsibilities at home, staff members are less available, work may not be getting done at the rate you would normally have anticipated.
An employee’s decision not to disclose diminished availability, can create a vicious cycle. Senior attorneys become frustrated about their performance and the employee becomes resentful that management is not understanding of the problems they are facing.
To avoid this cycle, encourage your staff to be up-front and honest about their current situation and the challenges they are facing. This requires a willingness to listen to your employees’ problems and an openness to make accommodations.
Whatever accommodations are required, it’s important that clear expectations as to performance remain in place. Regardless of what your employees are experiencing, you need to understand what you can expect from your team so that you can make changes or bring in additional support if needed. The project management systems mentioned above will be helpful in monitoring their performance to ensure they are meeting expectations.
Working remotely means implementing new strategies for coordination and an understanding that the current epidemic impacts more than just the law office. Understanding your employees’ challenges and putting systems in place that will help them succeed are critical to succeeding in this competitive landscape.