Workplace Culture | 5 min

Telecommuting and Working From Home: The “New Normal” for the Legal Industry

May 11, 2020

lawyer on the phone with client

Susanne Poole, Head of People Operations LEAP Legal Software

Susanne has been with LEAP Legal Software for four years. She has fifteen years of HR experience, and upon joining LEAP in 2016, she now has four years of office design and relocation experience. She has completed over eight LEAP office refurbishments in the UK, US and Canada. Now based in the US, her focus is principally on People Operations, organizational development, and ensuring LEAP has the right people in the right positions at the right time.

No doubt about it, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated a change in our working styles by easily a decade, if not two. Telecommuting, working from home, remote working, whatever you want to call it, has, for the moment, become the “new normal”. Business owners and employees in the legal industry have needed to quickly adapt to the double-edged sword of no commuting times being replaced by a change in routine. Many working parents are struggling with unhappy kids who miss their friends. Additionally, working parents have to manage their children’s adaptation to Google classroom as a poor substitute for the education and childcare that dropping off at a brick and mortar school provided. Water cooler chat has been replaced with opening the fridge door and deliberating what to snack on next. Lawyers who rely on personal connections with their clients are experiencing Zoom fatigue, as they are often in constant online meetings to remain connected to their client base.

At LEAP, we have been conducting daily huddles across every team for the last 10 years. LEAP is the largest legal practice management software in the world, spanning three continents and five countries. Because our teams work all around the globe, utilizing Zoom to stay connected with our staff and co-workers comes naturally. We are lucky to have organically extended our staff’s telecommuting procedures. But for many businesses, specifically law firms, who are generally very localized businesses, adapting to this sort of change can be extremely difficult without the technology and support required. At LEAP, we have been lucky to guide many of our users during this time, through our own remote employee management experience.

Recent pulse surveys report an increase in engagement, as the daily commute is no longer necessary, meaning people can spend that time with their families. The age-old conundrum of work-life balance seems to be finally addressed, but on the flip side of that is a percentage of employees reporting that they are unable to “switch off” from their day jobs. Having a routine is vital when you are telecommuting; get “ready” for work, don’t stay in your pajamas, get out of bed and make an effort. Take a walk around the block to get your head in the right mindset and prepared for work. Create a workstation away from your kitchen or lounge if you are able to, so that you can step away from it at lunchtime and at the end of the day. Take regular exercise, even if it’s only a 20-minute HIIT in front of YouTube to clear your head and get your endorphins ready. Maintain regular working and sleeping patterns. Eat right.

As a solo practitioner, or a law firm owner with staff members, it is important to remember these principles and instill them in your staff. This will encourage productivity, and the ability to transition back to “normal” when the time comes. It may also be helpful to have a practice management software that instantly keeps track of your and your employees’ billable and non-billable hours. Accurate firm reporting will help you and your staff maintain a healthy work life balance and build good remote working habits.

As for what the workplace will look like in the future, it’s difficult to say for certain, until a vaccine is developed, tested and widely available for public use. Figures from our recent survey show that the majority of LEAP employees overwhelmingly support a blend of both office work and working from home. Even the daily commute poses a risk to vulnerable people and we have seen an increase in the level of anxiety from staff who would ordinarily commute. Until it is completely safe to do so, when we do eventually return to the office, our spaces will be a hub only for 30% of its usual capacity. These will primarily be a mixture of essential support and operational staff. This 30% will be selected based on a number of factors, including, how they get to work, what their function is, and whether they are vulnerable or live with vulnerable people. They will work part time in the office in shifts, maintaining a six-foot distance while walking around the office in one direction. All communal spaces will be closed. Workstations which once happily housed six people will now only seat two. An increased level of sanitizing will be in practice, and all staff coming into the office will be required to self-certify that they are fit to be in the office, by recording their temperatures before they enter the office. There is no one solution to fit every business, but as second and third waves of the virus would seem to be likely, we’re not taking any chances with our business so we can continue to support yours.

The open workspace which was so popular pre-pandemic is now no longer practical for social distancing reasons. Meeting rooms will have a maximum capacity of four people, with an emphasis on people joining virtually. Our focus will be on getting the working from home piece right by making sure that our people have the right tools and tech to get the job done. The goal is ensuring that they feel supported in their work without micromanaging them and giving them the space and opportunity to flourish in their fields. Our old culture of free breakfast, socials, and Friday drinks has been forced to give way to other avenues of virtual socializing including Quarantine Karaoke, virtual Friday drinks trolley and pub quizzes to keep our team connected. Our main priority is the safety and wellbeing of our people. For many CEOs, and attorneys like yourself, this brave new world will mean that they will need to trust their teams to get their jobs done, as the traditional model of the 8-5 in the office is now redundant and detrimental to health.

In such an uncertain world, where US unemployment is now at a record high, and 1 in 5 American workers has filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March, it’s crucial to sense check your resilience levels. Nobody knows what is around the corner. All we can do is the best work we can, by serving and supporting our client base. The workplace has changed, but it’s within our control to make sure it’s a change for the better.

To learn more about the legal industry’s best working from home practices contact a LEAP practice management advisor today.

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To learn more about the legal industry’s best working from home practices contact a LEAP practice management advisor today.