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Tips for Managing Remote Employees

Stacked3Here is a recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Tips for Managing Remote Employees

The shift to remote work was an abrupt and unexpected change for most businesses, including law firms. For that reason, it didn’t always go smoothly. However, over time, most legal employers were eventually able to work through the challenges and put technology and work processes in place that allowed their workforce to get work done efficiently regardless of where it was occurring.

This is good news for law firms with remote work technologies and systems in place, since the pandemic’s course continues to be unpredictable. As a result, full-time remote work may continue to be with us for some time. Forward thinking law firm leaders should, therefore, take advantage of this opportunity to fine tune their management skills for both in-office or remote teams.

Because law firm leaders are traditionally accustomed to overseeing in-office employees, new approaches may be needed when managing a remote workforce. Notably, even when the pandemic ends, there will likely be more employees working remotely. Fortunately, many management techniques apply equally well to both remote and in-office teams. With that in mind, what follows are tips to help law firm leaders manage their teams effectively regardless of where team members are located.

First and foremost, make sure that your law firm is has remote working tools in place that are efficient and easy-to-use. Otherwise, your team won’t be able to get work done efficiently. Your team should be using software that includes all of the features needed to simplify and streamline the virtual practice of law, including e-signature tools, online intake forms, internal chat functionality, and videoconferencing capabilities. It’s also important to ensure that your team has been sufficiently trained to use your firm’s remote working tools and are leveraging that technology to its fullest potential.

Next, take steps to improve virtual meetings. Zoom fatigue is a real issue; as we all know, staring at a screen all day can take its toll. For that reason, encourage employees to: 1) Take screen breaks, 2) Try to intersperse online meetings with other types of work, to the extent that it’s possible, 3) Avoid multitasking and focus on one task at a time, 4) Consider keeping only one browser tab open during meetings to encourage better focus, and 5) Find alternate ways to connect that don’t involve video conferences.

Also of import whether you’re managing an in-person or remote workforce is to acknowledge that firm leaders set the tenor for their teams and for the firm overall. Fostering a sense of community is key even when your team is dispersed and working from home. The tone of communications and the messages sent to employees, both literal and figurative, directly affect the job satisfaction and overall happiness of your firm’s workforce.

Ideas for ways to improve communication and community include: 1) Schedule virtual water-cooler hours, 2) Focus on wellness by encouraging your firm’s workforce to prioritize self care, 3) Encourage your team members to take regular breaks throughout the workday, and 4) Model work-life balance by suggesting that employees put their work computer away at the end of the day in order to create a sense of space between work and recreation.

Finally, here are some additional ideas to consider implementing as a law firm leader in order to keep your team motivated and productive. Create a positive work environment for your team members by: 1) Showing appreciation and regularly providing positive reinforcement, 2) Regularly checking in to see if team members are comfortable with their pace, assignments, and workload , 3) Creating a pleasant work atmosphere, and 4) Treating them as equals and never talking down to them.

The bottom line: Make your employees’ happiness a priority. Listen to their concerns, understand their needs, and take steps today to ensure that they feel appreciated and respected. If you take my advice and implement these tips, your team will be happy and productive regardless of where they happen to be working, and your efforts will undoubtedly pay off in the log run!

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software for small law firms. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at niki.black@mycase.com.