Working from home — even for part of the time — has many advantages. It saves money on office space, reduces time wasted on commuting, and may even help you achieve greater work-life balance.
According to the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Survey Report, the percentage of lawyers with virtual practices has more than doubled since 2011. Disruptive Innovation, a recent study by the University of California-Hastings’ Center for WorkLife Law, reports on the emergence of new practice models that aim to offer lawyers more control over their work and better work-life balance — and in large part, flexible scheduling and teleworking make it possible.
But working from home or in a virtual practice also comes with challenges. Communications issues can contribute to a feeling of isolation and lost productivity. And without the camaraderie that develops from seeing your colleagues every day, it can be difficult to establish trust and a feeling of togetherness.
Tactics for Building Togetherness
Whether you are in a virtual practice or teleworking from a home-based satellite, here are four tactics to help you get it right.
1. Schedule regular meetings and make sure they happen. Assigning a consistent day and time to check in with colleagues and staff and address any problems or challenges can be useful. Regular meetings help align goals and expectations. In addition, knowing what others are working on and the issues they are facing can promote empathy. This is essential to create a supportive environment where people are willing to help one another.
2. Clearly define expectations for tasks and processes. Without the convenience of being able to pop by your colleague’s office, it can be difficult to coordinate tasks. Deliberate and clear communication is required to ensure everyone is on the same page. Focus attention on the details of task design and the processes that will be used to complete them. It will go a long way in reducing miscommunication.
3. Set up a regular feedback system. Organizations that implement regular employee feedback have lower turnover rates than those where employees receive no feedback. Everyone wants to be recognized for their work — and when working remotely, feedback is essential to engagement and commitment. It could be as simple as consistently shouting out your colleagues wins in your messaging tool. Alternatively, tools like Bonusly, which allows co-workers to send each other micro-bonuses, offer another way to celebrate one another’s wins.
4. Use the right technology to boost productivity. Putting the right tools in place will help you achieve great things together — with greater flexibility — no matter where you are sitting. Here are a few examples:
- Hosting regularly scheduled meetings via video puts a face to the person you are working with and supports a more authentic connection. Being able to read body language helps reduce miscommunication. And with so many tools available for hosting virtual meetings — including Zoom, Google Hangouts and Vidyo — it’s easy to meet up face to face.
- Project management tools are great for establishing priorities and tracking results without seemingly endless email chains. Plus, they maintain the history of previous discussions, making it easier for you to catch up after an absence.
- Trust is important, but there are many great apps and tools that provide assurance that everyone is producing. For example, iDoneThis is a simple web app that sends an evening email reminder to everyone on your team to write a quick reply stating what they did that day. The next morning, everyone gets a digest with what everyone else has been working on. Of course, you need to track your time, so look for a time capture app that integrates with your other practice management tools.
Toland Lawrence is Marketing Lead at Hive, a software company that provides a business collaboration tool combining messages, tasks, and file sharing. Toland is obsessed with productivity and loves to help teams and individuals get more things done, especially in the virtual world. Follow her @tolandlaw.
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