Technology as a game changer
Across industries, technology has changed how we do business and approach work. With instantaneous connectivity, businesses have expanded markets, improved productivity, and increased revenues. The most successful businesses are the ones that strive to be first, the fastest, and the best. Meanwhile, businesses that are slow to adapt are at a competitive disadvantage. If businesses are not taking advantage of the latest technology, they will face an operational decline.
As a result, traditionally conservative businesses, such as law firms, are trying to modernize their approach to work as quickly as possible. In the legal industry, firms are using technology to bring convenience to human connectivity, enhance their business models and attract people to their firms. For example, we see law firms adopting virtual workspaces to provide convenience to their clients and employees.
As law firms modernize to remain competitive, firm leaders are now embracing the convenience technology offers in how they conduct their business and approach their work. As more law firms adopt virtual work models, which may include fully remote and/or hybrid work environments, many firms are encountering challenges to collaboration that has not been experienced in the past. Notably, one of the most common challenges firms face is maintaining successful teamwork between people who work in-office/in-person and those who work virtually. As challenges like this arise, firm leaders raise questions about their long-term commitment to virtual working arrangements.
Much of this apprehension is rooted in their negative misconceptions about virtual work. So, before we discuss the key areas of focus for success, let's clear a few misconceptions often seen as barriers to virtual collaboration. Hopefully, you will see that what can be perceived as barriers may actually be benefits!
Misconception 1: Valuable communication requires face-to-face meetings.
Reality: Being unable to connect on a whim can help streamline communication. It forces you to prioritize your interactions with others so that only the essentials that genuinely require collaboration are prioritized for human connection. It reduces workflow interruptions by reducing random interactions.
Misconception 2: Remote workers won't connect to the firm's core values or work methodologies.
Reality: You don't have to let go of your firm's traditional approach to work but reimagine it. Innovation will keep your business competitive, and your core values defining how you work will make you unique; a balance will keep you operating. Think about how you can maintain the essence of your firm in the virtual world because this will help you thrive in the future.
Misconception 3: Virtual work environments are too flexible to be productive.
Reality: Virtual Environments can have structure. Policies, procedures, and supportive management are must-haves for success in the virtual environment. While a virtual environment is all about using flexibility to enhance productivity, it is important to note that having virtual work environments requires structure and accountability to succeed. The importance of structure does not only apply to those working in a remote or hybrid work model (the person not in the office), but it also applies to people working in person. Successful collaboration will require structure and accountability on the part of everyone involved in the virtual work environment, whether you are at the office collaborating with someone who is working remotely or vice versa.
Firms that have chosen virtual work environments and offer remote/hybrid work have gained a competitive advantage. A virtual work model positions the firm to conduct essential business functions in a way aligned with the modernized world, thus increasing business stability for future operations. Virtual work models are also a great way to attract new talent and reduce overhead costs, not to mention the environmental pluses. The benefits of having a virtual office space are well worth the effort of learning how to optimize it.
How can law firms optimize collaboration in a remote work environment?
For successful collaboration, law firms must focus on these four areas:
Workflow policies and procedures
Successful virtual workspaces have all the right tools to make communication and teamwork easy. The obvious essentials include updated computers and other hardware devices, a strong internet connection, and a cloud-based tech stack. Essential features of a firm's tech stack include:
Matter Management Functions
File Storing, Sharing, and Protection Functions
Instant Messaging/Chat Feature
Video Conferencing Tools
Implementing a cloud-based matter management system and a collection of collaboration-friendly software systems like Office 365 or Google Workspace provides all the necessary functions of a comprehensive tech stack. With policies and procedures in place, firms can structure collaboration between work environments and help optimize the functioning of workflows.
An environment conducive to hybrid work requires both physical and non-physical support. Firms with brick-and-mortar locations should create physical spaces conducive to virtual collaboration, including conference/collaboration rooms accessible to staff to meet with virtual team members. These spaces should have ergonomic furniture, standing desks, well-positioned screens, interactive whiteboards, and all elements mentioned in the Tools section. Individual offices should also provide access to essential tools. To achieve equity in the physical workspace, firms should give virtual workers the same or equivalent equipment or a stipend to purchase the necessary equipment.
Successful collaboration also requires mental support. Hybrid teams should be encouraged to communicate formally and informally to reduce isolation and disconnection. The firm should set up opportunities for virtual team-building activities that are not directly related to work. The firm should also maintain an open chat where people can communicate live during agreed-upon hours. Aside from fostering connectivity, having policies and procedures to manage the workflow will bring structure to virtual/hybrid work. The clarity will ease the minds of everyone involved.
3.) Workflow Policies and Procedures
Policies and procedures are required to make collaboration between in-person and virtual workers efficient and productive. It is imperative to have policies and procedures that align with the firm's mission, vision, and culture. The following policies and practices will help to make collaboration between team members across environments more efficient by setting the firm's expectations for synchronous and asynchronous work.
Eligibility - If remote workers are not fully remote, a standard should outline who is allowed to work remotely and when those people can do so.
Required hours of availability- Firms should set a daily time or a few weekly times when everyone is present and available for synchronous communication and live-action work. Make this a recurring time so everyone knows when to be available.
Email management - Outline expectations and requirements regarding response turn-around times, end-of-day cut-off times, cc and bcc team inclusion.
Scheduling procedures for meetings - No impromptu meetings! Team members should schedule meetings in advance with a clear agenda.
Matter management procedures - Proper use of matter management software should result in improved collaboration. With everything regarding a specific case at the users' fingertips, unplanned communications should rarely occur.
Tech support procedures - In the event of remote technical difficulties, identify resources available and outline the firm's expectations for action. Firms should also provide software training and development during the onboarding process to anyone required to use the software.
Simple, transparent communication with clear expectations helps to build trust and accountability in remote and hybrid workspaces. Trust is the precursor to gaining buy-in to any initiative. And a successful collaboration requires buy-in.
With the necessary tools, supportive environment, and clear policies and practices described above, it is easy to gain trust and buy-in from the people who make up the organization. When people are asked to do something new or challenging, they are more likely to agree to do it if they can envision how it will be successful. Embracing the virtual workspace requires the same clarity.
Firms with virtual work environments should also have a plan for efficient collaboration and protocols for addressing issues. It is crucial to resolve minor issues before they become major challenges. Whether workers are operating in person or remotely, standards for leadership should remain the same. All workers should expect the same level of guidance and direction from firm leaders. Firm leaders should be the first to support virtual workspaces and should actively participate in meetings, chats, and matter management systems. A leader's example sets the cultural standard for performance and demonstrates that everyone follows the same guidelines and is on the same team.
Law firms must master virtual collaboration to prepare for future business operations and to maintain a competitive advantage. Your firm will be able to optimize collaboration and productivity in a virtual workspace by using the right tools, creating a supportive environment, implementing policies and procedures, and establishing buy-in among team members.
If your firm needs additional support with connectivity and collaboration, make an appointment to discuss your firm's needs and find a resolution with the help of a Performlaw Consultant today.