There are many debates around teleworking: Has it worked? Have we learned that most work can be done from home? Will presenteeism be relegated to the background? Are employees more or less productive in this mode? Do workers find it more challenging to disconnect after working hours?
The first thing we should point out is that telework is not the same as confinement. Confinement is an imposed situation that generates a lot of stress. Any analysis of productivity, disconnection, or feelings about telework should take into account the generalized situation of uncertainty, improvisation, and anxiety that caused the state of alarm.
The risks of teleworking in law firms
1. Losing attachment to the signature
One of the most obvious risks of teleworking in law firms is losing one’s attachment to the firm. Coexistence in the office underpins the culture and defines performance expectations and standards of behavior and interaction – which help create a common culture, generate social cohesion, and build shared trust.
If we lose the sense of belonging that drives us to do our best work and commit ourselves in the long term to the performance of professionals and, with it, the organization’s performance may deteriorate.
2. The emotional disconnection between peers
Furthermore, remote work carries the risk of emotional disengagement. Here, the role of internal communication is fundamental. To prevent this from happening, internal communication should reinforce the integration of professionals with the firm, with their teams, and between teams.
Integration must be actively worked on, redesigning a model that meets the firm’s expectations of the firm’s performance and the comfort or conciliation of professionals and the objectives of identification and commitment to the firm’s future.
3. Parallel Organizational cultures
On the other hand, in a mixed model (some teleworking and others face-to-face), there is also the risk of allowing two organizational cultures to emerge. On the one hand, those that are seen and on the other are those of teleworking.
Professionals who telework may feel that their contribution is perceived to be of less value than that of those who come to the office day by day and maintain constant relationships with other colleagues and the firm’s partners.
Reorganize the office for the post-COVID era
Now is the time to reorganize the firm to adapt it to the DC era (after COVID) and consider its impact on the firm’s culture. For this, it is essential to:
Analyze the ties that unite professionals, lawyers, and all professionals who make up the firm.
Rethink the leadership style of the partners.
It is an excellent opportunity to create the hybrid work model that best suits the firm, its position in the market, improving costs, customer expectations, and a new situation that provides stability, social cohesion, identity, and belonging, either work from home, at office or combination of both.
Challenges of teleworking in law firms
Within that organization, it is necessary to know the challenges that teleworking faces, especially in productivity:
- The digitizing and mastering tools should be consolidated into the office to implement effective telecommuting guarantees.
- Different project management and organization must be required through Legal Project Management to work with a global and collaborative vision.
- Manage emotions remotely; attend to the new circumstances that surround workers to promote a healthy environment, and those employees themselves can feel heard even when they are out of the office.
- Organize meetings more effectively, with commitments and identifying barriers that hinder or paralyze the projects in which the work teams are involved.
- Learn to report the work done more effectively since it is common to feel that effort is not seen or is not valued, and this added to the fear of losing the job can make people work longer hours.
The fundamental challenge is to unlearn a model that is clearly obsolete today and learn a way of leading by leading, not imposing. A different leadership is not governed by the hours worked but by the results obtained moving from control to inspiration, from obedience to trust and commitment.
When references such as colleagues, time, and place of work are lost, when professionals move away from decision-making focus, and when the possibility of spontaneous interaction is lost, trust and open communication are vital.
Changes in the relationship with customers and the generation of issues
To attract clients for legal support services, it is essential to generate relationships of trust. The signature mark is necessary in most cases because it is the guarantee of quality, but as to make friends: many moments of value are required.
Now the relationship with customers is no longer about looking into each other’s eyes, shaking hands, or eating together. At this time, the challenge is the identification of possible moments with the client and the potential client to create and strengthen relationships and generate trust in digital environments.
Within the acquisition of clients in digital contexts, it is also necessary to acquire new skills, perhaps unknown to date. For example, video communication, whether bilateral or group, requires different skills than face-to-face meetings and has its own dynamics.
This specific communication capacity influences the clients’ perception of lawyers in terms of professional credibility, so learning and training it today is part of the necessary skills.
On the other hand, some digital events, such as webinars, have been implemented simply by moving face-to-face events to Zoom. Still, it is necessary to fine-tune a lot in the topics and formats to stand out amid the prevailing communicational noise.
Five keys to business development in this era
- Empathy: today, law firm owners, more than ever, must lead with purpose, taking care of the people in the office, clients, and society. They will judge you by how you act in these times.
- Projecting services across three-time horizons: How do I help my clients now, how do I help them recovery plan, what prospects for new needs open up in the medium term.
- Project services, according to the new reality: the crisis impacts clients’ businesses differently, need to be identified by sectors and type of organizations.
- Develop communication skills in digital channels: learn to transmit knowledge and build trust with people who are one click away from leaving us. Boring staff is forbidden!
- Impact on prices: Customers have significant concerns about the economy. If teleworking allows us to lower our investment in leases, we may be able to pass some of that benefit on to clients.
It is clear, then, that telework for law firms is still a universe to discover. There are many advantages, but also the challenges and uncertainties that revolve around it. Law firms have an opportunity before them to turn their work systems around, which are often overly traditional or outdated, but in a way that does not reduce productivity or affect lawyers’ and partners’ involvement.