5 March 2020

Working from home: 6 tips for in-house legal teams

Insights Resources
With the emerging outbreak of coronavirus, companies around the world are telling their employees to work from home.

Chevron, Google and many others are responding to concerns about the spread of the virus and directing/requesting that team members work remotely. It can be incredibly disruptive and challenging for entire teams and entire businesses to suddenly have to make quite marked changes to how they operate. Add the stress of (possible) illness, and other family members also confined at home, to the usual work deadlines, commitments and priorities and there is no doubt that managing a teams performance and delivering outcomes will be quite difficult.

This was brought home for me last week when a burst water pipe in our Brisbane office building meant that our entire Lawcadia team had to work from home for a couple of days. I saw this as a great opportunity to “test run” a potential response to coronavirus outbreak here in Queensland. While reflecting on our experiences I pondered the ways of working combined with a lack of technology and systems that many legal teams have to contend with. If faced with mandatory “working from home” for an extended period of time, for many legal teams, this could pose quite a challenge if not a risk to their organisation.

Reflecting on my own recent experience I have prepared 6 tips that might reduce risk, stress and keep your team motivated and high performing in the face of this adversity.

1. Be prepared. When we were restricted from our office last week we had team members without laptops, reading glasses and I had left urgent paperwork in the office – this added a level of discomfort and disarray to the experience. In the event of a coronavirus outbreak and a requirement to work from home ideally preparing and planning the day prior would remove the stress of small things like this and ensure team members have the physical equipment they need to operate remotely. By the way, if your team doesn’t already have laptops get this sorted ASAP as you don’t want people using their own personal equipment – this can be a security risk.

2. You MUST have technology to support remote collaboration. Gone are the days of relying on emails and phone calls – this is NOT sufficient to successfully operate remotely. (Sorry to be the bearer of bad news and use shouty capitals, but it must be emphasised). As a tech business we use a number of applications to assist with collaboration, work allocation and remote meetings. Slack, Jira, Pipedrive and Zoom are used for internal communications more than email and phone calls as they are collaborative and oriented towards remote working. For team meetings Zoom is fantastic, secure and well worth paying for – don’t stick to the free version, the paid option is much better. Encourage everyone to turn the video on, master the computer audio and in no time at all you will be having face to face meetings from your home office.

3. Say good-bye to paper. If your team is not yet working paperless then this is the time to make it happen. I had urgent printing needs last week, and with no access to the office printer I had to look elsewhere. As my home printer had died a year ago I found myself sweating and swearing in a very large office supplies business that shall remain nameless. Luckily it is only about twice a year that I do really, really need to print something, but for legal teams this may be a challenge for many. My best tip is to use a digital signing application (Docusign is very popular) and a secure, cloud-based document management provider (NetDocuments, iManage, Sharepoint) as they offer the controls, security and shared environments that your team will need. Some providers can get you set up pretty quickly with document management and I use a free digital signing tool that is part of the Adobe suit.

4. Consider how legal requests and work allocation will be managed. When a legal team is working remotely there is a good chance that many will be receiving legal requests, some duplicated, and perhaps with internal clients confused and concerned about who to approach and how. A central email address can be helpful, however the problem of work allocation and triage can still be a manual process and often requires team meetings and paper printouts. If you aren’t looking at technology solutions to automate all of this then now might be the time to get started. Lawcadia can get you set up with customised intake forms, triage and approval processes in a very short time.

5. Have a plan in place for how you’ll manage work collaboration. If we consider a possible scenario where illness might strike some of your team (or their families) then work may need to be completed in a collaborate way – perhaps without the luxury of handovers. Some teams that have a high level of part-time staff will have some kind of systems or processes in place for job sharing, but even so, a considered process and system will need to be put in place to ensure that important matters don’t fall through the cracks. Again, collaborative matter management systems such as Lawcadia can be set up immediately to assist with this.

6. Keep communication open and support your colleagues. Working from home can be quite isolating for some and if they are also having to cope with small, demanding, family members, it can also be quite a challenge. Open and regular communication at a team level and an individual level will be important. For example, we use Slack for company and team communication, Zoom for team and client meetings and phone for individual communication.

With any luck you will be back to a regular working routine before you know it. I am optimistic that we will all weather the storm and come through stronger and better equipped to face a diversity of challenges. If any of this resonates with you please reach out and connect with me.

The General Counsel's Guide to Legal Transformation.

In this guide, we outline how legal teams are optimising their service delivery, how technology is supporting them, and how to craft a practical plan for your own team’s transformation.

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