The coronavirus pandemic has caused the number of remote legal professionals to skyrocket. And while some law firms are eager to reopen offices, others are opting to continue working remotely. In fact, lawyers and law firm staff enjoy working remotely so much that 67% want to continue that arrangement once offices fully reopen following the coronavirus pandemic.
We sat down with Mike Engels, Principal Consultant at Netrix, to discuss this trend.
AALM: Why are we seeing so many law firms and legal professionals opt for remote work instead of returning back to the office?
ME: Law firms and legal professionals are opting for remote work for several reasons including: Continued concerns over COVID, recent digital transformation projects that help maintain productivity and communication, and increased flexibility and reduced commuting time of their team members. Many of our clients have offices in cities that still have restrictions and their leadership teams are still evaluating when they can safely open their offices. While they continue to plan on how to return, recent projects have provided their team members the tools necessary to maintain their productivity. These tools include cloud-based technologies, remote access solutions, and communication and collaboration tools. In addition to this, we’ve had recent conversations with clients around how remote work can help reduce real estate costs and help recruit team members.
AALM: As remote work becomes the new normal what is the importance of law firms having an end-to-end remote workforce strategy?
ME: While technology plays a key role in an end-to-end remote workforce strategy, law firms must evaluate their culture and practices to create a plan to maintain productivity, engagement, retention, and profitability. The strategy should identify the scope of the remote workforce and consider the change to HR and IT policies, communication challenges, manual workflow automation, change management, and support that will be required. The strategy will also include the technology toolsets necessary for the remote workforce and include considerations for tracking employee productivity and well-being. Finally, the strategy must ensure that security and privacy is still in alignment with an enterprise risk management program.
AALM: What assessments should law firm leadership and IT teams conduct in order to ensure their remote work strategy translates into an efficient, cost-effective work environment?
ME: Remote work has always brought the concerns around employee engagement and productivity. Several recent studies have shown that remote work can improve efficiency. Similar to on-site counterparts, remote workers should have employee performance processes and metrics built into their job description. Standard output-based metrics such as workload, open matters over time, matter cycle time and spend to budget per lawyer can be used to track the remote workforce. To ensure engagement and connectedness to the firm culture, some firms are utilizing weekly check-in calls.
AALM: With employees spread out across the globe, seamless communication can be tricky. What technology should law firms have in place to streamline communication across the organization as well as with clients?
ME: Law firms use a variety of communication and collaboration tools to maintain seamless communication. Some firms mandate video calls for all meetings using a variety of video conferencing technologies. We have seen firms streamline communication further by adopting a full communication and collaboration platform like Microsoft Teams. In addition to video conferencing, a Microsoft Teams implementation utilizing proper information governance allows a firm to collaborate on documents and projects, a persistent chat platform to capture conversation context, planning and task management tools, and integration with Office 365 applications (SharePoint, Power BI, etc.).
AALM: How can IT work to train users on updated software and ensure they are following security protocols?
ME: One of the challenges firms have faced with the remote workforce is the evolution of the IT support staff. Supporting remote team members has forced the IT team to create additional channels to assist with new challenges. We have seen support teams utilize office hour sessions, short videos, self-service knowledge bases, support chat bots, and other creative solutions to train users and ensure security protocols are being followed.