As we’ve learned, living in a global pandemic means doing our best to navigate a laundry list of uncertainties: how and when should we “reopen” our offices? How do we best keep dispersed attorneys and staff productive and engaged? How do we minimize our risk of breaching client-attorney confidentiality in the wake of heightened cyber threats?
Underpinning all of these questions, however, is one fact that is quite certain indeed: this pandemic will have significant, long-term effects on our work arrangements. As long as the virus remains active, we’ll need to continue to ask tough questions, weigh our options, and adapt.
Many companies have already announced plans to close offices and make many positions permanently virtual, and big names in Silicon Valley, like Google and Facebook, are allowing their employees to stay home until 2021 and beyond. Though most law firms won’t choose to fully close down their offices, most will find it prudent to take a hybrid approach: having a small portion of the firm in the office at any given time, having the rest of the staff working from home, and rotating folks in and out on a prescheduled basis. And this will likely carry on for the next 2-3 years.
In other words, rather than either hunkering down at home or settling back into the office, our workforce will be highly mobile for the foreseeable future. This puts a new strain on your technology systems that—if not handled thoughtfully—could cost your firm in undue security vulnerability, lost billable time, lost revenue, and a damaged reputation.
HOW WFH CAN BENEFIT YOUR BOTTOM LINE
While many firms shifted to working from home out of necessity, offering flexible work arrangements has some compelling benefits to offer; as past studies have shown, allowing employees to work from home regularly can help to:
- Increase productivity. Workers and managers alike have been shown to be on average more productive when WFH is offered, and employees recovered 11 workdays a year by avoiding commutes.
- Attract top talent. Millennial and Gen-Z workers have been shown to actively seek out positions that offer a WFH option. And when geographic limitations are lifted, you can hire top talent regardless of physical location.
- Increase retention. Companies that offered WFH saw a 50% decrease in turnover, and 67% of respondents in a recent law firm survey said they’d like to stay at least partially remote post-COVID.
- Save money (and a lot of it). Businesses have saved a whopping $44 billion a year, primarily from money saved on rent and lower turnover.
The catch, of course, is that your ability to succeed in a remote work setup depends on how effectively you leverage technology to allow for seamless flexibility between home and the office. For law firms especially, it also means ensuring that no level of security or data protection is lost between in-office and remote work.
SIGNS YOUR CURRENT SETUP NEEDS AN UPDATE
So, how do you know if your current technology environment offers sufficient flexibility and security? Here are a few indications that your current set up may need to change:
- Attorneys and staff aren’t as productive at home as they are in the office.
- Certain tasks (like billing) require complex and frustrating workarounds.
- Some people in the firm are working—and accessing sensitive data—from their personal computers.
- Your firm has felt disconnected while working remotely.
- Your clients have complained about a dip in responsiveness or service.
Put simply, if you’ve been “making it work” for the past several months, this will not be sustainable for the long haul. The ideal setup is one in which your team’s home and office technology environments are exactly the same.
THE TWO BEST WFH TECH OPTIONS
Your ultimate goal in creating a WFH setup is to create equivalent workspaces; you need to be able to be as productive and engaged at home as you are at the office and vice versa.
When it comes to choosing infrastructure, I’ve found in my 30 years of helping law firms with their remote work needs that there are two options that do this best.
Option 1 – Laptops and Cloud Data
In this solution, staff and attorneys work on one laptop that they take back and forth between home and the office. The laptop will be loaded up with all your necessary applications—email, document management, time and billing, collaboration tools, and so on—but your data is stored in the cloud (i.e., not on your local machine or a physical server in your office). This solution is effective because you can work no matter where you are on the same machine — your laptop.
Option 2 – Virtual Desktops (also known as Desktop-as-a-Service or VDI)
With virtual desktops, you work from the same, familiar Windows desktop experience whether you’re on your firm laptop, iPad, or home computer. You log in to your secure “desktop” over the web and access all your applications, files, and emails from exactly where you left them the day before. And since all your computing is actually done in your provider’s datacenter versus on your local machine, you’ll see fast and reliable performance even if you’re working from old or low-powered devices.
WHICH OPTION IS BEST FOR LAW FIRMS?
Since the start of the pandemic, cyberattacks have quadrupled, phishing scams have exploded by 667%, and 45% of home networks were found to already have malware present. As law firms have ethical, contractual, and regulatory obligations to ensure client data is protected at all times, attorneys must be empowered to maintain security regardless of their physical location.
Another key priority for law firms is to minimize the risk of downtime, which translates directly to lost billable hours and lost revenue. As with security, maintaining uptime becomes more complex but no less critical now that attorneys and staff are mobile.
When it comes to achieving these goals, virtual desktops get higher marks in both categories:
Advanced security. Virtual desktops are easier to secure because all the data is stored on one provider’s network, so all the security can be centralized and include tracking and logging that is more difficult in a distributed environment. Laptops are more susceptible to the security situation at their location, meaning if a home network is compromised (or has a consumer-grade firewall) your data is much more exposed.
Maximizing billable hours. When you’re working from a laptop, your productivity is necessarily tied to the performance of that one machine; one spilled cup of coffee could lead to several days of lost billable time while you get set up on a replacement. Virtual desktops, on the other hand, are hardware agnostic. One spilled cup of coffee simply means you hop over to another machine, tablet, or smartphone, and you’re back up and running at full capacity.
If your firm has been making do by connecting to physical servers that are running in your office, know that you’ll be in for a major migration project no matter which option you pursue. It will take a virtual desktop provider at least three months to build your environment inside their cloud. With laptops, migrating your data to the cloud—which potentially means migrating to an entirely new DMS or other file sharing solution—and training your staff and attorneys on the new way of working will also take several months even if you’ve already purchased the laptops.
As the pandemic continues, so too will the need for work environments that offer attorneys advanced security, seamless mobility, and reliable performance. If your firm intends to thrive through and beyond this crisis, you must take the initiative and reshape your technology to actively work to your firm’s advantage—and you must start soon.
Because, like the virus, these trends will not simply disappear.