Working from home has many benefits – comfy clothes, flexibility, less time lost to commuting, and can we say “sweatpants” again? But it also comes with drawbacks, including a loss of connection, which can be tough for law firms. There are so many small interactions that happen when you’re in the same room as other people, and they’re crucial to a sense of team and productivity.
Zoom, Google Meet, and other video conferencing tools can help, but they need to be used wisely. One of the greatest challenges with these platforms is their scheduled start and end. That ticking clock too easily eliminates small talk and interactions not related to the task at hand.
With these challenges in mind, we’ve put together a few recommendations for overcoming the hurdles of remote work – and reconnecting with your team.
It might feel like you’re always in contact with one of your coworkers, but ask yourself – is that the case for everyone on your team? And, what does that contact look like?
What about the new paralegal who was hired right at the start of the pandemic? She may not have even met the whole team in person yet. What are you doing to actively help her build relationships? How about the guy with a lot of solo projects – how often is he video conferencing with co-workers?
Once you stop and think about it, you may realize that contact is unevenly spread across your team. Or that the type of contact is – for example, emails and pings versus video calls.
To overcome this, and to make sure team members who do have more extensive communication aren’t doing so solely through email, schedule regular video meetings with your team.
And consider including fifteen-minute individual check-ins with members who might need them.
Make contact count
When you do meet on a video call, don’t jump right to work. One of the most challenging aspects of strictly-timed contact is that it makes people feel like they need to be all business.
Instead, schedule in time to connect. Make sure your staff knows that’s the plan, so they can start or end the call in a more relaxed mindset. Ask people to share a little about their non-work lives, the same way they would in an office setting.
What did they do over the weekend? Have they read or watched anything good (or terrible!) lately? Have they embraced cooking at home or are they committed to take-out from their favorite restaurants? Depending on the appropriateness and context, you can even ask everyone to wear a goofy hat or bring an object that fits a pre-chosen theme.
Regardless, plan on incorporating non-work time into each week to add some levity. Comradery is a key component of teamwork, especially in a demanding industry. It provides a much-needed reset that can help Luke know that Raisa wasn’t mad when she sent that email – she was probably just in a rush.
Make sure all team members are videoconferencing at least once a week – and in a call with some scheduled social time.
Maximize virtual tools
Use tools to help keep the work part of the day running smoothly as well. The less confusion there, the less rocking of the boat when team members can’t just grab a quick word with someone on the way to get some coffee.
Because working from home means co-workers have to schedule time to talk about an issue, however minor, many people will try to overlook small frustrations rather than creating a big deal out of them. The result? Those little issues accumulate.
Sidestep these problems by leveraging tools that create transparency around task lists. This is one of the best ways to eliminate miscommunication and resulting frustrations before they can even happen. Your practice management software should offer these options.
People want to connect
It’s human nature to create spontaneous social connection during a work day. Don’t let that get eliminated by over-scheduling meetings or keeping team members in a work-only mindset whenever they’re using a form of communication more personal than an email. And don’t let questions over task lists seed resentment.
Instead, support your team in creating connection and clear communication. Everyone wants a sense of comradery at work. Give your team – and yourself – the opportunities to keep building those relationships.