Working from home has long been something that some lawyers and law firms have made work, but other law firms and businesses have been slower on the uptake. We do wonder if one positive to come from the necessity of working from home that COVID-19 has thrust upon many of us will be a more pervasive acceptance by law firms and lawyers that working from home can actually be highly productive for all parties concerned.
While we concede that working from home is not for everybody and some lawyers need to be in the office surrounded by other busy lawyers to get their best work done, numerous surveys have shown that people who work from home are actually more productive working from their home office than they are in the traditional office. Personally, I absolutely love working in the office, but I know I often do my best work at home – without the daily commute to and from work, the distractions and “water cooler chat” with colleagues, the lure of my favourite café downstairs for that caffeine hit, the multitude of lunch options I have to decide between and all the (sometimes unnecessary) meetings.
In that sense, we thought we would outline some work from home tips both personally from our experience and some that we have seen and heard from clients and candidates alike in ways to make working from home “work”.
Set up your technology – The most important first step is ensuring you have the set up to do your job. That doesn’t mean having exactly what you have at work, but it does mean emulating the key things you need to do your job. Think a reliable computer (perhaps a work laptop), remote connectivity to your work server and most importantly a comfortable chair and desk set up! It sounds simple but we know from personal experience, Office 365 synching doesn’t always do what it was designed to do the first time when working remotely!
A professional space – Make sure your set up for work life is separate from home life. Keeping a clear divide between the two is very important, particularly if this is going to be a medium to long term proposition. A well set up study where you can close the door and focus (rather than the dining table) allows you to do your best work but also to close the door behind it and leave work behind at the end of the day. This may also require you to set ground rules with your flat mates, partner or children around coming into your space while you are working.
Establish a routine – We are all creatures of habit and just because you are working from home doesn’t mean you should completely change your routine. Personally, I find by getting up, having breakfast, getting dressed (no pajamas!) and “getting to my desk” at the time I usually would, having my “lunch break” when I normally would and only going to the “kitchen” when I normally would to make my morning and afternoon coffee/tea often means by the time 5pm rolls around I have actually done more in a day than I would have in the office.
Set up a structure to your day – While it is good to set up a routine, working from home isn’t working in the office and so it may mean you structure your day and the way you do things quite differently. Work with your colleagues, your Partner/Special Counsel/Senior Associate who supervises you or your staff if you are in a supervisory role to set up the structure you need to support each other, to replicate the meetings you actually need or benefit from, ensure clear flows of communication and to set up and follow up on workflows. This ensures you have a structure that works not just for you but your colleagues. Setting up a structure personally for your day may also work best for you. If for example you are an early riser, you may want to set a new structure when working from home which actually allows you to get a chunk of your work done in the morning. This may work well for you but it is important that this works in with your other colleagues where you are working collaboratively on things and so discussing this with your team is important.
Take breaks – For some people, it can be easy to sit down in the morning and hardly leave your computer. If you are one of those people, make sure you take breaks, get up and go outside and don’t just lock yourself in your study. The traditional work environment typically builds breaks into your work day and these are just as important for you to work at an optimum level at home.
Be ready for interruptions – On the flipside, for some people the interruptions and distractions make working from home much harder than in the office. This is where setting up a dedicated work space is important to ensure you have a work mindset whenever you are sitting in that space. Even where you do have a great work space at home, interruptions are inevitable. You do not need to pretend you are still in the office and even those of us who can hide behind a study door will have interruptions be it the door bell with a delivery, a barking dog, your neighbor firing up the mower or one of your children barging in. So be prepared for them and embrace the interruptions with good humour…we are all in the same boat!
Communication – Getting this right is very important both to ensure you don’t feel isolated but also to ensure communication flows continue. Talk with your boss (and/or your staff) about how you will communicate and what communication is expected. In order to keep your sanity make sure you also keep up those conversations with your colleagues whether by phone, email, or messenger service so that you can remain connected with your colleagues, talk about your day, vent your frustrations, celebrate those wins and ultimately to avoid talking to yourself and getting cabin fever! This is also important from a management perspective – keeping in touch with your Partner, Senior Associate etc or with other lawyers you would usually supervise whether that be with a daily phone call, regular emails or scheduled “virtual” one on ones. This is particularly important for junior lawyers, some of whom are not used to working in isolation and are used to having work delegated to them in bite size chunks. Ensuring that more junior lawyers still get the mentoring they need is critical to making it a successful transition from working in the office to working at home.
Trust – Don’t let the novelty of being at home put you into weekend mode. While you may be more efficient and be able to effectively work life admin into your day alongside work, it is important to build trust with your employer so that they are assured you are doing an honest day’s work. So check in, show that you are present and make sure you are communicating your needs and when you have completed things or need assistance to move things forward.
MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU
Working from home can be great for all parties concerned, however to make it work best for you, trial and error is often needed. We hope that some of these tips help you make the transition. If you have questions get in touch and we’ll be happy to talk it through with you whether you would like to discuss some of the above further with us or if you are not getting the support you need and want to discuss how other firms are making it work for their staff.