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How To Promote Connectedness Among Your Remote Working Team

How To Promote Connectedness Among Your Remote Working TeamThere are undoubted benefits to having the team working remotely. As a business, it’s been the best decision to move everyone to remote working, so it’s unsurprising that there are so many companies out there that thrive on remote working. Just a few examples include:

  • Basecamp: I’ve already highlighted Remote: Office Not Required by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried who detail how Basecamp’s project management tool was created by a team spread out across 26 different cities around the world. Their head office is in Chicago, but everyone at Basecamp is free to live and work wherever they want.
  • FlexJobs: An online company for job seekers. FlexJobs’ Director of Client Services, Jeremy Anderson, explains why working from home is so great: “I would sum it up in one word: freedom. Freedom from a commute and from office politics. The freedom to get work done without the typical office distractions.”
  • Woolley & Co Solicitors is an example of the virtual law firm model which is well established in the UK now, and pioneered by Andrew Woolley who initially operated a business law firm rather than the niche family law firm they now are. Most such firms need to invest in good technology rather than expensive offices, and some have no offices, while others combine remote working with some office premises. So, we are not completely virtual as we still have office premises.

The virtual law firm model works because where and when you work is entirely up to the lawyers and their clients.

I’m sure it will be challenging to continue to maintain our identity as a law firm, and avoid just becoming a network of self-employed lawyers, which is what the typical virtual law firm model comprises.

So, despite the successes of many companies using the remote working model to enable people to work from home or at clients’ offices so they can better coordinate work and personal commitments, there are undoubted challenges to navigate if you dispense with regular physical presence in an office environment.  If you want to maintain your identity as a law firm rather than just become a shell within which independent solicitors work, you need to make a conscious attempt to build culture and a brand.

Regular meetings and inductions?

Best practice seems to point to bringing the team together at regular intervals for meetings if you’re to thrive and create a sense of community despite using a remote working team.  What we at Azrights have to work out, is how frequently to have meetings, and to understand how to build community virtually too, given that we are scattered all over the world.

Certainly, meetings would address one of the challenges I’ve found with inducting new team members. While we have a lot of information on our wiki explaining how we do things, including many video instructions, clearly not everyone is equally at ease with taking in new information in this way. So, we will be introducing a range of induction plans for different team roles combined with onsite training days.

As points out, collaborative software, video-conferencing and web-based tools help. Some obvious Apps and tools we’ll be exploring are:

  • Trello – project management tool
  • Microsoft 365, SharePoint which we use for online file storage and wiki. We’ll explore Teams too soon.
  • Join Me or Go to Meeting for online meetings.
  • Slack for communication

Successfully transitioning to remote working

While I’m sure the pros far outweigh the cons of remote working, I’m still finding my footing in this new domain and want to reduce the learning curve in the meantime. My research so far indicates that these are areas to focus on

  • Setting clear standards of communications.
  • Paying attention to what is happening within the teams, not just the output of work.
  • Holding people accountable.
  • Choosing the right individuals for the job.

So, far, apart from the challenge of inducting new team members, the main thing I’ve discovered is the importance of setting boundaries around the hours of work so everyone can be responsive in desired timescales.

During the 4 months since we’ve been working remotely, some of us have kept to our normal set hours of work, to coincide with our office opening hours while others have enjoyed complete flexibility as to when they work. Many of these are freelancers doing 5-10 hours a week of work on non-core business projects like web development, CRM, or software development, although a couple of our lawyers work in this way too.

Hours of work

I haven’t laid down explicit rules about hours of work for non employees because I wanted to experience our needs first and then take it from there. In principle, I don’t much care when the work gets done provided it gets done within desired timescales. This flexible arrangement works well enough, and one benefit of not setting any rules initially was that often the turn-around was astonishingly speedy. For example, I’d send a job over on a Friday afternoon, and have it back by Monday morning.

The completely flexible nature of our approach has to change though because even if there is no intrinsic urgency for a given task to get done, if input is needed from other team members it’s important to facilitate prompt communications. Otherwise, it can be quite discouraging and demotivating to have to wait for days to get a reply, by which time you might have forgotten what you needed to know. So, we do need some overall rules about checking in at regular, predictable times.

So, I would say it’s essential to introduce some core times or days during which team members will commit to showing up and doing some work, or at least reading their emails and sending a quick answer indicating when they will progress the work in substance. That should enable others to plan their timetable accordingly.

If you have ideas on how to lead a remote team do leave a comment below.

The Value Of Working Remotely

With all the hype surrounding remote working and the number of technological tools available to enable collaborative working, it would appear remote working is still a controversial and complicated topic, with a lot of people keen to list the cons first.

I outlined our experience of remote working at Azrights in my last blog, and want to explore this topic more here. With companies like IBM and Yahoo, both big tech companies (and it seems that a lot of tech companies love working remotely) reversing their positions on employees doing just that, what message does that spread to the rest of the business world, with regards this form of working?

As you’re probably aware, I am a huge advocate of working remotely. It has not only allowed me to fall in love with my business once again, but it has given me the gift of time and the freedom to get on with the task of running the business, rather than simply managing the office.

But does this time and freedom come at a detrimental cost to my business? I wanted to know why these large corporations had changed their minds on a practice that they once couldn’t get enough of.


Case study: IBM vs Dell

At the same time as IBM made its reversal announcement, Dell released a statement saying that they were wholeheartedly embracing remote working. Dell stated that they understood the value in having their employees save time by not commuting daily, and that the company itself would make tangible savings, to the tune of $12 million per year, by not having to pay to accommodate these workers during the working day. Dell has a goal to have 50% of their workforce work remotely by 2020.

For IBM however, who at one point had 40% of its workforce work remotely, the fact that employees were no longer in the same room, was deemed to be negatively affecting the company’s creative output.

IBM believe that having their employees back in the office, will lead to better collaboration and faster output. Which is surprising, considering the recent advancements in technology to enable remote working.

So for IBM, technological advancements may be incredible, but nothing compares to having actual human relationships, contact and discussions in person.

IBM’s reasoning echoed that of ex-Yahoo chief, Marissa Mayer. She firmly believed that employees working side by side was critical for the company moving forward. That impromptu meetings and hallway chats were what drove a company towards greatness, that they created opportunities for speed and quality, something that couldn’t be done when working remotely.

For IBM and Yahoo, having someone breathing over your shoulder would seem to drive productivity. This can’t be right.

The value of working remotely

But what about employee happiness?

Of course working remotely allows the company to save money on office rent, but can you seriously put a price on someone’s happiness and the value it adds? Forbes reported that workers were happier, felt more valued and were more productive when allowed to work remotely.

The secret they said was maintaining good communication and ensuring that employees have complete clarity as to what is expected from them.

So maybe for vast organisations like IBM and Yahoo, it proved too difficult to drive the sort of culture change that is needed for successful remote working to be effective. Reading David Heinermeler Hansson’s book Remote provides invaluable insights for anyone leading a smaller team who wants to create a successful culture of remote workers which actually enhances the business.  I’ll be applying many of these ideas as we expand the team to include more remote workers.

Transforming the Law – 15 years on from publication of Richard Susskind’s book

Transforming the Law - 15 years on from publication of Richard Susskind's book In his book, Transforming the Law, Richard Susskind highlights how in the past, lawyers used to advise on general business matters, whereas they have increasingly assumed a more restricted role, and have tended not to stray from the purely legal. He contrasts accountants who have greatly broadened their scope of services, such that auditing and accounting is not just “one of a large number of business lines offered by these large professional firms.

Susskind’s observation is spot on. He made these comments many years ago, and yet the trend towards specialisation and a purely legal focus by the legal profession has increased if anything since then. Susskind’s observations are even truer today. You just have to look at a typical networking group like BNI, which has a policy of one member per profession to realise that lawyers are pigeon holing themselves more and more. In the BNI group I was in, there were several lawyers – an employment lawyer, a shipping lawyer, and myself an intellectual property lawyer. What’s more, that particular BNI group were seeking more lawyers, such as specialists in probate, conveyancing and family law. Yet there was just the one accountant who spoke about a large number of subjects including tax, and business growth.

Arrival of ABS

Perhaps the arrival of the ABS structure will mark a change. Certainly the chairman of the Legal Services Board discussing the ABS structure, explains why it is suitable for innovation. According to David Edmonds, we are now seeing “diversity and innovation in the provision of legal services, the like of which was unthinkable even three years ago”. “It shows us a glimpse at the future of what legal services provision will be,” he said in a speech to the Westminster Legal Policy Forum last month. “[ABS] is a strong spur to find cost-effective and innovative ways of working. Change, diversity and innovation will happen.”

Diverse offering

While, many large City law firms have yet to become ABSs, they are increasingly tending to offer wider services than just law through separate businesses. A research carried out for Allen & Overy confirms that overall demand for non-traditional legal services is expected to rise steeply over the next five years. For example, Kemp Little offers support to businesses in the development of their online and digital commerce activities through its consultancy division. And Bird & Bird provide the full range of advice on Software and Services matters as well as on the strategic and operational aspects of a client’s business. And following Axiom’s success in offering project lawyers to in house departments, there have been a number of similar initiatives such as Lawyers on Demand, from Berwin Leighton Paisner and Eversheds Agile.

When the ABS was first being introduced, I was thinking about how we would broaden our own services. For example, some related areas of activity might be branding, and web design. However, I rejected this possibility as it didn’t seem suitable territory for lawyers to veer towards. For a law firm to enter the branding field seemed misguided because naming is just an aspect of branding. Most of the other skills required involve creative design, marketing, communications and the like which lawyers are not necessarily naturally suited to offering.

New Opportunities

The fact is the legal industry is increasingly competitive and over lawyered, and it does make sense to look to providing wider services. The increased competition creates opportunities for innovation in pricing service offerings according to Byrne.

However, what is clear is that the choice of wider services needs to be carefully considered to maximise on the unique perspective you can bring to bear in a non law business. Many of the areas these larger firms are moving into, such as IT consultancy, and recruitment are already fiercely competitive.

Possibly we, as an IP firm, would do better to focus on commercialisation services for inventors, or IP valuation services, or business advice on the intersection between IP/IT and business. I strongly believe that we should not leave the supporting of businesses to start up and grow to accountants simply because they understand numbers. There is a lot more to business than numbers. Lawyers understand a host of commercial issues which positions them to help SMEs in ways where their knowledge adds real value.

If you are a lawyer looking to support your clients more widely than with legal issues, the important thing to ask yourself is how you can add value to your clients. For lawyers who have founded a business successfully, it’s likely they will have good business skills to supplement their commercial law ones, so that business advice, is an obvious area to explore as a separate business offering. Similarly, training services is another possibility law firms might consider.

If you are a lawyer interested in this topic, then I’d be happy to engage in discussions with you. Just leave a comment below or contact me by phone or email.

Legally Branded Virtual Launch Party

At Azrights it is all go getting ready for the launch of Legally Branded which is now under a week away! Along with the fast approaching launch comes our exciting virtual launch which will take place on September 12th, the day after the book’s release.

The day is due to be packed with fun things to watch, see and read about with a chance to even participate in our Legally Branded quiz where you can get your Intellectual Property thinking cap on.

On the day of the virtual launch, the action will primarily take place here on the Legally Branded blog and also on our Facebook page.

Throughout the day we will be uploading photos and videos from the main event which will take place the night before.  Please like the page  to make sure you view all this great content. The videos will feature interviews with the guests as well as mine and Jeremy’s talks and more so don’t miss out!

For those who participate in the Legally Branded quiz and test out their Intellectual Property knowledge there will be a chance to win a signed copy of Legally Branded.

And if all that is not enough, I will be available throughout the day if anyone wants to ask me any questions either here on this site, on the Legally Branded Facebook page or on Twitter using the hashtag #LegallyBranded.

We’ll be starting the event from 10 am (GMT) and will be online all day updating our various pages.

As the event is virtual this means that anyone anywhere in the world can participate and you can pop over at any time to keep an eye out on what is happening.

In the meantime you can order a copy of Legally Branded on Amazon and we look forward to raising a virtual glass of champagne to celebrate!