Category Archives: Software and technology

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 Entrepreneur.com 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.

You can change the world

If the video above does not work on your device click here to view.

Steve Jobs’ powerful message in this video is that essentially anyone of us has the potential to change the world.

As Jobs’ says on how to avoid a limited life

“life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact. That is that everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build things that other people can use.”

We can all change and influence the things around us, including legal services.

What do lawyers think about this? Do you believe you can change the world in your own small way?

Reinvent law

A program that believes lawyers can indeed change the world is Reinvent law, initiated by Michigan State University. Their mission statement says:

we believe
lawyers
can change the world

but to change the world
we must first change ourselves

it is time to ReInvent

the market for legal services
is undergoing serious transition,
presenting both possibility and peril

we believe
four pillars of innovation
will save our industry
{ Law + Tech + Design + Delivery }TM

cultivating these pillars is our goal at the
ReInvent Law LaboratoryTM

if you think like we do,
we would love to work with you

I am inspired by their mission because it expresses something I’ve always believed myself. I’ve attended their London conferences these past few years and watched a whole community building up around legal innovation.

The problem of how to make changes in our own practice area for the client’s benefit has been constantly there at the back of my mind as a backdrop to the day to day firefighting involved in running a law firm.

I’ve got ideas which I’d like to implement.  However, to pursue the opportunities that exist for innovating in our field of practice, I must first free up some time.

Seeking an experienced IP/IT lawyer

Azrights has been growing steadily, and needs someone to help it to continue to grow and flourish while I focus more on introducing the innovations that the market needs.

I am looking for a like-minded experienced lawyer who is seeking a new challenge – perhaps someone contemplating setting up their own business. The right individual will be experienced enough to manage a team, and will understand the need to run our operations superbly efficiently so as to better deliver customer service.

Do you know a world class, 5+ PQE Intellectual Property tech lawyer who might want to join us at Azrights? The number of years’ post qualification is not set in stone. A lot depends on the individual – whether they have had another career before embarking on a legal career, done courses like MBAs, and had other relevant life experience.

We’re hoping to appoint someone early in 2015. The right person must be tech savvy, and a great communicator.

If that’s you, or you know someone who might be interested please send me an email at Shireen@azrights.com. If you have any ideas or suggestions for me please leave a comment on this blog.

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