Category Archives: Business and Entrepreneurship

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.

Does Working Remotely Work?

Does Working Remotely Work?With distant memories of Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer putting an end to remote working at the company back in 2013 I was unsure what the latest thinking on remote working was when I took the plunge and moved the business to remote working for all.

Doing some quick Google research seemed to validate my decision. The thinking seemed to be that if you want to increase your team’s productivity then remote working does the trick. I found some views to the effect that if you need to increase your team’s creativity, then it’s  better to bring them together to collaborate in a physical environment.

As I’m keen to understand how  companies are managing remote workforce, I’ll be examining  this topic in future blogs.

 What is remote working?

Essentially remote working transfers the experience of working from the physical realm of an office, to a digital environment.

For me remote working is attractive not just because I avoid the commute, or can get an extra in hour in bed if I want to, but because it saves so much time from office distractions. I am a lot more productive now. That’s mainly thanks to no longer having to move between my home office and work every day, and also because all the time consuming tasks of managing the office have been removed.

Having the flexibility to be able to fit work around your life and other commitments is the holy grail of working for many entrepreneurs, and for those with young families or elderly relatives to care for. But what do you need to do to make it work? And how do you balance employee satisfaction with managing a well-oiled, cohesive team who are scattered to the four winds?

 Advantages of remote working

While the advantages of remote working are self-evident, not all employees are happy to work from home. Younger ones often want the social life that goes hand in hand with working, especially if they don’t have a partner at home.

And what about employers? What is the advantage for them, apart from reduced overhead costs of dispensing with expensive office space?

  1. Encourages self-motivation. When you give your team the go ahead to manage their own time, under the proviso that the work gets done, you encourage them to take more responsibility.
  2. Increases productivity. By giving your employees more time as they are released from the daily commute, you also increase their sense of freedom, even if they’re working office hours.

Productivity also increases simply because people can work in ways that suit them. Many will actively remove themselves from distractions, and work harder, to ensure the status quo keeps working for them.

Better employees. The ability to work remotely and work flexibly is in demand and you can attract good quality candidates when you have an opening. Opportunities are few and far between so you attract team members from far and wide once constraints based purely on geographical location are removed.  As you can cast your recruiting net wider, it means you can hire the best person for the job, not just the person who is closest.

Chances are that team members value the flexibility you offer, and will be more loyal and stay in the job longer. Autonomy is rare in the employment arena which is why so many people turn to self-employment. So, giving employees flexibility and autonomy is likely to appeal to many of your team members who don’t necessarily want to set up their own businesses, with all the challenges that can entail.

What are the cons of remote working?

  1. Lack of oversight. If you don’t feel you can trust your employees sufficiently to get on with the job in hand, you will struggle. Working remotely isn’t for everyone, not every individual is a self-starter with the ability to get on with their job without having someone check what they’re doing.
  2. Security and IT. You are relying on your employees to work in locations with a secure internet connection. You need to train them to fully understand technology and the systems you use, and to be mindful of the risks that remote access security presents.
  3. Brainstorming. Impromptu brainstorming is no longer an option. Up to 10,000 non-verbal cues can be exchanged in one minute of face to face interaction. To maximise your sessions you either need to arrange video calls (something we haven’t used yet), or physically get together regularly, which won’t work if you’ve got employees living on the other side of the country, or the world.

Closer Scrutiny of What Works

In future posts I will be exploring the opportunities and hurdles that remote working has entailed for other companies that have done it successfully. The aim is to understand best practices to implement.

Should You Be Ignoring Business Advice And Creating Your Own Strategy For Success?

It comes as no great surprise to me that a recent report by the Office for National Statistics showed 4.7 million self-employed people in the UK in the first quarter of 2016. With the freedom and benefit that breaking free from traditional working chains affords, there is no doubt that number will continue to rise.

The original driver behind my business

Before I set up my business back in 2004/5 I had tried doing ad hoc freelance projects. However, I decided to take a job part-time in an international law firm because freelancing was time consuming and erratic.  Marketing wasn’t a skill I had developed. All I wanted was a regular income working flexibly. I thought a part-time job would give me the desired flexibility to manage my work/life balance. I was wrong. The hours I worked for this firm may have been part-time, but the flexibility was non-existent. And flexibility was key to making my life work as I had young children to pick up from school, and look after.

Setting up my business seemed the obvious way to get the balance I was searching for, albeit, I sensed it would be time consuming to get the business off the ground. Entrepreneurship worked for me because I was willing to put in the long hours to achieve my objective of having  the freedom to pick and choose when to work. For example, I wanted to break up my day by taking a few hours off in the afternoons, and work later in the evening instead, once my daughters had gone to bed.

The business slowly got off the ground. My learning curve was extremely steep. Gradually,   business began to come in thanks to a networking circle I joined, my website, and also due to repeat business from existing clients.

The new dilemma

Fast forward twelve years and I found myself once again facing another work/life dilemma. I had originally set up my business to allow me to work on my own terms, which is what I needed all those years ago. Now I was feeling more and more like a slave to this monster that I had created: my ambitions for the business had me renting a big office and recruiting a large team to fill it.

I realised that what I had worked so hard to achieve was no longer working for me. The life I was living was not the one I had envisaged when I started along this path – the flexibility I had once craved was no longer there. While I don’t have young children to look after now, I still crave the freedom to work flexibly, and not to be chained to an office. Yet I had to come into the office every day because that is where my team was. I dreamed of working from home, getting out and about meeting interesting people, popping into the office only when required. If only I could grow the team to a size where it would be feasible to pay a highly experienced manager to run the office.

Growing the Business

I needed to bring about change again. Only this time I didn’t need to create something new, I just needed to readjust my thinking on what it means to run a successful business. I had to stop listening to all the business advice out there which had led me to believe that there was a particular way to grow a business. I had to listen to my own needs and find a way to achieve my ambitions on my own terms.

While I still firmly believe you need the right team around you, and that they are crucial to a business’ success, what I’ve subsequently learned is that they don’t need to physically be around you, and nor do they need to be permanent full-time employees.

And so earlier this year I made the call to downsize the office space and have a team that works remotely – coming together at the office only when necessary, such as for meetings.

Despite the huge changes…

So far it has proven to be the best thing I could have done for myself and the business hasn’t suffered even though the transition has coincided with huge changes within the business. For example, we were moving to using new systems to replace our legal case management solution with Microsoft Dynamics.  That had been on the agenda for more than a year. Moving to the  new platform we use, not just for CRM, but also for managing our cases and files, has entailed a new accounting system, time recording system, new processes in the business for taking on clients, and countless other changes. Doing all this at a time when we moved to remote working has been doubly difficult. We lost a few team members along the way too.

Nevertheless. all this change has been worthwhile because I had fallen out of love with the business, and now I’m enthused again.

Everything I’ve learnt about entrepreneurship tells me that the mindset and attitude of the business owner is crucial to success. So, I knew that I had to look after my own needs first, just as in an emergency on a plane you need to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others. I now know how vital it is to find your own way of doing things in business. You have to be happy and engaged in your business if you’re to succeed. So, don’t put your needs on hold, like I did with mine for all those years.

Now, four months on, I am really loving my business again. Working remotely allows me to attract a wider pool of quality talent from far and wide. Some are freelancers who work on occasional projects, while others are more regularly involved in the business.

I’m outsourcing the maintenance of our CRM database, and development of business processes to a specialist who has done this sort work many times before. Instead of giving such tasks to paralegals, I now use experts to deal with everything I want to delegate.

The general advice about growing a business had me retaining a team of paralegals in order to be ready to deal with the increased work once it came in.  As they were not fully occupied in the meantime, I had spare capacity to use up.  So, I would assign tasks like writing web pages, brochures, researching blog posts and the like to the team of paralegals. The goal was to grow fast in order to engage a manager to run the office so I could be free to work from home.

It seems ridiculous in retrospect. The approach of increasing capacity with the aim of growing proved expensive, and ultimately unsuccessful as team members were not particularly interested in doing work outside their area of desired expertise. Even though it’s important for lawyers to learn how to sell legal services, few of them actively want to learn the skills that go with it.

Outsourcing such work to freelancers with the right expertise is proving revolutionary because it saves so much of my own time. Instead of virtually having to rewrite everything, I often just make a few tweaks, and the job’s done. And by not having to go into an office every day my time has been freed me up, so I can now focus on what really matters.

Embracing Change

My point is this: to run a successful business doesn’t involve following a linear path that others take or advise. This book by John Lamerton Big Ideas… For Small Businesses perfectly captures my philosophy about business. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. Forge your own path. Do what works for you, and for your customers. Be very wary of following advice out of context. It may not work for you personally. Instead assess what it is you really desire for your life. Then be true to your own needs, and you will find a way to develop your own roadmap to business success.

In a future blog, I’ll discuss why our new approach of remote working now runs through every aspect of the Azrights brand. It provides us with engaged, motivated team members, who are attracted to working with us because of the flexibility on offer. The benefit to clients is that we can provide an extremely high quality of expertise at affordable prices. So, ultimately, remote working better caters to our clients’ needs too.

 

How To: Producing Corporate Video

Producing corporate videos for your business could make all the difference to whether you end up with a successful end product or not. So, I thought it might be interesting for anyone thinking of producing an animated video for their business to know about the process we went through to get our latest video which I’m very happy with.

The process of producing an animated video, especially one for commercial use, is not so straight forward.

The biggest challenge is to write a good script dealing with the subject matter you want to feature. In this case, intellectual property (IP) is an intangible, which means it is not something that is easy to depict. We needed to make sure we communicated the concept clearly even though it may not be a subject that is easily represented visually.

We first distilled the core elements of what we wanted to say and created a narrative around it. I wanted to demonstrate that (IP) and business are inextricably linked, whether you are starting a new business, building a brand identity or launching a new product or service worldwide. Furthermore, it needed to demonstrate that IP is more relevant in the digital economy than it has ever been before. Additionally, we had to be brief and stick to something short – less than one and a half minutes.

Creating images to represent complicated concepts can be difficult. So, the best way forward is to hone down on what it is you are trying to say before worrying about what it will look like.

The Script

Creating a script that would hang the concepts and images together is the backbone of the video, and we went through many iterations before we were happy with the outcome.

It needed to wrap what we were trying to say in digestible form. Consequently, it had to be relatable and compelling otherwise viewers would be lost, or worse, bored.

In creating the script, the best course of action was to keep it simple and short. We discussed the script on several occasions with Bernherd who was invaluable in guiding us to end up with a good copy. The general guidance from the animators helped us understand what would work and what would not.

My advice to anyone would be not to rush this step. Do expect to go through a number of drafts, as videos need to be visually engaging.

The Storyboard

This is where the creativity flows. Once the script has been finalized, the next challenge is turning those concepts into images. In this case, the Azrights video focuses on creating relatable imagery like an office environment, laptops and a globe – all of which are not particularly abstract.

It is better to veer away from the visual metaphors if you are trying to communicate a clear message, especially if its business orientated. Whilst abstract imagery can be visually engaging, you want to avoid losing your message along the way and risk viewers understanding less. So it is important that you to strike a good balance.

Although the video was intended as a corporate video about our services, as I was writing my new book, Intellectual Property Revolution, at the time we were going through the script, it ended up that we tied the law firm and the book closely together in the script, so that the video actually works as a video about the book too.

The Video

Once you have sorted out the script, the animators create sketches for each frame. Your task is to carefully analyse each frame and shot to check whether the message comes across coherently. Should certain points be emphasized more or less? For example in our video, we have lines that come out and point to some of the papers on the desk describing what those papers are supposed to represent. Depicting an infringement claim, damages or even a takedown notice is not so easy without the help of some wording.

Make sure that you go through the video with your team, and asking the developers for their suggestions will also help improve the final product. After all, their creative input is what is being commissioned. We found the feedback from an external person expressing their views on something which they are not all too familiar with invaluable at conveying the message in a way which would be clear to everyone.

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.

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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