There 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.