In the past few weeks, working from home has become more than just a benefit offered to 47% of legal professionals. It is - for the time being at least - a necessity for law firms and in-house legal teams in the UK and around the world.
For Partners, General Counsel, Heads of Department and other legal managers, this can prove to be a particularly tough challenge - especially for those unfamiliar with managing a remote team and who had limited time to prepare for the situation currently unfolding.
If you are wondering about the best way to be a leader in the legal profession while working from home, we’ve got you covered with this list of 11 top tips for managing a remote team.
How to manage a remote team
- Focus on accomplishments, not activity
- Have daily or weekly check ins
- Trust your team
- When in doubt, use video
- Communicate non-verbally
- Manage expectations
- Be flexible
- Provide for your team
- Ramp up communication
- Make time for small talk
- Have longer one to one meetings
Focus on accomplishments, not activity
While you shouldn’t be keeping tabs on every single thing that your team members do while at the office anyway, working from home makes this impossible. As a remote manager, you should be concerning yourself more with the accomplishments of your team rather than the minutiae of their daily activities, so worry about the tiny details only when goals are not being achieved.
Have daily or weekly check-ins
Regular check-ins help you to stay on top of your team’s tasks while keeping them engaged. You should know your team well enough to determine the appropriate frequency of these check-ins - Legal Assistants or Secretaries may require more regular contact than senior Solicitors, for example - but we suggest no less often than once per week. Consider also the dynamics and set up of your team to determine whether these calls should be done as a group or on a one-to-one basis.
Trust your team
One of the great anxieties many managers have regarding remote working is whether work will be completed to the same standard of quality and speed as in the office. Given the current circumstances, however, leaders have little choice but to trust their teams to deliver. If you are uncertain, create a set of guidelines around frequency of meetings, responding to emails in a certain timeframe and the way feedback is given that can be relaxed as trust grows.
When in doubt, use video
In a time when the majority of legal professionals are confined to their homes, video meetings - via Zoom, Microsoft Teams or another easy-to-use platform - are essential in boosting team productivity and positivity, especially for those whose mental health may be suffering due to this unprecedented period of isolation. Furthermore, video calls give you the chance to gauge the attitude, thoughts and feelings of your team in ways that a phone call or email never could, given that nonverbal communication - eye contact, hand gestures, facial expressions etc. - is thought to make up the majority of human communication.
With the idea of non-verbal communication in mind, think about how else you could be reaching out to your team or reinforcing good behaviour. Perhaps an emoticon or appropriate GIF could be used in an email celebrating good work, while a funny, topical meme might be what your team needs to start the week off with a laugh.
It’s your duty as a manager or team leader to set the expectations of your team during this period, as it would be any other time. As you and your team adjust to working from home, you may find that priorities and expectations shift and change - remember that this is to be expected. Achievements and goals may look a little different with a remote team, but they have no less value.
Remote working rarely means doing the exact same thing as you would in the office but from the comfort of your own home. The routines and schedules of all your team members are likely to change, but especially so for those caring for children or vulnerable family members. Make time early on to ask each member of your team about their home situation and provide appropriate flexibility.
Provide for your team
A key responsibility of any manager - remote or office-based - is to provide staff with the resources required to complete their job to a high standard. Early on in the work from home period, ask each member of your team if they have the technology and materials they need, keeping in mind that, for some, laptops, extra monitors, desk chairs and even high bandwidth internet connection is not a given.
Ramp up communication
You need to be making sure that your team still feels connected, even when they are physically miles apart. Feelings of isolation and disconnectedness can be avoided by ramping up and encouraging the number of video calls, phone calls, emails and messages exchanged within your team. This includes the communication you’re directly involved with and that with which you are not, meaning that you should be nurturing communication spaces for your team that you don’t necessarily have eyes on.
Make time for small talk
Small talk is important because it shows the members of your team that you care about them as a person and their life outside of the office, not just the work that they do. So, while it’s easy to jump onto a Zoom call and talk business straightaway, it’s vital that you maintain this casual chat because the rapport and relationships you have with your team require consistent maintenance.
Have longer one to one meetings
Being in the office gives you the advantage of having quick meetings and chats on the fly. Your direct reports can come over to your desk when they encounter a problem, and likewise, you can go to them when priorities change or a task needs completing. Remote working doesn’t afford these opportunities, so it’s important to have regular one to one video or phone meetings with each member of your team. These meetings should be substantial and last as long as necessary, giving you the chance to find out in more detail about the progress your staff have made on their work and giving your staff the chance to ask any questions or express any concerns they may have.
Are you a manager in the legal professional currently working remotely? Whether this is due to the current Coronavirus pandemic or a standard part of your role, we would like to hear about your experiences. Get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
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