About 250 years ago, most Americans worked as farmers or as skilled craftsmen in their homes. By the 1800s, the workforce started shifting from homes to factories and moved from the countryside to cities. In the 1980s, the trend reversed when employers began experimenting with telecommuting. The work from home trend was helped by the development of the personal computer, the Internet, and flexible policies adopted by enlightened employers.
About 10 percent of Americans worked from home before the Coronavirus situation forced office workers to stay home. Many lawyers will continue their office exodus after the Coronavirus is contained. The Pandemic removed taboos associated with remote workers and mobile technologies improved their productivity. Following are some things to consider when deciding whether to permanently work remotely.
Alternatives – Variations include going fully remote, being hybrid, or staying remote-friendly. Hybrid firms allow anyone to work remotely. Remote-friendly firms allow remote work within designated limits.
Benefits – Remote working enables firms to reduce real estate costs and allows lawyers to avoid commuting and achieve a healthier lifestyle. These benefits can be offset by implementation costs, management challenges, and problems at home like distractions and isolation.
Camaraderie – Lawyers and staff should consider returning to the office if they feel isolated at home or need the stimulation of human interaction. Firms can promote teamwork with buddy systems, firm events, and group lunches. Schedule in-person workdays and adopt a system for reserving desk space and conference rooms.
Collaboration – Promote collaboration by using tech tools like conferencing services, cloud computing, messaging apps, and scheduling systems. Keep documents online so that everyone can access them. Encourage staff to pick designated days to meet at the office to exchange ideas, information, and strategies.
Communication – Use e-newsletters and messaging apps to keep everyone in the loop regardless of their location.
Office – Rearrange offices to create working space for lawyers and staff who rotate between the office and working remotely. Add lockers to allow workers to store personal items.
Gadgets – Use a gadget bag to shuttle belongings between home and office. Use the bag for adapters, batteries, cables, chargers, headphones, screen cleaners, and smartpens.
Management – Assign responsibility for managing the remote workforce, including communication, compliance, and technology issues.
Policy – Consider adopting a remote work policy and entering into individual remote work agreements with those working away from the office.
Survey – Survey lawyers and staff to determine their preference for working at home or office. Identify and accommodate staff with special needs like caregiving responsibilities.
Tax – Research the cost of tax withholding and other obligations imposed by states where lawyers and staff work remotely.
Technology – Keep remote workers cyber secure with encryption software, password managers, and virtual private networks. Improve client communications with scheduling apps and client portals. Promote teamwork with collaboration software.
Resources. For inspiration, read an article about the history of remote working and watch scenes from the movie 9 To 5. For help deciding whether to continue remote working, see NVCA’s checklist of considerations and Bloomberg’s case study of a firm that permanently switched to working from home. Also see articles about accessories for remote workers, cybersecurity, planning, policies, staying connected, virtual offices, and workplace locations. For in-depth study, read Clio’s Guide to Remote Working and ABA books about Cybersecurity for the Home and Office, Creating a Successful Law Firm, Marketing for Small Firms, and the Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide
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Conclusion. As the Coronavirus situation improves, firms will face requests from lawyers and staff who want to continue working remotely. Some may need to accommodate short-term obligations while others want the benefits of remote work on a permanent basis. Firms can use the tips and resources in this article to decide whether to allow remote working on a permanent basis.