When I decided to uproot my family and begin a new adventure on the other side of the country, I did so only after talking with my law firm partner. We’ve always had more of us working remotely than in the office, but this would be the first time I’d been unable to hop on the train and be there in 20 minutes if need be.
That meant we needed to look at every aspect of how our law firm operated. From communications to technology, we had to examine our workflow to be sure that we were doing the best we could.
Here’s how we’ve structured our communication. Surprisingly, it was easier than we thought it would be.
Keep The Lines Open
If a client had an emergency, I’d need to be able to do everything from over 3,000 miles away. Staff members needed help, questions had to be answered, and my physical absence couldn’t stand in the way.
We had to have a fully-functional remote team. Thankfully, we’ve been using all of the tools for well over two years.
Real time chat. Stefanie’s on Long Island, David’s in Manhattan and I’m in Southern California. It’s simply not possible to walk into David’s office to ask him a quick question. In order to keep the flow of conversation, you’ve got to have an electronic means of casually grabbing someone’s attention for a minute. For a quick and easy chat, we use Google Talk because it allows us to save a record of conversations for later.
Collaboration tools. We all work on a particular matter, but how does everyone know the details of what everyone else has been doing? You need a way to get all of the information into a single place. For that we use RocketMatter, a fairly lean and easy-to-use case management system that resides in the cloud. Whenever something happens on a particular matter, a note gets entered so everyone else can stay up to speed.
Voice and video chat. I prefer email over the phone, but sometimes it’s just easier to “go voice.” Though I’m in New York once a month, my clients don’t wait for four weeks to get a resolution to a particularly thorny project. That’s why we all use Skype to talk by voice or video as the need arises.
Weekly meetings. Every Monday we hop onto Skype and talk about operational matters, what’s going on in the firm, and what needs to get done in the coming week. We keep it brief, but it’s important for everyone to know exactly where we are and where we need to be at the end of the week.
This Isn’t Easy
Make no mistake – in spite of what all the experts say, working remotely isn’t easy. An office lives and dies on communication, and it requires far more discipline to pull it off when you’re not face-to-face.
But if you look around, you’ll quickly realize the talent pool is deeper than what’s local. Smart lawyers, paralegals and administrative professionals are all over the world. If you find someone to help you, it’s a shame to turn your back simply because they’re far away.
In spite of the difficulties in making remote teams work, it makes sense to build you firm with the best and the brightest – not merely those who are most conveniently located. It’s going to take some time to figure out how to make it work for your firm, but it’s worth the effort.