Work-from-Home Lessons from a Veteran Virtual Worker
To all of my law firm marketing and PR colleagues, lawyers, and other law firm professionals who are working from home (or “WFH” — the new trending acronym — or so I’m told) amid the COVID-19 pandemic, I say, with mixed emotions, welcome to the club. I just wish the acknowledgment came under better circumstances — more because you want, can and/or should work from home, rather than you must do it in the interest of public health.
I’ve been working from home for nearly 10 years. Jaffe has been an exclusively virtual environment for most of its 42-year existence, so it’s a working and lifestyle model with which I am very familiar. It takes some adjustments and there are challenges aplenty for newcomers to the home office, particularly for those thrown into the fire without proper equipment or conducive working environments, not to mention psychological preparation for what can be a jarring transition.
Consequences of the WFH Lifestyle
First, there are obvious logistical issues for professionals working from home, including obtaining and maintaining laptops and other equipment, as well as other IT issues, not the least of which involves data security. The threat of breaching a client’s security is a major concern for law firms. In fact, the U.S. government’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has been highlighting the elevated risk of malware, phishing attacks and other ransomware demands during the current pandemic. There also are challenges to dealing with the loss of human interaction that professionals are accustomed to having from being in close physical proximity to each other in an office. Technology allows us to get our jobs done just fine, but interacting with others only virtually is doubly stressful when we don’t have in-person interactions to compensate.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a National Law Journal article about the emergence of the competitive cloud-based law firm and what that looked like compared to the traditional firm model. Since that time, the number of virtual, or cloud-based, law firms has increased slightly, but the traditionally conservative legal industry overall still has barely dipped a toe into that water.
One positive outcome of the currently mandated WFH exercise is likely to be nearly wholesale preparedness for the next crisis that closes physical firm offices. Through this crash course, decision-makers at law firms are likely to realize there are some legitimate efficiencies and benefits to be gained from lawyers based at their homes, principally involving reduction in physical real estate and overhead, and the value proposition for offering a true work-life balance for attorneys and other support staff. The workers themselves also will see benefits from remote working that they probably had not considered or truly appreciated before they were in the trenches. An overarching conclusion of the 2020 State of Remote Work survey (by social media software company Buffer) of thousands of remote workers from around the world is that remote workers almost unanimously want to continue to work remotely (at least partially) for the rest of their careers.
Ultimately — according to many legal industry observers — this forced experiment could expand the virtual model for some firms permanently, at least on a partial or as-needed basis. Traditionalists may be beside themselves and clutching their pearls (so to speak), but this change to the core firm business model is inevitable.
How to Work from Home
Recognizing that a vast majority of legal professionals are now working from home for the foreseeable future, let me offer just a few pearls of wisdom based on having about a decade of applicable experience under my belt (or relaxed-waist sweatpants, I should say, since there are no dress codes at my house). If you haven’t already bought into these, consider what I feel are the most-important best practices and takeaways for working from home.
Dedicate a space for office work.
It also should be devoid of distractions like TV or music (unless you can handle that — I usually can’t). While some people can acclimate to different situations and environments quite easily, for me, a dedicated office helps me replicate an office-like routine and maintain a certain work ethic and discipline. Sure, sometimes, I’ll drag the laptop over to the sofa or to a restaurant (in simpler times, that is), but I’m never as productive as when I’m sitting at my desk in my home office. There’s some humor — much appreciated these days — to be had at the good-natured expense of many of you doing your best to make it work with innovative work-at-home set-ups.
It’s not so much about the number of hours you work, but the productivity that matters.
You will probably find that you can get more done in four or five hours working during the day at home than you did in the office. You have fewer distractions (if you can block out or put restrictions on others living with you). My workday can sometimes stop mid-afternoon and pick up again in the evening, as well as extend into the weekend. Oftentimes, the amount and type of work dictates when I work. That 24/7 mindset also allows for more responsiveness to clients’ needs, which those accustomed to more-traditional work hours cannot or will not necessarily deliver. However, if you find yourself grinding non-stop at the computer for five or six hours, that also can be detrimental to your work proficiency and mental well-being, so…
It’s easy to get into a groove and churn out work product at home without the distractions typical of an office environment. Of course, if you have family, especially children, at home, chances are the distractions will find you anyway. Mentally, it’s just good to turn away from the work occasionally to catch up on the news, move around a bit, view a quick video or do whatever eases your mood.
It’s easy to get lazy when you don’t have to commute back and forth to the office plus run errands or perform other tasks that usually offer daily exercise. No good can come from a sedentary work style over the long haul. Actually, while we’re social distancing, the majority of us don’t even have nighttime or weekend social excursions to get in our daily steps. Try to take a long walk, quick run or whatever other cardio activity works for your lifestyle. You may now have the luxury of building that into your daytime routine rather than relegating it to before or after work.
Also, just take a few moments to marvel at the fact that we can get so much done while never even being in the same room, building, ZIP code or even country as our colleagues. And be kind to your co-workers, clients and stakeholders. Everyone is in the same boat. Cut some slack the next time your boss joins your virtual meeting after turning herself into a potato.