Although ‘lockdown’ in the strict sense is effectively over, as we move through the Scottish Government’s phased easing of restrictions, most of us are still a long way off a return to office-based working. In addition, responses to the Law Society’s recent survey of in-house counsel found that only 37% felt confident about returning to the workplace when the time comes.
No matter the sector, the majority of in-house solicitors won’t have crossed their employer’s threshold since at least mid-March. More than five months in to this brave new world of fulltime remote working, John Morrison, Legal Counsel at Phoenix Group, shares some thoughts on adapting to new working practices.
It’s important to make sure you are responding to the changes resulting from the coronavirus pandemic and the impact on your own and your internal clients’ workload and priorities.
- Client’s overall priorities and objectives may have changed quite significantly during this period, and some are now focused on entirely different matters. This has an obvious impact on the resource required from the legal team. Re-prioritise your own workload accordingly so you can provide support where it’s needed most and make the greatest impact.
- Reset expectations with internal clients and colleagues. Some of them will have downed tools to focus exclusively on the crisis, whilst others may be ‘keeping the show on the road’. If this means you’re going to be spending more of your time with the former class, then make sure you check in with your key contacts in the latter class so they appreciate your new situation.
- Make the most of development opportunities as they come by. Perhaps opportunities will arise that never would have been but for the crisis.
- If you can support your local community or volunteer your time in some way, do it. Even better if your organisation supports volunteering in some way, and if it doesn’t, make the case that it should. The country will come through this crisis better if organisations and communities come together as much as possible.
- If you’re sending emails at unusual times of the day or night, end with a quick note explaining that you don’t expect a response outside of business hours – this is just a convenient time for you.
Whether it’s work-related or a social catch up, staying connected with colleagues is vital.
- Continue to set aside times during the course of your week to catch up with colleagues virtually on things other than work. Imagine you were meeting by the water cooler! Best if you can give advance warning as your colleague’s daily routine is likely to be different from your own.
- Don’t neglect virtual team meetings. Make sure everyone gets the chance to speak, and maybe answer each of the following questions:
- BEST – what’s the best thing that's happened to you since the last meeting?
- NEXT – what’s the next thing you're planning to focus on?
- HELP – is there any help you need in any aspect of your work/life?
- A WhatsApp messenger group can be a useful forum for light humour and personal news with colleagues.
- If you’re finding that email traffic is increasing, turn off your email account for a while to allow you to focus more closely on the task at hand.
There is a lot of information available on keeping active which will be helpful even as we come out of lockdown. Here are some of my suggestions.
- When you get dressed in the morning, put on your activewear. If it’s convenient, take a walk, go for a run or do something energetic before you sit down at your desk.
- Set alarms to stand up and move around.
- Take calls standing up or walking around your house or garden.
- Join an online exercise class.
- Dance, skip, stretch or jump during your breaks.
- Stay hydrated by keeping a glass of water at your desk.
- Cook and eat healthy food.
Welcoming news solicitors to the team, particularly trainees
It’s really important to do what you can to help a new member feel part of the team.
- Get a head start by having the technology and training programmes in place before a new colleagues starts. When they join, assign someone to assist them with tech and admin queries, and to be their ‘buddy’.
- Many traditional induction techniques won’t work. A formal email around everyone will be necessary to begin with, and this should really include a picture and some personal information. Think of new and additional ways to introduce them, not just to the legal department, but to key clients as well. Set up virtual group meetings, ask colleagues to call the new start at a certain time, or if you’re going to attend online meetings yourself, consider inviting the new colleague to log on as well, even if it’s only to observe proceedings.
- Make expectations very clear, especially for the first few weeks. Be extra clear on tasks and deadlines, but also provide opportunities to read and learn.
- If you have trainees, they may be feeling lost and anxious, and they may feel they aren’t getting all they expected out of their traineeship, for example with regard to developing soft skills and the practical aspects of being an in-house lawyer. Be extra supportive and check in with your trainees on a daily basis. Also schedule time in advance for longer catch-ups every week. Ideally, this would be in addition to whole team meetings. Follow the Law Society’s hints and tips for the remote supervision of trainees.
- If you’re a trainee yourself, check out this advice from Rob Marrs, Head of Education at the Law Society.