5 things we do to make working-from-home work for us
Our firm has been evolving our work-from-home model since our inception about seven years ago. Here are five things we currently do that help to ensure that working-from-home works for us.
One. We catch up regularly each day
We aim to catch-up as a group four times each work day.
The first catch-up is to set our priorities for the day. Each of us takes it in turn to tell the group what we are aiming to get done for the day and where we left off the day before.
The second catch-up occurs before lunch. The focus tends to be on how we’ve gone in the morning and our current thoughts and output on what we’ve been doing. Sometimes, emails have come in that morning that might mean we discuss changes to our priorities for the day.
The third catch-up occurs after lunch. It is similar to the second catch-up except that we focus on what we can realistically achieve by the end of the business day.
Our fourth catch-up occurs about an hour before the close of the business day. If we’ve done well, it is a time to reflect on what we’re finishing off that day and what will be tomorrow’s focus. If things haven’t quite gone to plan, we work out our focus for that evening.
Our regular catch-ups give us a chance to:
- ensure that we’re prioritising our clients’ work in line with their deadlines – because we catch up every two to three hours, we know how projects are tracking and we can divide the work more effectively if completion is not progressing as we had initially planned.
- quickly iron out any differences in interpreting a task or project – each can give timely input and the focus of inquiry can be re-directed, if necessary. That means less work and time is wasted.
- build trust in each other – with better insight, the team builds trust that work is getting done and each team member is pulling their weight although we may not be able to see each other slaving away. In addition, frequent interaction means more opportunities to throw in an anecdote or two that humanises and personalises each team member.
Two. Our regular catch-ups are brief, “face-to-face” and at set times of the day
Catch-ups can be as brief as five minutes or up to 30 minutes if I’m giving the team my latest thoughts on how we should do things in the firm. Often, team members will also catch up in smaller groups separately to work through discrete projects. Keeping team meetings brief keeps them fresh and useful.
Our catch-ups are “face-to-face” unless there is a good reason for voice-only. When we’re working from home, this means a video call. This gives us a better chance to pick up on non-verbal cues, like smiles, grimaces, yawns and puzzlement, and adjust our communication accordingly. With video calls with clients becoming more prevalent, it also pays to practise within the team first.
Each catch-up is at the same time each day. This means that each team member can do difficult thinking work without interruption between group catch-ups. Each of us has a stretch of uninterrupted time to write that tricky piece of advice or draft that nuanced clause that will break through a deadlock in negotiations.
Our first and last catch-ups are especially important when we’re working-from-home. It replaces the rituals of getting into work and packing up and going home for the day. It is a place marker between the work day and a restful evening. If there is to be no rest that evening, our last catch-up gives us a chance to agree how we collaborate that evening to squeeze in as much of our personal priorities as practicable too.
We keep to our catch-ups and set times whether we are working from home or if we’re collaborating at the same workplace. Our practises for productive and collaborative work are not built around meeting at a workplace.
Three. We’re religious and transparent with our timesheets
Each team member is religious about keeping track of what they’re working on. We aim to make our timesheet entry for a task within 5 minutes of beginning that task.
Timesheets for lawyers have traditional uses including:
- keeping a better tab on a law firm’s most expensive cost of doing business – our lawyers’ time; and
- reminding us and the client of the work we’ve put in for them so that we may better justify our bill.
In a work-from-home scenario, it replaces time in the office as a measure of productivity. Of course, neither timesheets nor office presence is the best productivity measure. However, discipline with timesheets has certain advantages:
- it is a simple way of corralling a wandering mind to the task at hand;
- it answers the question “what have I been doing all day” without requiring a post-mortem of the day and gives you an assurance that you feel busy because you have been busy; and
- it provides raw data to pour over when we’re reflecting on how to improve the way we work, whether as a group or individually.
Each team member gets to see every other team member’s timesheets. This helps us:
- build trust in each other that we’re all putting in a fair amount of work even if some of us are working more flexible hours;
- work out, in real-time, if a team member is busy or is in the right frame for a moment of collaboration.
Four. We are a virtually paperless law firm
We each use a 2-in-1 device that is both a traditional laptop as well as a touchscreen tablet and comes with an electronic pen. We jot our thoughts, hand-mark amendments or sign engagement letters on our 2-in-1 device. We don’t have fast printers, physical folders or files, staplers, paper clips etc. which further encourages “paperlessness”. The systems we use are cloud-based.
As a result of being “paperless” first, each team member has access to all the documents they’ll need to start working, wherever they are. Each of us also take less time to complete a task because we rarely print or scan documents and can start working on a document the moment we receive it by email.
The whole team being “paperless” also means that we each learn tips and tricks with electronic documents by practising regularly and can educate each other as we go along. We also learn and focus on just one filing system – the electronic one.
We all have access to a common “task” spreadsheet. It includes all projects and tasks we have to or aim to do and indicates what needs to be done and which team member is responsible for getting it done. That means that no team member is ever wondering what to do next. Each has a way of planning their work and sharing that plan with everyone else on the team in real-time.
Our cloud based systems means that we always have the latest version of our “task” spreadsheet wherever we are and if we update a document, we can be confident the rest of the team has access to the latest updates. Our systems and processes are such that our lawyers can work anywhere there is an internet connection and don’t need advance preparation for meetings or working off-site.
Five. We have lunch together each week
We try to have lunch together at least once a week. This gives us a chance to get to know each other, understand each other’s life outside of work and potentially grow to like each other.
Prior to COVID-19 lockdowns, we had a combination of work-from-home and working in a common workplace, which meant even more opportunities for social interaction. Catching up in person and socially certainly has advantages over video-calls. The question is what is the optimal frequency for in-person catch-ups and can we capture more of its benefits without incurring its costs.
Some of what works for us may only work for a small tight-knit group of 3 lawyers plus a changing constellation of interns.
In addition, our work-from-home model continues to evolve, in the same way that other areas of our law firm have to evolve. Some of the things we do now we’ve been practising for 5 years and some are only a few months old.
We’re always up for suggestions from others. How are you and your team doing work-from-home?
Read more on:
- our own timesheet project – Improving our real-time client reporting system
- our frugal innovation approach – Frugal innovation at fsLAW
- our thoughts on work-life integration
fsLAW is a boutique business law firm group providing legal solutions and advocacy for clients in the Asia Pacific region from Singapore. We provide our services through retainers as well as in the traditional way of an hourly or daily rate or fixed-quote for projects.