As the UK government publishes its plans for dealing with any worsening of the Coronavirus outbreak and companies worldwide test working from home, what simple measures can you put in place to help keep your legal operations running smoothly in the event of disruption?  Whilst we all hope that emergency measures won’t be needed, some simple forward planning now will help you make sure that you can keep delivering an effective legal service to your business in the event of travel being curtailed or premises closed.

We, at Obelisk, are established champions of remote working and have been managing legal services delivered off-site for nearly 10 years. Here are our top tips for effective remote working.

1. Make sure your infrastructure is up to the job

Regular homeworkers will already have tele- or video conferencing passwords and access to your company’s shared drives or Virtual Private Network (VPN). Make sure that everyone in the team has these basic services and check if there are any restrictions. For example, sometimes the number of users at any one time is limited.

Ensure that everyone has laptops and, if not, has an alternative, secure way of working at home if necessary. Ask everyone who does have a laptop to take it home with them each night, so they can work from home if necessary. Make sure everyone in the team is available and online via mobile devices as well. Even better, check if they have access to either a landline or another mobile network service as well – in case of problems with the provider.

If team members aren’t regular homeworkers, ask what type of internet service they have at home – don’t assume they will have enough bandwidth to support business processes. Remember not everyone will have printers at home either.

Also, don’t forget about security. Talk to your IT team now about how you can safely access and store sensitive information and remind team members to avoid taking work home on USB sticks or emailing to private email addresses.

2. Help team members collaborate online

If you’re used to working in an office environment and rarely work with homeworkers then collaborating online may not feel very natural. If you can access tools like Microsoft Teams, Google Drive or Slack then you can share documents and work together more effectively without being under the same roof.

Encourage some simple etiquette:

  • Keep email to a minimum so that people aren’t overwhelmed. Remind people to use the “To” field when someone has to know something and “CC” if the message is for information.
  • Read messages and comments twice to make sure that they aren’t ambiguous
  • Remember short messages can come across as curt or unintentionally rude to those who aren’t used to collaborating online. Check your tone and keep things friendly!

3. Communicate availability

If everyone is suddenly working remotely, it may be difficult for colleagues within and outside the team to keep track. Encourage team members to:

  • Set up out-of-office on email and ‘phone if they are not working, with their next available hours clearly stated
  • Say “hello” to the rest of the team at the start of their working day and let colleagues know if their availability changes
  • Give clear deadlines for when they expect to be able to deliver a piece of work.

4. Set up regular progress calls

It’s more important than ever to keep talking, so even if your team is collaborating well online, stick with a weekly or bi-weekly call to keep in touch. Create space in the agenda to check what’s working/what’s not in terms of your current operations so you can spot problems and find solutions early.

5. Keep track of work across the team

You need to make sure that work doesn’t slip through the cracks due to any disruption, so make sure that people across the team are logging new work as it comes in. A simple Excel tracker that everyone can access with columns for Job Title/Details/Business Owner/Legal Team Owner/Priority Level/Deadline/External resource/Notes/Completed Date will help you stay organised and reassign work if necessary.

If your team is big enough, think about whether you can assign a second owner to each piece of work, so that if the primary owner is unable to complete it, you automatically have a continuity plan in place.

6. Flag business-critical work

Make sure you have an defined process for identifying critical work across your team and that this is resourced as a priority.  If important deadlines could be under threat, communicate to partners and stakeholders early, so that together you can agree a solution.

7. Back-up work in progress

It goes without saying but it’s more important than ever to make sure team members are keeping work backed up on a central drive, rather than relying on their own pc’s local storage. Remind people to save back-ups of drafts and work in progress, so that work can be picked up by someone else if needed. If you don’t already, ask everyone to use the same file naming convention (either version numbers or date, or both), so that it’s clear which version of a document is the most recent.

8. Check emergency contact details

Your HR team will normally hold emergency contact details centrally for all staff. Make sure that these are fully up-to-date for your team and ask if they are happy for you to have access to these.

9. Identify any single points of failure

List areas of your operation that are the responsibility of only one person or one supplier. If any of these are business critical, think about how you might be able to manage the risk of anything disrupting these, for example:

  • Can you train up another member of the team to cover?
  • Can you appoint another supplier to act as a back-up?
  • Are there any priority tasks or projects that can be completed while operations are stable if you re-prioritise?

Also look for any weaknesses in your infrastructure – is there anyone in the team who cannot work from home if required? Are there any resources or documentation that can’t be accessed if you are unable to access your offices?

10. Make an extra effort to keep morale high

Now, more than ever, it’s vital to look after your people and help them stay positive and engaged. For natural extroverts and those who are not used to working remotely, time out of the office can feel lonely and demotivating. As well as regular team calls, make sure that you are putting in 1:1 calls to each team member on a regular basis, to give them a chance to share any concerns and to recognise their contribution. Other things you can do to make sure that the team feels looked after:

  • Share regular progress updates on the situation — even if these are coming out from a central HR or Operations team, forward them on with your own note or talk through them on a team call
  • If colleagues are unwell, keep the rest of the team up-to-date with their progress as far as you can whilst respecting individuals’ privacy
  • Circulate regular shout-outs celebrating good results or great effort from colleagues
  • Check if there are funds to recompense employees for any unexpected extra expenses due to working from home and make sure it’s clear how to claim these
  • Stay alert to individual requirements. If schools are closed, will this affect any of your team members? Can they work outside of normal business hours if necessary? If a colleague has sick family members, how can you support them? Are you aware of colleagues who have family or friends impacted by Coronavirus? What extra support can you offer them? If your company offers resources such as help with emergency childcare or other employee assistance programmes, make sure your team are aware of how to access these.

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