You have done it. You have opened a virtual law firm. Now comes the hard part — managing staff remotely.
While working remotely has many advantages, there is no doubt it poses challenges for the traditional measures of workplace productivity.
Now, you are concerned that your employees and legal support staff are working fewer hours, with divided attention, or are otherwise less effective. And depending on your law firm management structure, day-to-day supervision may appear more difficult.
So how do you alleviate these concerns?
The truth is that when you opened your virtual doors, the days of looking around a physical office to see if people appeared “busy” were over.
It is time for better ways to both measure and maximize productivity at your remote workplace.
For virtual firm management, it is first important to remember what workplace productivity really means.
Many associate the sight of people spending long hours sitting at a desk or bustling about an office with being “productive.” But is that really productivity, or is it just the appearance of business?
The real measure of workplace productivity is hitting the most important goals with efficiency.
By focusing on the efficiency of completing tasks and meeting goals, we see that your virtual firm’s productivity should not be measured simply by the number of hours worked by your staff. Instead, it must be measured by the results produced within working hours.
You can measure those results in a lot of different ways.
The easiest is just to be sure that work is getting done. If cases aren’t falling behind and you’re not missing deadlines, then your team is probably just as productive as they ever were.
Of course, if you want to see improvements, you should get a lot more scientific than that.
How do law firms measure productivity?
Even when you shift your focus away from total hours worked, you will still need methods of measuring the productivity of your firm’s staff.
This requires starting from the ground up, so start with this question — why are you measuring productivity in the first place?
Why measure productivity?
You cannot improve what you fail to measure, so it makes sense to first know your current level of productivity.
There are numerous reasons to seek an increase in your law firm’s productivity. Maybe you suspect that you have a productivity problem already. If you’ve missed deadlines or struggle to keep clients up-to-date on their cases, those are clear signs that you need to work on remote productivity.
This is especially true in a deadline-intensive field such as the law — getting tasks done quickly could be the key to successful outcomes and avoiding malpractice actions.
Of course, you don’t have to have these kinds of problems to justify focusing on better efficiency. High productivity is a key to improving your bottom line.
Beyond simply increasing your revenue, you may also want higher law firm associate profitability, fewer errors, and a high rate of client satisfaction. All of these things are excellent reasons to start measuring and improving your firm’s productivity.
Choosing the right productivity benchmarks
By choosing your law firm productivity metrics, you are defining what productivity means for your firm.
Some legal professionals may benefit from metrics such as a planned-to-done ratio, a measure of the proportion of planned tasks an employee completes within a certain time frame.
You may even seek to track the average amount of time workers spend on a certain task that is common at your firm. Doing this will require some kind of time tracking or logging system. Consider a project management tool with a built-in time tracker if you’re looking for this sort of data.
For a more easily accessible option, you can also rely on the more traditional benchmarks in the legal profession such as billable hours or monthly revenue billed.
To get deeper into productivity for non-billable activities, you could examine metrics such as the number of matters opened or the average work rate for each team member. Look for ways that you can easily see how many tasks were opened and closed in a given time period.
Tech tools to assist in measuring productivity
To successfully run a virtual office, you will need effective digital technology. The good news is that many of these tech tools will help you both measure and maximize your productivity.
Practice management software can perform numerous office functions, such as case management, task tracking, document management, and client billing.
Attorney intake software can speed up and measure the client intake process.
Calendaring and email software can relieve your staff of many administrative tasks, freeing them up for more valuable work.
All of these tech tools will generally provide records of user activity, tasks assigned, and tasks completed. This will give you a window into your staff’s productivity.
For more detailed information on how to find productivity metrics within your legal software, contact representatives from your vendor. They will likely be more than happy to offer free training on those extra features.
Self-care as part of a remote workplace
It is important to remember your virtual team still needs healthy work-life boundaries.
Even when working from home, your staff will still need breaks. Allow your staff to enjoy the benefits that come with remote working, such as the lack of a commute and having favorite pets nearby.
If your employees can maintain a sense of mental health and well-being, this will make virtual work a long-term solution for your firm.
You and your team should make time to step away, too. Burnout is a major cause of productivity loss, and, much more importantly, it can have negative, long-term impacts on your health. By pushing too hard when burnout is already a problem, you can cause major consequences.
We strongly recommend that you prioritize time away from work. If you notice that your team members are logging on at all hours to answer a few emails or catch up on work, try offering space for a tech detox to mitigate the potential negative health impacts of technological overexposure.
Tech detoxes come in a lot of forms. For a complete guide on how to have a tech detox without neglecting your legal work, download this free eBook.
How to do a tech detox without neglecting your legal practice
Top management tips for remote firms
While every virtual firm is unique, certain guidelines will serve you well in successfully managing a remote team.
Emphasize communication and collaboration
Your firm should have the tools in place for effective communication and collaboration among your team members.
Video conferencing with tools such as Zoom has become popular during the pandemic, but online communication channels such as Slack should not be ignored. A video call is disruptive, but a quick message can be ignored until responding won’t be such an interruption.
Most document management platforms will also include document sharing as a feature. This saves hours of searching and emailing to try to find the necessary files to finish a task.
It’s also crucial to set guidelines around communication to protect your team’s time to focus. Have you ever had a 15-minute task take hours to complete because you kept getting interrupted?
Use your legal software to keep everyone up to date, but limit “quick calls” when you can find the information yourself by looking at the case file.
The key here is to strike the right balance between sharing updates to keep everyone on the same page and then storing that information in a way that everyone can find it easily. Efficient remote communication is asynchronous, meaning you don’t have to actually talk to a person in real time to get the information you need.
Set clear expectations and goals
Also important is setting clear expectations and goals for your remote staff.
This includes designating areas of responsibility and performance targets for all staff members. You may even go so far as to draft new office policies, to set guidelines for maintaining cybersecurity and protocols for attending virtual meetings.
Being clear about your expectations cuts down on rework. Everyone can work towards the same goals at the same time, and your firm priorities are clear.
This will also help you be more productive because people don’t need to come to you and ask you what to work on next or how to handle a common task that they don’t do often. It’s a good idea to have these things documented in a public file where all of your firm employees can see them.
Remember the client experience
Clients will expect the same level of service from a virtual firm as from one with a physical office.
Accordingly, you should keep tabs on your client’s needs for case handling. If they need clearer communication or a point person assigned to certain activities, you should know that.
Also ensure that your communications tools used with clients have high levels of security, as that should never be a client concern.
It’s a good idea to set up a weekly check-in with each client to go over the details of their case, ask them for the things you need, and give them a chance to ask questions. This cadence also helps your team set priorities because they know exactly when that case needs an update.
Throughout all of your productivity optimizations, make sure that you never cut a corner that impacts the client experience. Their payments keep you in business, and their referrals can be valuable.
Remote law firm productivity: the big picture
The bottom line? You should not have to fret over your remote team’s effectiveness.
It is important to remember that a virtual firm’s staff can be just as productive as an in-person staff — if not more so — with the right tools and strategies.
Lots of leaders feel like they’re out of touch with their remote team because out of sight is out of mind.
However, the vast majority of employees in all industries take their jobs just as seriously in a remote setting as they did in the office. Sure, there will be some distractions and down time, but those things happened in the office, too, didn’t they?
The most important tip we can give you is to trust that your team is doing their best.
As you work towards a more productive remote law firm, think of the things you can do to help your employees do their jobs more easily. This isn’t about getting more work out of people during their scheduled hours — it’s about taking less important things off of their to-do list so that their working hours are as impactful as possible.