So, your people are going to work from home. How will you adapt your working practices and show leadership?
Some thoughts and advice from LawNet CEO, Chris Marston (7 minute read):
The Covid-19 pandemic is revealing how effective our Business Continuity Plans are and opening up a debate about all the little practical, interpersonal things that we never wrote down. I'm going to share some of the things we've learned by testing our own BCP recently.
The disruption to business and to daily life caused by the unprecedented Covid-19 outbreak is testing us all - and way beyond any business or work considerations. The speed with which the virus is sweeping across the planet is terrifying and though at this stage it looks like many people may experience only mild symptoms, we have seen how lethal the virus can be to people in high-risk groups. And many of us have someone close who would fit that description.
We are reliant on the experts for big-picture guidance, but many businesses are already taking decisions about the way they work, resulting in a level of working from home that we've never seen before, and for which few were really prepared. LawNet is a small business, owned by its law firm members and with no profit motive. Our purpose is to create an environment where our member firms can achieve more together than they could alone. Combined, we're a network of more than £350m of turnover, with more than 2,500 lawyers and such we have buying power and influence which not even the largest of our members (typically in the £2m - £25m turnover range) could achieve alone.
Ours is a small team because so much of what we do for members is achieved through great relationships with partners. So, we do understand the advantage that gives us in moving quickly in response to changing circumstances. And the last few days have certainly been fast-moving.
On 3 March the UK had announced 51 cases of Covid-19 infection; the upward trend was there to be seen, as were the patterns emerging from other countries around the world. We thought the time was right to alert everyone to the provisions of our Pandemic Plan, a section in our Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP) which we never thought we’d need to look at with anything other than academic interest. We also drew everyone’s attention to Government advice and updated the link at the foot of our Pandemic Plan to reflect the very latest from the Department of Health & Social Care.
On the positive side:
• Everyone knew where the DRP was stored digitally – in the Cloud in our case. Also, everyone was able to confirm that they had a copy at home – what use would it have been in the office if that had burnt down?
• The Plan had been reviewed recently as part of the management review process built into the ISO 9001 Quality Standard that we submit ourselves to. All LawNet member firms are subject to ISO 9001 assessments through the LawNet Quality Standard.
• We took the opportunity to ask our people to do and the check a few things, as well as reading the Pandemic Plan. This included:
• Asking everyone to get into the habit of taking their laptops home with them
• Making sure everyone had a second charging cable for their laptops, for use at home
• Checking that everyone was familiar with the process for using VPN effectively at home
• Making sure everyone had a suitable, padded laptop bag for transporting the laptop securely
Things we didn’t think of initially:
• Asking our people to confirm that they had everything they need in order to be able to work at home effectively. Things like a mouse, a suitable chair, a printer or a desk that enables working effectively without causing back or neck strain.
Fast forward to 9 March, and the government held a COBRA meeting at which it announced continuation of the Containment phase, but with a steer that a move to ‘Delay’ will likely follow soon. There are now 319 reported cases of Covid-19 infection in the UK. We decided that afternoon that we would spend the next two days working from home so that we could test how it would work in practice. A recorded message on our office main telephone line alerted callers to the fact that we were fully functional, but working from home, and that each of us could be contacted by email or on our mobiles – details on our website.
We decided that we would use Slack for non-sensitive dialogue between team members, to keep our inboxes uncluttered. We’d used this before when snow made it hard to get into the office, so everyone was already familiar with it. However, we were determined also to try out some other ways of keeping in touch and working collaboratively.
On Day One, two of us joined a video call with a longstanding partner of LawNet whose medium of choice was Zoom, and we liked the way we could all see each other with good quality visuals. We were impressed with the ability to share what was on our screens with each other too.
Then we tried something else. I wonder just how many people have found themselves, since upgrading to Office365, finding that Microsoft Teams opens up and invites them to register every time they log in? We certainly had, and tended to close it down and get on with our work. But we seized the opportunity to see what it could do for us while we spent a couple of days working remotely, and what a powerful tool it is!
Discussion groups that can be based around projects that various of us are working on, messaging via text, voice calls and video calls with a quality that was at least as good as Zoom. And we could not only share but pass control of documents between us for editing and amendment.
You’ll form your own views on which apps or combination of them might work best for you, but we found Teams worked very well for us because, of course, we were already paying for it and Zoom would have required another subscription. We couldn’t find a way to get more than four people’s faces on screen at any one time, but we quickly discovered that as soon as someone whose face isn’t displayed says something, they appear and someone else disappears. It can be fun bouncing people ‘off screen’!
It seemed to us that we were clearly able to get through Teams everything that Slack and Zoom offered, so we discontinued using the former and did not pursue the latter.
We’d all used Skype before but felt there must be something better out there. But we hadn’t really done much about it and would not have researched without having had this trial period of home working. Ask the people you know and respect what works for them and try it out.
We came back to the office feeling much more prepared to make the switch to home working for a sustained period. Since then most of us have continued to come into the office, but we made it very clear to everyone that if they prefer to work from home, that’s fine, and that if anyone is anxious about using public transport, or is in regular contact with someone who is at higher risk from Covid-19, then they ought to work from home. We have a couple of team members who are in this situation and we want to do all we can to support them.
We feel we’re now ready to make the switch to remote working immediately when we need to, and we’re confident that we can still serve our members effectively.
In no particular order, here are a few other things we’ve picked up from our experiences.
• Don’t forget to cancel deliveries (milk, fruit or whatever)
• Do the cleaning contractors still need to come in daily?
• Make everyone you deal with aware that you’re working from home.
• Discourage deliveries by courier or Royal Mail. Occasionally someone may need to come to the office (or a nearby Sorting Office) to pick something up
• Most people are not inclined to work any less diligently at home; in fact, some might need reminding ‘to go home from work’. Treat everyone like an adult and you’ll get a great response.
• Normalise the unusual circumstances – you can do this by having a daily catch-up video call where everyone can see and interact with each other. Remember some of us are very happy in our own company, others get their energy from those around them and there’s a whole spectrum in between.
• Make random unscheduled video calls to team members and have a different kind of discussion. Ask them how they’re feeling, whether they need anything, if they have spare capacity to help a colleague.
• Whether they’re working in the office or at home, people need to know that what they do is valued. Make sure you share positive feedback received from customers (members, in our case), suppliers and others.
Of course, we’re still learning, but hopefully some of this might be of use to some readers who started the process a little later.