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“Social Distancing”: Building a Productive Team Remotely

“I absolutely love working from home,” one of my team members told me, now that we’re working remotely to limit the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus “I now have 3 extra hours each day that I was spending commuting before. I can finally get enough sleep and go to the gym and be more productive.”

“Not commuting is nice, I guess,” says another employee unenthusiastically. Visibly disappointed, he explained, “I miss interacting with my co-workers. That really kept me focused. Plus, I just miss whiteboarding with my colleagues. I find that I think much better with a sharpie, whiteboard, and knowledgeable colleague. In fact, I worked in the office yesterday because I work better at my desk where everything is set up.”

So, on balance, is working from home in this COVID-19 world a positive experience or a negative one? Without being too much of a lawyer, which I proudly am, it looks like the answer to this question, at least on my team, is “it depends.”

Here are the three actions that can help make it a much more positive and productive experience as your team works remotely.

Foster Simultaneous Collaboration with Modern Technology Tools

Simultaneous collaboration brings the right people together at one time to get more work done faster and smarter. For example, videoconferencing, eDiscovery and contract management platforms unify work efforts across locations, departments, internal and external legal teams, and third parties.

In contrast, during sequential work, we may work on the same project or document, but our activities occur in individual steps, often over time (e.g., You draft a contract. You email it to counsel. They redline their edits and email it back. You respond to their edits. Hours or days pass between each step.). Sound familiar?

To this end, consider leveraging cloud-based tools and platforms that allow you to share resources and documents and work with others in real-time. Increase understanding with tools that record the decision-making process in one, easily accessible location. Among many other benefits, simultaneous collaboration tears down information silos. Bringing together knowledge and data from multiple disciplines and sources encourages a global perspective of challenges and a more holistic awareness of their solutions.

Check-In Regularly and Encourage Real-World Relationships

Checking in with your team members more regularly and in a variety of settings and circumstances is helpful. Some people thrive in large group interactions. Others seek smaller and more intimate gatherings. Consider mixing it up to make sure you have something for everyone.

Also, consider getting on call or video with your co-workers and people outside of your job for a virtual coffee, lunch, breakfast, or dinner just to catch up or discuss items not related to work.

Not all interactions must be work-related. Many people connect around commonalities and interests that have nothing to do with their jobs. Discussing kids, pets, and hobbies have long been a classic way to make friends and build relationships in and outside the office.

Respect the Right to Disconnect

Our 24/7 access to technology and each other is a double-edged sword. The legal industry is slowly learning to appreciate a healthier work/life balance, but I, along with many others, want us to embrace the concept much more quickly.

Consider giving employees the ability to disconnect and respecting their need to do so.  With the easy ability to reach anyone anywhere, at any time, also comes the great responsibility not to. If you can’t trust that your team will contribute at the appropriate times, it’s probably time to evaluate its structure.

It’s a scary time that we’re living in, trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But there are lessons to be learned, to improve our lives during this crisis but also well beyond. The circumstances that we are being forced to live under are making us reconsider and re-examine the ways we have worked, lived, and socialized in so-called normal times.

Why not take this opportunity to grow?

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