LM Extras Sep 8, 2020

6 Ways that Law Firms Can Keep Remote Employees Engaged

Firms, like other organizations, had to get creative and adapt quickly to remote working situations after COVID-19 hit. Technology has made getting work done remotely more seamless, but one piece is hard for even technology to completely replicate: feeling connected and engaged with your colleagues.

Kylie Ora Lobell

“In distributed workforces, employees risk losing the bond to their team and connection to their projects and customers which, in turn, may make them feel less motivated and can impact their performance,” says Tim Dinehart, Chief Operating Officer at ABC Legal Services. “With these risks at bay, empowering your team with flexibility and opportunities to engage with one another can help avoid long-term dips in motivation and drive. Engagement is also one of the critical drivers of employee satisfaction, so it’s important to place value in it to retain a strong team.”

If you’re looking for ways to increase engagement at your firm, here are six ideas to try out.

1. Stress Your Firm’s Flexibility

According to Dinehart, too many Zoom calls or virtual happy hours can cause more harm than good because you might be pressuring team members and adding more stress on top of current workloads. Instead, he recommends working with employees by being flexible.

“Simply letting your team know that this is an unusual time and offering flexibility will go a long way,” he says.

2. Host Fun Get-Togethers … But Skip the Alcohol

Throwing a cocktail-themed virtual happy hour can seem like an easy solution, but given how prevalent substance abuse is among lawyers (and how stressful these times are), it might be best to avoid alcohol-centric events.

For instance, Christina M. Reger, Esq., Founding Partner of Law Offices of Christina Reger, LLC, suggests hosting a Friday morning coffee or lunch, or coordinating a lunch delivery to all employees from the same chain and then hosting a lunch get-together.

Kevin Lee, JD, MDiv, a Legal Manager/Business Administrator at the City Attorney's Office of San Jose, says you can hold a contest to see who can come up with the best Zoom background, or encourage employees to join virtual food drives to help others in need.

“Many companies are seeking individuals and teams to continue participating in their outreach programs,” he says.

Do a bit of digging. These times are ripe for entrepreneurship and for new and current team-building companies to get creative. ALA’s headquarters staff recently held a virtual campfire event facilitated through TeamBuilding, complete with homemade camping backgrounds, s’mores and ghost stories.

3. Form Smaller Teams

Typically, at law firms, the practice of law involves practice silos and closed office doors, said Darryl Cross, Head of Global Sales Engagement at Intapp. Firm members staying at home may only exacerbate this issue.

Instead, Cross suggests forming small, diverse teams that can serve the needs of clients. “When roles are clear, trust is high and there is a well-defined goal, teams flourish,” he said. “When teams are too large and there is confusion about why each person is there, people disengage. If agile small teams can engage with other small teams to take on challenging work, every member of the firm benefits. Clients will as well.”

4. Resume Normal Activities

When the pandemic first hit, you may have gone into emergency mode and focused on your most pressing issues. By now, however, you should be resuming your everyday activities virtually.

“Having predictability and a minor sense of normal can help keep engagement and morale positive,” Dinehart says.

If you see that engagement is dipping, you could consider conducting an internal survey to get input from your team, Dinehart says. “Crowdsourcing ideas and giving your team a voice during this time will not only make them feel valued and included, [but it can also] result in increased motivation.”

5. Have a Sense of Humor

While many employees and employers are now used to the remote work tools they’re using on a daily basis, there are still the occasional headaches and glitches that can happen along the way.

Dinehart says that staying positive even when there are technical difficulties can not only provide a moment of light and laughter but also help put others at ease as we all navigate these challenging times. “Our shared sense of humanity is the ultimate connector and these moments can help us remember that we’re all in this together.”

6. Support Your Employees

As always, make sure you’re there for your employees. You never know what they’re going through, and now more than ever, employers have to understand that not everyone is handling COVID-19 the same way, says Reger.

“Employers need to be thoughtful, considerate and good listeners,” says Reger. “If you want happy, engaged and loyal employees, make them feel that way.”