Future planning: Embracing the virtual workplace

Think about how much has changed since the internet came into being in the mid to late 1990s. In less than 20 years, our working lives have been so transformed that it is now difficult to imagine how employees functioned at all without trusty email and search engines on side.

So it’s little surprise that a 2015 global PwC survey of 10,000 workers and 500 HR employees found most people expecting more of the same to come. The majority of respondents (53%), for instance, believe that technological breakthroughs will transform the way people work over the next five to ten years.

More specifically, ‘The Future of Work: A Journey to 2022’ found that only 14% of UK employees want to work in a traditional office environment and one in five people say they want to work in a ‘virtual’ place where they can log on from any location or use collaborative work spaces.

How far this will impact the legal profession might yet be anyone’s bet – but flexible working in law is on the rise. That doesn’t mean we are facing the imminent demise of the legal office, but there is no doubt that law firms will need to be able to manage the implications of more individuals and teams working remotely.

Equipping employees with secure technology is relatively simple. The challenge will be recruiting the right talent to work effectively either remotely, or from home, while also engaging with them so that they stick around.

Here are our top five tips for effectively managing remote workers:

  1. Embrace a different recruitment tack – selection processes will need to be devised to source a different type of talent suited to remote working. You will need people who show initiative, can work independently and who have the superior communication skills needed to make remote collaboration work. Just picking someone who likes to work alone will not do.
  2. Establish policies and procedures to ensure that remote workers know exactly what is expected from them and when. Clear guidance for remote workers and teams is critical, as well as clarification as to how exactly performance will be monitored and rewarded. Firms will need to avoid going overboard though – teams should feel supported, not weighed down by endless and paranoid-sounding rules from afar.
  3. Think career development. Just because the team is virtual doesn’t mean you can renege on training. Remote/home workers still want to develop their careers and if your HR team can offer good e-learning and in-house opportunities then you’ll be more likely to hold onto your best virtual talent. Think out of the box too. Virtual teams may need different training to office workers – for example, in effective communication skills.
  4. Put communication first. Use technology (Skype or WebEx to name an obvious two) to bring virtual team members together as often as possible. It’s too easy for remote workers to disappear. Considerable effort needs to go into giving each team member a presence. Consider giving virtual teams a place on the company intranet and/or create a professional social networking platform for them to interact on a more informal basis.
  5. Don’t forget the importance of reward and recognition. Out of sight should not be out of mind. Devise a process to regularly communicate progress on projects and then ensure individual team members get regular feedback and ‘public’ recognition of a job well done.

Engaging in all of the above may seem challenging when combined with all of the on-going demands of people management in-house. But as the workplace becomes more virtual, it will inevitably become an increasingly important part of effective law firm management.

Agile, Remote working

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