Working From Home—Best Practices and Suggestions

By Michael Ertel posted 03-11-2020 13:50


In January, the ILTA Practice Management Programming Committee met to propose and select content for 2020.  One of the topics identified was best practices for a future where more and more people work remotely.  At that time, we were not considering this topic in light of societal health issues like COVID-19.  Times have changed.  Now, for reasons related to COVID-19, many law firms are permitting, suggesting, or even requiring people to work from home.   Many of these firms have work from home technology and processes that are already battle tested and working smoothly.  Others may be struggling to play catch-up.   

Last week, ILTA hosted a roundtable titled “Ripped from the Headlines – Security in the COVID-19 World.” This roundtable offered a more in-depth discussion related to firm policies and contingency preparedness in light of COVID-19.  This blog post is different.  It is not specifically responsive to COVID-19, though it is certainly topical in light of the current health crisis.  Instead, it is directed to those of you who may be working from home for the first time (or more than usual) because of the current societal health environment. 

I reached out to colleagues at many law firms and asked them to send me their suggestions and tips to help you work more effectively from home.  I am sharing these below with the hope they may help you navigate a new work-from-home situation:    

Understand Your Firm’s Work-from-Home Policy: Many firms have a formal work-from-home policy.  You should know and understand your firm’s policy, including whether, and under what circumstances, you may work from home.  In addition to complying with the formal policy, speak with your supervisor and peers to understand informal expectations, including how often you should work from home to avoid any negative sentiment.  Be flexible and understand that some circumstances may arise that require an in-person presence.  Consider also whether minimum Internet speeds are required for remote access tools. 

Computer Hardware: Many of my colleagues told me that working remotely was smoother and less “clunky” with firm-issued laptops rather than personal computers.  Either way, not all firms provide all employees with firm-issued computers for remote working.  Attorneys are usually given firm-issued laptops, but some firms do not provide paralegals, assistants, and other support staff firm-issued laptops or remote access—if you fall in this category and may need to work from home, you should discuss with your supervisor.

Remote Access Troubleshooting: Most firms have sufficient IT customer service capacity.  One good suggestion from the roundtable was to have remote access troubleshooting help sheets available on the firm website and not just on internal portals.   Anyone who will be working remotely should be aware of these help sheets and either have copies at their home desk or save links to them on home browsers.

Face-to-Face Communications: When working remotely, you will have fewer in-person communications and meetings.  Communicating by email and on the phone is useful, but we all know that face-to-face communication is generally more effective.  Accordingly, in many instances, video capabilities increase effective communication.  Video solutions may include hardware such as home video phones that are cloned to work phones, software that allows you to answer video and non-video work calls on your mobile phone, and of course, webcams—either integrated or external—with videoconferencing software.  

Appropriate Home Workspace: Working remotely has many benefits for you and your firm alike, but only if you are efficient and can work well at home without distraction.  To the extent possible, you should set up a clean and quiet workspace with minimal distractions and sufficient lighting for video calls.  If appropriate, a printer, scanner, and external monitor(s) may be useful—though these are not generally provided by firms.  

Home Rules: When working from home, it is important to establish ground rules for family members and roommates.  When you are working, everyone should respect your space and your need for a professional environment.  Whether that means reducing noise during a call or refraining from asking for favors during work hours—the fewer distractions, the more effective you will be.  It is also important for you to maintain your own internal formality when working from home so you do not fall through a rabbit hole of time loss.  For example, set a specific time period for lunch and stick to it, or limit coffee, tea, and other breaks to specific time limits.

Semper Paratus: Always be prepared.  If you do not work from home on a normal basis, you should always be prepared to work from home.  This includes doing a test run from home, checking your login, your two-factor authentication, and whatever else you need to access remotely.  In response to COVID-19, a few firms have even suggested that employees should bring laptops home on a daily basis in case the office is forced to shut down or people are otherwise impeded from coming to work.  You should also consider bringing home any papers and notebooks you may need to work remotely.

There are books and conferences on working from home, and this blog post only scratches the surface, but I hope this high-level offering serves its intention of offering quick tips and tricks to get you started on a path to a better work from home experience.