I am sure that the following scenarios ring true with the majority of you - whatever the size of your in-house team:
- Varying workflows - some of your team will be incredibly busy supporting the business as it responds to the current crisis whilst others may have seen their matters grind to an abrupt halt;
- Unpredictable hours - a number of you are working unusual hours (sometimes with limited overlap) in order to fulfil the role of caregiver or teacher alongside the day job; and
- Strained capacity - resource is stretched as you provide cover for those who find themselves too unwell to work.
So how do you ensure that you are able to continue to meet the needs of the business whilst supporting the team to ensure that no one person is overloaded?
We may be physically dispersed but that doesn't mean we can't continue to connect. Virtual team huddles offer a quick and effective way to discuss capacity and work allocation for the day(s) ahead whilst also enabling you to check in with one another. Given the rapid pace of change we find ourselves in, we'd recommend short meetings on a more frequent basis (15 minutes each day / every other day). This should give you enough time to run through urgent priorities for the day whilst being short enough to encourage attendance. It may also provide an element of routine which helps to bring some structure.
Handling requests for support
If the business usually sends instructions to individuals (either via email, over the phone or in person) you may want to direct all requests to a centralised team inbox. Not only will this allow the team to ensure that requests can be picked up throughout the day (rather than when any one individual is available), it will provide greater visibility on the demands of the legal team and allow you to prioritise and allocate work accordingly. The IT Team should be able to help you to establish a central mailbox and grant the right access.
If you are working unusual hours or are unavailable during parts of the working day, think about updating your email footer or setting up an automatic response to advise of the changes to your working pattern to manage others' expectations and avoid undue pressure. No doubt you won't be expecting others to be available / respond if you are burning the midnight oil in order to fit everything in. You know that; but do they? Again, it may be something that you acknowledge in your email footer / auto response to manage the expectation of others.
Call or, failing that, be considerate and concise
We have allowed ourselves to become far too reliant on email. There is so much "noise" throughout the day it becomes difficult to identify what's a priority, what's a "nice to have" and what could have waited for another time. I suspect some of you may feel the same and this will only be heightened as, in addition to the usual traffic, you are seeing an increase of emails from across the business and your friendly external providers who are trying to keep you abreast of the latest legal updates resulting from the crisis.
Before you add to the traffic, think:
- rather than spending time drafting an email, would it be better to just pick up the phone? This may save time, reduce the pressure on people's inboxes and help you to stay connected;
- if you do need to rely on email, are you sending it to the right people? Is there a real need / benefit to them seeing what you have to say? Also, if you require someone to take an action – help them by making this really clear (e.g. put this in the header or highlight any actions within the body of the email); and
- apply the "no scroll" rule. Can you fit what you need to say into a message that fits on a single phone screen? If not, can you provide a summary of that size? If the answer is no, are you really clear on what message you are trying to deliver?
Acceptance and agility
We find ourselves in unprecedented and testing times. Workloads, priorities and resource are all in constant flux. Accept that you cannot control the uncontrollable and adopt a flexible and agile way of working for you and your team. We are told "every day is a school day" and this has never been more true. We all have a real opportunity to develop a many number of skills, including perfecting prioritisation, effective change management and working virtually. These new skills may help to re-define the delivery of legal services for years to come and allow you to become even more integrated with the business you serve.