Covid-19 Trends and Interim Office Management Support

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As law firms position themselves to succeed in the balance of 2021 and beyond, understanding and leveraging current trends in staffing, worker supports, technology, and client expectations will provide an advantageous edge to improving efficiency, productivity and staying competitive. Let’s face it, it’s not going to be “business as usual” for most firms.

Firms with limited resources can become overwhelmed with changes of this nature. Engaging an independent, law firm savvy, interim office manager can be a low risk and highly efficient way of overseeing and incorporating these new trends into your routine operations.  This also enables lawyers and staff to get on with their practice and focus on client needs and expectations.

Staffing

Staffing trends are gravitating towards more focus on:

a) Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) – gaining a better understanding and acceptance of EDI in hiring process emphasizes the important benefits of different gender sensibilities, cultural practices and international experience. Providing training and developing relevant policy will help to address potentially existing unconscious bias.

b) Distributed workforce – recognizing the economic and productivity benefits of the scalability, flexibility and relevant talent levels of a more distributed workforce (temporary, freelance, contract roles, including non-lawyer roles in management).

Worker Supports

Returning to work after the pandemic will look very different to most firms.  Supporting your workforce and clients beyond the COVID-19 pandemic includes finessing a number of new considerations:

a) Work space:  Recent studies such as Canadian workforce of the future survey | PwC Canada have shown that upon return to work, most employees prefer to move to a “hybrid” approach.

This means adopting some form of flexible schedule between working remotely and working in the office.  This trend will shift the traditional “in-office visibility” legal environment to a more remote one where the new focus will be on space efficiency. This might include re-structuring office space to more of a “hoteling” (assigned desk and time), or “free address” (open area plug and play) scenario.

b) Collaborative space: With more people working alone remotely and often in unusual spaces with unfamiliar challenges, it will be important to have designated space in the office where people can meet to discuss work, share ideas, train, gain support, meet with clients and maintain firm culture.

c) Motivation and Mentoring:  Employees that move from the traditional work environment to working remotely more often, or even indefinitely, will face a “new normal” with limited to no daily office interaction with peers or supervisors and reduced overall supervision. This has potential to create a negative shift in employee health, motivation, productivity and ultimately in profitability.

It has become more important for management and supervisors to dedicate consistent scheduled time to support staff by developing new guidelines and measures to keep employees engaged, drive performance, communicate effectively, build trust and appreciation and maintain a healthy team culture.

Employees working remotely will need more opportunity to stay engaged with peers, discuss and monitor workflow, tackle challenges, manage time to meet deadlines, and receive encouragement.

d) Mental Health and Well-being: Working remotely has given employers new visibility into the overall personal lives of their employees who are juggling many new challenges and trying to set boundaries in working hours, communicating, staying motivated and dealing with home office interruptions. The pandemic has exposed an increasing need to develop a platform for employees seeking mental health and well-being support in order to mitigate increased stress, absenteeism and burn-out.

If you do not have an external EAP (Employee Assistance Program), an experienced in-house HR Manager or a consulting Interim Office Manager to provide support in these areas, you could consider posting links or phone numbers to free public health care resources.

Technology

COVID-19 certainly pushed the envelope in technological change for the legal industry from enabling virtual signatures to requiring virtual court filing and document share management. Not to mention virtual discoveries and examinations.

Virtual assistants and employees working remotely were already in play before COVID-19 hit, but are quickly becoming more common as the new normal. Firms that invested in updated technology to offer more efficiency and reduced cost will be in a better position going forward.  If they haven’t already, many law firms are now moving to client-facing and back-office functions in the cloud to accommodate these changes in business practice.

Areas that might require more attention and need additional resources include:

  • Cyber-security, data protection, privacy and training
  • Procurement and asset management for home office and mobile devices
  • Accounting systems for shared costing of supplies, equipment, internet and data
  • Technology support, training and troubleshooting
  • Policy and document management
  • Updating websites with client portals for more efficient exchange of information

Client Expectations

It’s probably safe to say many of our clients are just as stressed as we are trying to manage all these new changes in how we are now doing business.  Firms will need to demonstrate more flexibility in making services more user friendly to overcome technology challenges faced by clients.  They will also need to accommodate their client expectations in the following areas:

  • Invoicing and payment options, including payment plans
  • In-person vs virtual lawyer meetings
  • Signatures, collection of data and document management

Summary

Managing the fluctuating scope and urgency of facilitating these new trends to stay competitive and profitable requires a flexible, hands-on approach from focused resources.  Interim office managers are perfect for this role as skilled strategists, analysts, planners, trainers, mentors and coaches. Un-biased and loyal to your business objectives, they have the flexibility to work by hour or by project to fit your budget and your needs, freeing up time and energy for lawyers to focus on their clients and sustainable long term goals.

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