by Patricia Taylor, Anna Hills and Euan Forbes
5 January 2021 – the day that marked the end of the festivities for another year, the day on which most law firms returned to work, and simultaneously, following the Scottish Government's announcement, the day that we re-entered Lockdown. Before March of 2020, some may have struggled to decipher what 'WFH' stood for, when, almost a year later, working from home remains the reality for most.
We do appreciate that the experiences of our members are unique, and that one case of WFH will differ from the next. We have prepared a list of general tips for making the most of your time WFH, but would welcome any feedback that our readers might have. Thank you to those who submitted some WFH tips via our Instagram poll – we have also included your examples throughout this blog.
Commentators note that an increasing number of lawyers feel as though they are living from work, rather than working from home. In order to avoid this notion, we would recommend the following:
The importance of clear channels of communication should never be understated, particularly so, when WFH. Ensure that regular meetings with your supervisor or line-manager are taking place, and that they are aware of your current workload. Your team should be updated on what exposure you have gained to certain tasks, whether you have capacity to take on more, or whether work should be delegated elsewhere. Don’t be afraid to say no if you are getting overloaded, it's not a sign of weakness and unfortunately working from home does mean that senior staff often have less visibility as to what each is giving to you. Not only is this essential for your development, but aids in avoiding burnout.
Our newfound need to WFH has seen a necessary conflation of our work-related duties with our other commitments e.g. childcare. As such, you might have certain times of the day when you are less readily available. You may consider advising your team of this, and of when is best, or more suitable, to reach you.
"The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said" – Peter Drucker. Firms and organisations are now operating via a plethora of different platforms, none of which allows us to read body language, as we usually would. It is important to appreciate that colleagues are likely to be harnessing different tech, and tech related capabilities, which may also create communication-barriers.
As such, it may be necessary to 'over-communicate'. This may take the form of seeking more clarification than we usually would or double-checking that our colleagues fully understand their instructions. Should we take that extra bit of time to ensure full understanding, we encourage others not to suffer (confused or unsure) in silence, and ensure that we do not have to do so either. We also recommend daily or regular catch ups with the team, not only to communicate workloads and plans for the day, but also to build on relationships despite no longer being in the office.
4. Building Relationships
WFH may impede upon our ability to foster relationships with colleagues that work outside of our immediate teams. Developing such connections is important at any stage in one's career; however, for trainees, juniors, and those who have recently joined an organisation, it can be pivotal.
In addition to ensuring visibility across your own department, consider how you can cultivate your presence within your wider 'office' and firm/organisation. For example, does your office have a CSR committee? A sports and social committee? Conversely, does it not have a committee or group that you think it should have? Engagement with such groups not only heightens our ability to make connections, but at a time where we might feel isolated from one another, sharing a common goal or interest with colleagues also promotes a sense of togetherness.
We are all slightly tired of the ol' Zoom quizzes by now (granted), however, we should not underestimate the importance of catching up with our colleagues and peers. Consider organising a work-social for your team or professional friendship group. Events companies have reacted impressively to the pandemic, and can offer a suite of interactive activities for groups to participate in from home. Speaking from experience, and to put it colloquially, the opportunity to have a laugh and offload with colleagues can only do you good. After all, a problem shared is a problem halved. SYLA's regional 'Connecting Trainees' sessions may also provide some inspiration – details of which can be found here.
5. Bridging the Gap
Despite the change to our normal working conditions, we can still look for ways to bridge the gap in our experiences. We can often find motivation by engaging (or re-engaging) with topics that interest us. There is an abundance of workshops, seminars and events, now available online. Keep up to date with the subjects that interest you, and if it would be of benefit to your team, consider circulating your notes. Not only does this show that you are taking responsibility for your own learning, but reminds colleagues that you are astute in this particular area, for when a relevant instruction comes through the door.
The ability to 'learn through osmosis', or learn by observing, is often lost when WFH. Gone (for now) are the days when you would be rushed into a meeting room, with no idea why you were there, only to leave knowing the complexities of your team's most recent transaction. In order to replicate this experience, we have to take ownership of bridging the gap. Why not start by checking your team's work-diaries for opportunities? Is there a client negotiation coming up that you would like to join? Tell the relevant fee earner. Is your colleague appearing in virtual court soon? Ask to attend in order to take a file note. Or perhaps you would like to gain some advocacy experience yourself? If your team does not have upcoming appearances, seek permission to circulate an email round the firm, noting that you are keen to get on your feet.
This is a time like no other, and has affected each and every one of us differently, yet simultaneously. At no other time in our lives have we been legally obligated to stay home; isolated from family, friends and colleagues. Therefore, our final piece of advice in bridging the gap and making the most of working from home is to maintain dialogue with others and reach out to your contacts, professional or otherwise, if need be.
We hope these tips are of value to our readers. Finally, we reiterate that the SYLA's door is always open.