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Preparing for a post-COVID-19 working life

Working remotely requires good technology, client communication and self-care, says Michael Bury

Michael Bury

Now that many of us have settled into daily routines of working from home, the obvious question being asked is what happens once the new “normal” begins? For some, this will mean a return to an office environment with either limited or off-site support staff. For others, it will mean working from home for an indefinite period of time. Whatever the new normal looks like, it will not likely be something most of us are accustomed to.

However, there are three things you can do today to prepare for tomorrow.

First, re-evaluate your home office technology. It should come as no surprise that residential internet speeds are often slow, especially when being shared with family members who are stuck at home streaming Netflix. Now is a good time to determine what upgrades your service provider can offer to improve your access speeds, as well as adding Wi-Fi extenders throughout your home to boost signals in dead zones. Cutting out during Zoom meetings or not being able to download large documents quickly from  online storage accounts such as Dropbox or Google Drive because of slow internet access is not only frustrating, it doesn’t look professional.

Also take a look at your home computer, printer and web cam. When was the last time you upgraded these devices? While we are often quick to upgrade our smartphones, our other home technology often gets forgotten. Now, because many of us are spending more time at home on our desktop computers rather than relying on smartphones between courthouses and meetings, it’s important to examine how well your technology is working for you. Retailers are hungry for business right now and there are many  online deals to be had. If you can, take advantage of these and upgrade your home technology as needed.

Alternatively, make some minor upgrades to your computer such as replacing the random-access memory (RAM) and hard-drive storage. These are not expensive upgrades and will allow you to function more efficiently. And, most importantly, back up your files; the last thing you need right now is to lose valuable data because of a hard-drive crash. Ideally, use cloud-based storage so that you can access your work anywhere.

Second, think about how you are communicating with your clients. Clients need to hear from you regularly now more than ever. Creating a generic COVID-related auto-reply email message may have worked for the first few weeks, but clients now want more answers about their cases and what steps can be taken to move them forward. Many are frustrated. So you need a communication plan. This may take the form of regular COVID-19 email updates, for example, with respect to relevant information from the courts. It can also include suggestions for teleconference meetings or scheduled telephone calls. This outreach simply shows clients that you are still in business and taking care of their matters.

Similarly, don’t let your social media posts disappear; now is the time to build and maintain your profile. If you haven’t been that active before, or your LinkedIn profile hasn’t been updated since 2017, now is a good time to start paying attention to your social media accounts. Your clients should see that you are also a thought leader during challenging times.

Third, take care of yourself. I repeat, take care of yourself. Many lawyers have a tendency to forget about self-care as they become preoccupied with their clients’ cases. With closed gyms and social distancing protocols, physical activity may be more of a challenge, but is important nevertheless.

The best way to ensure self-care is to establish a daily routine. While many of us are joking about forgetting what day of the week it is, the reality is that many of our daily anchors, such as travelling to and from our offices, have been removed. Without these anchors it’s easy to become unsettled and let things slip. So take the time to plan your days by creating your own anchors, including start and end times for tasks. Planning your day, whether it’s the night before or early in the morning, creates a mindset that includes set goals and timeframes, instead of drifting off to catch up with the news cycle or Twitter.

And you can better achieve these goals by creating boundaries. Let everyone know when you are “at the office” to minimize disruptions. Share your schedule. This may be a challenge if you have young children, but you need everyone’s cooperation at home to ensure a productive work environment.

Self-care should also include staying in touch with friends and colleagues. Social isolation can take its toll, especially if you live alone. Make sure your schedule includes regular Zoom chats with others, to catch up and exchange useful practice management tips. If you previously belonged to a weekly networking group, for example, take the lead and make it happen virtually. Everyone has pretty much figured out video conferencing by now, so it’s a great opportunity to continue your meetups. Also, remember to take advantage of the webcast CPD programs being offered by law societies and other professional organizations. Many of these programs are free of charge and will help you stay current.

The COVID-10 pandemic has forced us to re-evaluate and assess how we work. And that’s not such a bad thing, both for the short- and long-term.

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