Making the Most of Work - Without Leaving Your Home
Despite the trends in remote work over the past few years, most attorneys feel more comfortable at the office. Many law firms, whether large or small, rely on extensive paper documentation and files stored the old-fashioned way. Strict privacy standards to protect clients mean that some firms would rather not rely on new technology like the cloud for document transfers or to back up hard copies. On the one hand, it’s impossible to hack a cardboard box of paper files from afar. On the other hand, if attorneys and staff are unexpectedly required to work from home, they’ll have a hard time accessing the files they need. Luckily there are several ways to continue upholding privacy standards and protect attorney-client privilege, while also being productive in a home office setting.
The key to working productively from home is to treat it like you’re at the office. If you have a spare room in your home that can be used as a dedicated home office space, take advantage and set up an actual desk. Invest in a full-size computer monitor so that you can view documents on a large screen the same way you would in the regular office, rather than relying solely on your work laptop or tablet. If you’re accustomed to a double monitor setup in the office and you can afford to replicate it at home, that’s even better.
If you don’t have a spare room, it’s okay to set up shop at a desk in your bedroom or even at the kitchen table. Just try to minimize distractions the way you would if you were in your office. If you can shut the door to whatever space you’re using, do so. If you can’t shut the door because you’re at your kitchen island, try wearing earbuds to dull noise elsewhere in your home. Set aside specific time blocks when you are planning to be “at work” and ask your spouse, children, or roommates not to disturb you during this time, to mimic the environment of your office as much as possible.
If you’re working from home right now due to Coronavirus concerns and you have children, they’re probably home from school. If they’re old enough to have e-learning time set up by their teachers, you can set everyone up at the kitchen table together to work simultaneously. This way, your children are quietly occupied at the same time you’re working. If you have very young children, or you need to assist them with assigned schoolwork, it may be better to block off alternative times for your own work. For example, you could wake up early and work from 6 a.m. until 9 a.m., do school with your children from 9 a.m. until noon, and then resume working from noon until 3 p.m. while they nap, have quiet time, or enjoy free play in the backyard. Using the hours after they go to sleep at night is another solution. The key is being flexible. Just be sure to advise your co-workers and clients of hours when you will be available for immediate connection, and when it might take you some extra time to return calls or emails.
Even when you’ve structured an appropriate work environment, it will feel different being home. You may not have access to your paper files, and if you’re used to having a paralegal or legal secretary to assist you, working with them remotely won’t be the same. This is where adopting some new technology comes into play. Your law firm may use a program like Citrix Receiver to allow attorneys to log in remotely. You may wish to increase the available bandwidth to allow more logins at one time than is typical. It’s important to ensure that work stays on your work computer and your work e-mail accounts and that you do not revert to using personal e-mail for work purposes, but if you’re able to install Citrix or a similar program on a home desktop computer and re-dedicate it for work, this could be a good option.
In addition, now is a good time to consider using cloud technology for more seamless retrieval of and working through documents. Many cloud programs allow for two-step identification and authorization, which will ensure the security you need for confidential and privileged documents. There are even some specifically created for use by law firms, including Litify and AirDesk Legal. You won’t have to worry about reams of paper than cannot possibly be transported to and from your home. For times when you do need hard copies of certain documents to mark up by hand, invest in a home office printer that also has fax capability so you can fax documents back and forth to your assistant at their home if necessary. But keep in mind that others may not have a similar setup and sending documents through the cloud may be your best bet.
While these are trying times, they may also provide a way forward for more attorneys and other legal professionals to increase their use of technology and become more comfortable working from home. Stay safe while doing so and make the most of your time.