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How do you start working from home?
At one level, it’s easy. You stop going to the office and you work from home. That’s it. What’s left to say?
Unfortunately, for many of us who previously set an expectation about being in the office, it’s more complicated. We’ve been going into the office for years, and making a change is challenging.
Change is difficult, and having you stop coming in is a scary change for your team. I know firsthand. My people got nervous when I stopped showing up.
“Is he quitting?” “Are we shutting down?” “Is he retiring?” “Are we going out of business?”
Their really big question is “Am I going to lose my job?”
They worried that they’d run out of money, lose their homes, and be unable to feed their children. They felt fear. Yes, they felt fear. It’s odd for a group of incredibly talented, capable professionals to panic like they’re going to starve to death or drown, but that’s exactly the reaction some folks experienced. Sheer panic.
Panic doesn’t have to be rational. It’s emotional, and it’s to be expected if you poorly manage the change from showing up at the office to working from home. I’m not sure what it looks like if you manage it well. I just know what it looked like when I managed the change. It’s from having messed it up that I advise you today.
Working from home triggers more than just emotional responses. You’ll also create some logistical issues. What about the technology? What about managing people at a distance? What about personal connection to clients? You’ll need to address each issue. You’re going to spend some time navigating each piece of the puzzle. You’ll get there.
Here’s how to get started with working remotely.
What’s wrong with the office? Why don’t you want to be there? Can something be changed to make it better? Can you fix it so you’ll be happy, productive, and profitable in the space you’re using? For me, it was a matter of believing that we had no need for the space. My practice didn’t require a collaborative workspace, and we had better, less expensive, more efficient, and greener options. Your situation may be different. Maybe leaving the office and working elsewhere is avoidance behavior that can be resolved by addressing the underlying issue.
2. Explain it.
You’re going to have to address your team’s fear by explaining the change. Everyone is watching you. Explain your actions. Don’t think you can sneak it past your team members. They know what you’re doing before you do it. You need to be up front about what you’re thinking, planning, and doing. You need a plan, and you need the words to explain it.
3. Explain it again.
Don’t assume that you can talk things through and be finished. It doesn’t work like that—ever. Explain, explain, and explain, and do it over considerable time, allowing people to absorb your message. You’ve got to warn them, warn them again, do it a little, explain it some more, and then explain it even more. As I’ve said before, you need to give your people a year or two to fully absorb a change—sorry.
4. Get the data right.
While you’re doing all that change management stuff and talking to everyone (repeatedly), you can get the technology working. Working remotely works best if you go paperless (like we did 20 years ago—what are you waiting for?). A practice management system is helpful. A document management system is a great place to keep the paper, and you’ll need to be comfortable with your e-mail/calendar/task system. Hosted applications, rather than virtual desktop solutions, work best for us.
5. Get the voice right.
You need to able to talk to people. Make sure that your phone numbers all ring where they need to ring and that you can make a call that can be heard and understood. Communication is the key to being productive, regardless of whether you’re in or out of the office. You’ll need to look at soft phones, mobile phones, etc. and be sure you can talk to the people with whom you need to speak.
6. Get the people right.
Early in our remote working, we had a receptionist answer the phone. “Is attorney Smith around?” “Nope,” she responded. “He’s not in,” she continued. Yep, she was right. He wasn’t in, but he was working, and she had trouble comprehending that people could be working if they weren’t “in.” Training, training, and more training is required when you change the system.
7. Retrain the clients.
Do your clients pop over for a visit? If you’ve trained them to stop by without an appointment, you’re going to need to do some retraining and some expectation management. Most of us are used to unexpected calls, but not random visits. But that’s not true for all of us. Each practice is different, and the last thing you want is to create client upset due to your “unavailability.”
8. Go for a day.
Start with being away for a day a week. Move slowly, and you’ll iron out the technology and the people issues. It takes some trial and error to figure out what people do and don’t understand. It’s also helpful for you to figure out how to be productive without your usual environment.
9. Increase your time away.
Slowly step it up and stay away more. Remember, however, that the more you’re away, the more proactive you’ll have to be about communicating with your team. You’ll observe a variety of changes as you spend more and more time away from the office. Keep paying attention, and you’ll realize you’re only beginning to make the required adjustments. Don’t lose sight of your change management responsibilities.
Working remotely is not the promised land as much as I’d like it to be. It’s not the solution to all problems. It doesn’t take a struggling business and make it strong. It doesn’t take a crappy lawyer and m32ake her effective. It doesn’t make unhappy people happy. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not something to aspire to unless you have a good reason for your interest.
Working remotely is a hassle. Working in the office is a hassle. Everything is a hassle in one way or another. That’s why they have to pay us to do this stuff. Be careful not to get caught up in the hype of working remotely. Do what works for you and your business. Consider your options and give yourself choices. Then do what helps you achieve your business objectives.