The Biggest Virtual Office Problem

We've eliminated offices for attorneys in all of our locations. We've got conference room facilities in Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Charlotte. We don't have offices for our attorneys. The only folks with a permanent desk are our receptionists and our document specialist (handling mail, scanning, copying, etc.).

We had everyone moved out of their desks on April 1, so we've been at this for four months now. All is well, and we've settled into the new routine.

Attorneys, paralegals, admins, etc. are working from home, coffee shops, courthouses, opposing counsel's offices, etc. We've used some Regus common areas and looked at some co-working spaces. It's mostly good, except for one issue.

That issue is privacy for phone calls.

The phone call issue is a challenge on a few levels.

First, we've struggled with the VOIP phones. Bottom line: you can't count on a VOIP phone to work very well except under perfect conditions. I'm not saying it doesn't work. It just doesn't ALWAYS work.

Perfect conditions are (1) a handset, (2) an excellent Internet connection with both great speed and quality of service, and (3) a hardwired connection to the network.

Perfect conditions are generally available at the office and sometimes at home. Internet connections vary from provider to provider and neighborhood to neighborhood and vary at different times of the day.

Realistically, many more mobile users are relying on cell phones and using the VOIP system as a PBX for routing calls, voicemail, etc. They use the VOIP system for calls when they're in perfect conditions but otherwise have learned not to count on it.

The second issue is privacy. Not all of our calls need to be made without the possibility of being overheard. But many of the calls are of an extremely personal nature. For instance, we have alienation of affection and an alimony system that considers fault here in North Carolina. We get to talk about sex a lot.

We can't easily explain to opposing counsel the sexual improprieties affecting a case via phone from Starbucks.

I'm saying “Your client is sleeping with” and the Starbucks blender comes on. Now I'm screaming “THE TV ANCHORMAN NEIGHBOR” in order to be heard.

Not okay.

The privacy issue is forcing our attorneys to compartmentalize their days. They're making private calls from home, the car, etc. and using other spaces for other work. Why work in a public place? Some of them really enjoy getting out and want to be around people. Other lawyers are quite content to spend the day at home in pajamas. It really depends on the lawyer.

Each lawyer is working around the phone issue in his or her own way. For some, it's a big deal. For others, it's barely been a glitch. They're finding their way through it. These folks are smart and creative. They're adapting and finding a new path for getting work done.

It's been interesting. I'll let you know as we bump into other issues along this path.

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