Working remotely is becoming more and more common. But it wasn’t always that way – especially at law firms. Cindy Laberge, Aspiring Law’s new Practice Manager, has worked in law firms – both remotely and on-site – for over 30 years and has seen first-hand the challenges that lawyers, managers and staff face in trying to help law firms move with the times. Sure, there are risks to working remotely, but there are also some very good reasons for both employees and employers to consider this option: no commuting and reduced overhead are but two. The key is flexibility – not just of body, but of mind.
Living in San Francisco and Wellington, remote working was the only option open for Cindy to work at Aspiring Law in Wanaka. At least for the immediate future. Not shy to try out novel ideas, Aspiring Law Directors Janice Hughes and Mike Toepfer agreed, and together they hammered out a plan to give remote working a “go” on a trial basis. Three months into the experiment, it seems to be working well.
For the first month, it was pretty much full immersion. Cindy worked for two-week stints at a time on-site to get to know the Aspiring Law team and get familiar with its systems and processes.
“Those early days on the ground in Wanaka were key,” says Cindy.
“You really need that time up-front if you are serious about working remotely at a new job.”
Two months in, Cindy was travelling to Wanaka less, and remoting in more. And not just from Wellington, but also from the San Francisco Bay Area, where she is right now until the end of July.
To keep connected to the Aspiring Law team, Cindy has weekly meetings on Skype, and via the Viber phone app. While she agrees that catching every word at a group meeting is not always possible, she picks up more than she misses. “It’s just really great to be able to see everyone, and hear their news – even though I’m over 11,000 kilometres away!”
While being in San Francisco for a couple of months may work well for Cindy, how does that work for Aspiring Law, you might ask? Well it seems there have been benefits for both of them. By connecting with former colleagues in law and tech, Cindy is bringing new ideas and practices home to Wanaka. For example, Cindy just learned through a colleague about www.Internetbar.org, whose vision is to seek ‘Justice for all through leveraging technology and global community collaboration’.
“The world is definitely shrinking – and that’s a good thing. The more diverse and connected we are, the more solutions we can find to today’s problems.”
Other benefits for employers include the fact that it has been studied and proven that remote workers are by-and-large more productive, take fewer sick days, and attrition rates for remote employees decrease by as much as 50 percent when compared to on-site employees.(See Stanford University study/2017 TED talk by Nicholas Bloom: https://www.inc.com/scott-mautz/a-2-year-stanford-study-shows-astonishing-productivity-boost-of-working-from-home.html)
Another benefit for employers is the reduced spend on office space through downsizing, and the reduction in the planet’s carbon footprint thanks to fewer employees driving to work. At one of the law firms where Cindy formerly worked in San Francisco, which is the eighth-worst city for traffic congestion in the US, they have been able to reduce their office space by one entire floor by accommodating remote working options.
Are there any challenges to working remotely? “Sure,” says Cindy. “But it’s how you face those challenges. If you look at them as opportunities to expand your thinking and potential, then challenges really can become prods for personal growth.
“But I will say, getting disconnected from the Internet, which sometimes requires someone on the ground in Wanaka to help me out, has occasionally been a challenge that I have yet to turn into a growth experience! Except that it may be helping to increase my patience!”
In response to a question about what three top tips she would share with anyone contemplating working remotely, Cindy responded: “I like to think of three top ‘qualities’ instead of ‘tips’ to look for both in oneself and in one’s employer/employee to make working remotely a rewarding experience. The first one is trust. One of the easiest ways to build a trusting relationship is to find an open-minded employer/employee willing to try new things. Finding that person, or that ‘gem’ as someone once described them to me, may actually be the hardest part. But once you have found that person with whom you have a synergistic vision of how working remotely can work for both of you, then trust can grow quickly and easily.
“The second one is discipline, and this probably applies more to employees. Being disciplined is also one way to earn trust. If you can do the work that’s required, even when no one is watching, that is key. To help develop discipline and build trust, I keep daily timesheets so that there is no doubt that I am working when I am remoting in. And last, and probably most obvious, and this is a tip, not a quality, I would say having the technology and systems to facilitate working in other locations.
“One of the hardest parts of remote working is learning to strike that perfect balance between being productive and living a healthy, happy life.”
Cindy readily acknowledges that getting the work done without being distracted by other things going on in your life can be tricky. But, don’t all of us have that challenge?
As Cindy says: “At least when I am working remotely, striking that balance is much more up to me, and I like that. Earlier this week, for example, I watched my Mum learn to pilot a plane during the work day – a gift for her 80th birthday. And while I can’t say I was perfectly at peace taking the time during a busy week to do this, I wouldn’t have traded those couple of hours with my Mum for anything. I just think that working remotely enables me to live a richer, more fulfilling life, and still work at a job that I love and learn from every day.”