Better technology means more flexible working
Like all businesses, law firms are now obliged to consider requests for flexible working from all employees. The question of work-life balance is a sensitive one given the typically long hours and highly pressurised environment – and the technology is there to allow lawyers and business services alike to work effectively from home.
But the future isn’t just one of contractual flexible working arrangements to fit around lifestyle. Law firms are also embracing agile working practices much more. A client relationship partner suddenly needs to drop everything for a meeting in Moscow – and to work on a particular problem in-depth on the way. Or the marketing chief has a day packed with meetings, so will work far more effectively from a few coffee shops during those critical gaps in her schedule. Busy, talented people expect the tools to work wherever, and however, works best – for the business as well as themselves.
And as business grows internationally through more complex alliances, offshoring and service supply chains, that talent isn’t just travelling more. These people are logging into conference calls or collaborative work tools from multiple offices and time zones at once.
For client-facing work, in particular – but also in the interests of efficient ad-hoc agility – this increasingly global workforce needs a communications infrastructure for coming together with ease.
Same rules applied
One important step is to build remote gateways, among other routes, to replicate the IT setup wherever staff might potentially be located – in satellite offices, hotels, at home, or even if disaster-recovery access is needed. If dialling in or logging on has the same look and feel there’s a higher chance service levels will be consistent regardless of what’s happening outside the window.
Direct dial details and messaging systems (essentially communication profiles) can follow people around the world − on desktop, laptop or mobile. For example, an app can be installed on smartphones so that the dialling experience is exactly the same, including the option of recording calls if necessary. All communications can also be managed in the cloud – saving time, and possibly data itself, if services go down owing to bad weather or worse.
Aside from its potential to inflict reputational damage, any communications downtime is particularly problematic for law firms, because they log time spent on phone calls, alongside other work, to generate bills. They also need to capture and record that time with complete accuracy to avoid complications, or worse disputes, when it’s time for invoicing. The best way to ensure that occurs is to record time automatically on completion of any activity for a client – a unified communications capability can improve the efficiency of this process too. A timesensitive application can be installed that helps the fee earner to log the time spent wherever they are – and immediately produce an invoice for faster recovery.
Another piece of the collaborative working kit increasingly in demand is videoconferencing. It enables employees around the world to have a meeting experience, sharing knowledge and setting objectives, much as they would back in the boardroom at home. The nuances of building relationships in international business, in particular, can often be negotiated better with the presence of friendly faces and evident body language – and with highly dispersed teams working on projects, non-virtual face time may be all but impossible to come by.
But another emerging video trend is for project conferencing to move beyond the four walls of the fixed meeting room. Although early days, technology is available to support face-to-face communication straight through the desktop – and law firms are likely to be big adopters. They won’t need to go through the process of booking a room and checking it’s still available for a meeting − and can also share other desktop information or documents as they speak.
Law firms can build detailed road maps to assess if a new investment such as this will make a tangible business difference, whether to internal efficiency, client service, or even the employee experience. And make no mistake – the last is important. Technology that helps people to work in ways they feel most comfortable and capable will play a big part in winning the war for the millennial talent pool.
That could mean having voice, chat and video all available for collaborative working from any hot desk in the global network – or supporting your mobile employees to make more efficient use of their time wherever they happen to be.
It reliably underpins the unpredictability of working life today – and the agility needed to succeed at it.