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How to Manage Firm Staff When They Work Remotely

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on August 16, 2016 3:57 PM

You've got your paralegal organizing case files. A contract attorney is drafting some pleadings. Your legal secretary is scheduling your meetings and going through your phone calls.

But, thanks to the miracle of telecommuting, none of them are on site. So how do you know if a remote worker is actually working? How do you manage someone you can't see?

Everybody's Doing It -- and for Good Reason

Remote working arrangements, be they occasional work from home days or jobs that are 100 percent telecommuting, are becoming increasingly common, now that many tasks can be done electronically. In 2015, more than a third of workers telecommuted at least some of the time, according to a Gallup poll.

At least one survey shows that remote workers feel more productive and more valued than those who are bound to the office. For employers, too, there are some obvious benefits: access to talent outside of your geographic area, for example, as well as reduced overhead.

3 Ways to Make Remote Work Work

But there are also drawbacks. Some employees feel isolated, while some managers may struggle to keep tabs on what their workers are doing. Here are some tips to help make working remotely work a bit better for you.

1. Communicate -- When it comes to managing remote workers, communication is key. You should have at least daily communication with anyone you supervise, preferably more.

Of course, the nature of the work being done will determine your level of communication to a certain extent. There are some employees you will simply need to go back and forth with throughout the day. But even employees who are working on long-term, largely independent projects deserve regular contact, to see how they're doing and how things are coming along -- and to prevent feelings of isolation, which remote workers often report.

2. Set Clear Expectations -- Part of having a successful remote working program is setting clear expectations. Do employees need to be accessible via email at all times, or can they hop out to the store for a bit? Are days scheduled out in a shared Outlook calendar, or do people have the autonomy to determine their own priorities? What's the expected turn around for projects? Once you've established clear expectations, it's easier to hold both yourself and employees to them.

3. Train. And Have a Plan B -- Technology makes telecommuting possible, but tech isn't always easy to use. For some situations, like working with a remote contract attorney, access to email and a phone line is often as high-tech as you need to be. But for situations, remote workers might need video chat, teleconferencing tech, electronic scanning capabilities, and more.

Make sure remote workers are trained in how to use all this. And be ready for it to go wrong. Develop a contingency plan for when someone's internet goes out or a fax machine fails, so that you're not stuck without a Plan B when things go wrong at the last minute.

For more remote working suggestions, check out our management tips in FindLaw's Practice Management section.

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