The paradigm for work teams has changed. Co-workers don’t necessarily sit in offices right next to each other. In fact, they might not even be in the same state—many teams work across the country and sometimes, the globe. This distribution of the labor forces has significant benefits but also raises new challenges. Specifically, ensuring productivity by team members working apart from one another requires specific management skills and standardized processes. Here’s how to keep your team productive, not matter where they are:
Task Assignment: Who’s Doing What?
The most wasteful failure point for teams is a lack of clarity about who is supposed to do what. It is imperative for distributed teams to have a centralized place to assign tasks and maintain information about those assignments. This allows everyone to check on responsibilities, including their own. There are a number of ways to do this. Law firms can use their case management platforms such as Rocket Matter. Teams can also use more rudimentary platforms such as Google Keep or Evernote. Most importantly, the centralized location must be updated in real time (which is challenging), and the entire team has to understand its importance. The task descriptions have to be short enough to not be overwhelming in a “quick reference” document but detailed enough so that people don’t have “task creep,” the process by which a task changes as people mis-remember what they were supposed to do or misunderstand their assignment.
Resources: Are The Tools for the Task Available?
One of the most frustrating aspects of being a distributed worker is when workers don’t have access to the right resources such as documents, software, data, images ,or information. A solid cloud-based sharing platform is critical. There are several options, although the most common ones are Dropbox and Google Drive. For law firms, document management can be subsumed into case management systems such as Rocket Matter. However, saving resources in a centralized place is not enough. They also have to be organized and labeled in a consistent and descriptive matter. Intuitive organization is difficult and can only result from thoughtful planning. It is worth it, however. Indeed, it is necessary. Team members should also have a standard file naming system. This can be as simple as, “Date_Project_Title,” or “Date_Matter_Title.” What matters is consistency, above all. This reduces time lost searching for resources to perform the work that has to be done.
Calendaring: When Does It Have to Be Done By?
Not only do people have to know what they need to do, they need to know by when. First, it is always imperative to set deadlines or at least timing goals for work. Second, these deadlines have to be saved somewhere. A calendar is a very basic and effective way to do this. Whether this is a shared Google Calendar, Outlook, or Microsoft 365 doesn’t matter. As long as deadlines are somewhere and team members can find them, this will ensure continued work flow.
Accountability: Is It Done?
Finally, team members have to be held accountable not only to their superiors but also to their peers. This means making sure people meet deadlines and complete tasks. There are several ways to do this. For example, individuals can submit weekly or biweekly reports giving status reports. This allows everyone to see where there is a slow down or where goals are going to be missed. Noticing issues before they become emergencies or outright failures allows smooth management rather than having to get into a “putting out fires” mode. Status updates can also be provided at regular phone meetings or video conferences. The important thing is to keep communication flowing so that managers can keep track of what is happening in situations where they can’t just walk over to a desk or have peripheral awareness of someone’s progress.
The items above are the building blocks to a productive and successful distributed team. They ensure solid work flow and provide entire teams with situational awareness. They are also helpful to reduce frustrations which, in turn, increases employee satisfaction and retention.
Maria-Vittoria “Giugi” Carminati
Carminati is a trial attorney and litigator, women’s advocate, and founder of Carminati Law PLLC, a distributed law firm. Her practice consists of commercial and business litigation, family law, and mediation. She is licensed in NY, TX, DC and CO. Carminati speaks and writes about gender bias, micro-aggressions and advocacy for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Her firm leverages technology to maximize productivity and decrease costs while delivering high-quality legal counseling and representation.