In this episode, I talk about creating a virtual community for your law firm. Many individuals have made adaptations to go virtual during the pandemic. This fact proposes various positive benefits for law firm owners.
Virtual communities present how we stay connected as people, although we’re not physically working with each other. Many lawyers are interested in the idea of creating virtual law firms. Therefore, it’s essential for law firm owners to learn how to master their work communications in a way that builds a solid collective culture in their businesses, even when it’s virtual or a hybrid of office and virtual.
In this episode we discuss:
- How to master your work communications in a way that builds a strong collective culture.
- 3 Key Strategies to create your Virtual Community at work.
- Encouraging people to engage in light chatter through an app, helping you to start the day in a positive way.
- Helping your employees be successful at home, encouraging them to have their own workspace in a specific location.
- The importance of regular check-in meetings with someone in the management of the business.
- Sustaining a quality business while working virtually.
- How important is it to create engagement with and between your team.
- Encouraging your employees to take time off will reduce stress and make them happier.
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Allison Williams: [00:00:11] Hi everybody, it’s Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor. Law Firm Mentor is a business coaching service for solo and small law firm attorneys. We help you grow your revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money.
Allison Williams: [00:00:25] Hi, everybody. It’s Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor. And on this week’s episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast, we’re going to talk about creating a virtual community. And you might be thinking, what does this have to do with owning a law firm and growing a law firm? Here’s the crazy thing. So, a lot of us had to make adaptations to go virtual during covid and for those of us that made that shift, we saw a lot of positive benefits. So a lot of lawyers are thinking about how to create virtual law firms. And I know there’s a lot of people that are popping up now kind of becoming America’s next top guru on creating a virtual law space and how to actually take yourself virtual. Things like how to get yourself paperless, how to get a mail, a remote address for processing mail, how to get checks scanned and deposited while you’re remote. All of those things. And those are valuable pieces of information. I remember, right when quarantine happened, I assembled kind of a dream team. We had some former members of the podcast. Actually, all of them have been on the podcast now. Elise Buie, Neil Tyra, The Law Entrepreneur, and Jan Roos, who owns a company that helps estate planning attorneys in particular with, with marketing strategy. We started to look at how to assemble the various vestiges of those days, my tongue is a little heavy so, Sorry about that guys.
Allison Williams: [00:01:58] And though I’m not going to edit that out because I want you guys to know I’m a real person that makes like real, real screw-ups, the vestiges of creating a virtual space. We went into those details. Right. But this is not about that, this is actually about something that, that I think is kind of next level. So, like, once you get yourself virtual, if it’s you and you’ve got some VA employees or perhaps you even have a few local employees and you’re doing the brick and mortar thing and you kind of want to use some virtual strategies to maybe be virtual part-time, maybe a hybrid of brick and mortar and virtual, you know, a lot of what you’re going to have to do in order to sustain that mind of business, that mindset of business, and to sustain that quality of business is to create a virtual community. So virtual community is about how we stay connected as people, despite the fact that we’re not physically working with each other. And in some ways, it’s actually easier to have a cohesive community when you are virtual than when you are together, which I want to talk about a little bit. But, I want to give you guys the excitement of actually being able to create the virtual community. So what’s really important from this episode that I want you to take away is learning how to master your work communications in a way that builds a strong collective culture in your law firm, even when it’s virtual or a hybrid of brick and mortar and virtual.
Allison Williams: [00:03:28] All right. Three key strategies we’re going to talk about today. The first one is, that in order to create and sustain the virtual community, you must encourage chatter. Now, that’s very different than when we’re working together in a brick-and-mortar setting. A lot of us want to discourage chatter, right? We don’t want that water cooler filling up. We want people at their desk cranking out the work. But here’s the thing, when people are working from home or working outside the office, they can be working at a WeWork space, they could be working at a library. Doesn’t really matter, if they’re not working in your office, there is often a feeling of isolation and some people are perfectly fine with that. There are a lot of introverts in the world that are actually more comfortable working by themselves and not having that pressure to be social. But, for a lot of people, even the introverts, it is very, it’s a very isolating feeling to be outside of an environment where you naturally engage with people. Right. I think a lot of us experience that when we started looking at quarantine, and all of a sudden I’m not just happening by my friend’s desk or stopping by the front reception desk and seeing the receptionist. Now I’m in my own little incubator and by myself, it’s me, my kids, maybe my house, maybe my spouse.
Allison Williams: [00:04:50] Right. Or maybe you’re working completely all alone. Maybe you’re a single professional. But either way, there’s a sense of I’m in this little work world by myself. And one of the things that is really challenging about that is that there’s a disconnect from kind of the energy of the people. Right. So you create that energy not because you’re all under one roof, but because you’re engaged in common practice. So one of the things that you can do to create that is to actually encourage people to engage in light chatter in your virtual office. So what are you using? Microsoft teams or you’re using Slack. If you’re using some form of a communications portal, one of the things that you can do is be very intentional about requiring people to engage. So, one of the things that I learned early on, and this is not my strategy I’ll give credit to one of my business coaches, Ivy Slater, of Slater Success Coaching. She actually works with us on creating the strategy in the law firm. But one of the things that we did and it worked really, really well was this morning motivation channel. So we have a channel in Slack, we use Slack and you know we require, we take a rotation of everyone in alphabetical order by their first names, takes a turn, and post something that everyone has to respond to engage with in some way.
Allison Williams: [00:06:17] Now, when Ivy first presented this to me, I thought, oh my God, how hokey! Am I really going to be on top of all the things that people have to do, they’ve got to get themselves up. They’ve got to get their kids up and out of school or off to the kitchen table for virtual school. And then they’ve got client matters and they’ve got court all over the state, even though they’re not driving to work. So they’re kind of stuck in the house then, am I really going to impose on them to chat, chat it up about whatever in the morning? I was actually rather offended by the suggestion, but I allowed myself to be coachable and said, well, let me learn a little bit more about it. And what we started to do is we started the rotation and people started chatting with each other and connecting with each other in ways that they never would have had we been in the office. Right. Because even if we had been in the office, someone might throw out a motivational morning message or might have said something in the hallway that a few people commented on. But this is actually a stop and look for it, first thing in the morning communication. And it could be anything from limerick to jokes, to picture requests, to music, to dance, to movies, to guests, to work jokes. Right. And the funny thing is, is that you know when you are when there’s 15, 20, 30 people who are collectively looking for something to engage with that makes them smile, it’s like starting your day off on a positive note and it starts your day off on a positive note that everyone’s engaged with.
Allison Williams: [00:07:56] So everyone saw the picture of your grandchild posted in the Slack channel that morning. Everyone got the stupid joke about how many lawyers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Everyone’s got something and we all got the same thing and we all engaged with it. And so a lot of times you learn things about your team members just by virtue of having that experience and the learning starts to filter over. So what we’ve seen through this exercise is that there’s a snowball effect, that people are stopping and pausing, saying something in the morning and it literally takes like two minutes for you to go into the channel going like, oh, that’s a cool thing. Let me, let me post my comment about it. Sometimes it takes even less. But then what you remember is, Oh, yes. So one of our employees is actually truly virtual. She lives in another state. She lives on a farm. And so we have seen different animals on her farm and we have seen different crops on her farm and all the different ways that we have learned about farming and agriculture in this particular state through this particular employee.
Allison Williams: [00:09:07] It’s really just been interesting and engaging. And so when we recently had our farm photos, we flew in this employee to come and be a part of the firm photo shoot. And everyone was talking about the animals like different people. Remember, we learned about llamas through talking to this employee, right? So like, there’s little things that you don’t really think matter. And they might seem kind of like, why does that why, why take additional time for that? But it really does create cohesion between people. They feel closer to each other, actually, when they are intentional about communicating with each other and communicating about something positive sets the tone so that over the course of time, everyone’s message has gotten increasingly more positive and everyone has gotten more excited about the things that we are learning about each other and sharing with each other through that channel.
Allison Williams: [00:10:00] So strategy number one is to encourage chatter. OK, strategy number two is to help your employees be successful at home. OK, now we have talked about this and I’m sure this is something that a lot of the virtual advisers will, we’ll talk about, but there needs to be a structure for your home work the same way that there was a structure for your out of home work. In other words, the workspace should be a defined location. Now, depending on where you are, depending on the economics of it, everyone might not have a home where they can set up a dedicated office.
Allison Williams: [00:10:39] Right. So it might not be feasible for you to have your own workspace or even to like just have a private corner. But there needs to be a training of the mind that when it’s time to get up and go to work, quote-unquote, the go to work happens, whether we go to work at an office or we go to work at our dining room table or we go to work in the closet, or we go to work in our corner of the bedroom, we go to work, we go to a specific location. We have designated work hours. And the work hours are really important because when you are working from home and there is not necessarily someone looking over you, there could be a tendency for work to seep. Right. So I get up at 6:00 in the morning, I return some emails, then I decide I’m going to lollygag for the morning, have a late breakfast, then I will go to work sitting at my computer, banging out some paperwork. Then I will stop and maybe watch television for a little while just to kind of like, I don’t know, disconnect and recharge. Then I’ll come back and then next thing you know, you have been on and off the clock for a 12 to 15 hour day, even though you got in seven or eight hours worth of work. Right. So you want the structured work hours to be designated work hours.
Allison Williams: [00:11:59] OK, and this is not so much for purposes of tracking people or monitoring success or what have you. I mean, obviously, there are concerns about productivity and you have to have a trustworthy team in order for that type of freedom to be exercised, But aside from that, assuming that you do have that kind of team, you still want there to be structure around the work because you still don’t want people to be overextended mentally and emotionally, which tends to happen when the day seeps into a 12 to 15-hour experience. You also want people to get dressed and get themselves prepared to go to work. So if you have employees that would have not worn makeup before they were working at home, that they would have come to the office with no makeup on. Great. If you wore makeup when you came to the office, you need to wear it at home. And that, by the way, is not about policing the appearance of your employees, this is not about the highly inflammatory conversations that were had at the start of covid. We’re all stressed about covid how dare you to suggest that women need to wear makeup and this is not that. Right. I’m a big proponent of do whatever you need to do to make yourself feel and look your best. That is all about you and your personal choice. But my point is, if you would have done it at the office, you need to do it at home because you need to put structure around the idea of quote going to work and quote, going home from work.
Allison Williams: [00:13:26] So, the other thing is that you really want to encourage your employees to take a vacation. Now, for those of you that have asked the question like what’s the right amount of vacation? How much is the vacation policy, honestly, how liberal or how constructive you want to be with your vacation policies is really not the point of this discussion; What you have to decide, however, is how much productivity do I need from each role in my office in order to meet the numbers that I want to meet for the end of the year, if you can do that, giving people 10 weeks of vacation, Knock yourself out, if you can do that, giving three weeks of vacation, knock yourself out. There’s a lot of judgment that I have seen kind of working its way around the internet regarding how much people work, and should the small business owner be responsible for completely shifting and evolving the way that the American workforce sees work and how we as Americans value overwork more than other countries that are as successful, if not more successful than we are? That philosophical discussion is really not where we’re going right now. OK, so however you feel about that, however much you feel, however you feel about how much people should and should not be working, you as a business owner at all, are ultimately the arbiter of what you choose here.
Allison Williams: [00:14:44] So, if you choose to give a lot of vacation, great, if you choose to give a little vacation, great. But what you shouldn’t do is give an amount of vacation, small or large, and then give the subtle cues that you don’t want people to take it. Vacation is not just a perk that you throw in so you can avoid spending more money, vacation is a necessary component of a civilized work environment, and not only is your employee going to desire that so that they can live their lives, so they can actually enjoy the time when they’re not physically with you at work. They’re also going to require that to be recharged. So, a lot of times we as business owners, we think about the disproportionate amount of stress that we take on as business owner, we have the stress of being a lawyer, the stress of being a manager, the stress of being a supervisor, the stress of being a CEO wrapped into the container of being a law firm owner, regulated by the labor laws and labor and wage and hour laws of our state, regulated by the bar association in our profession. And we’re hyper regulatory and we’re very, very overwhelmed by that for a lot of us and we oftentimes will think that since we have so much stress, the very least that an employee can do, who has a lot less stress relative to our stress is be the best that they can be.
Allison Williams: [00:16:07] Right. And how dare they not be able to perform because they get a nine to five job and they get to turn it off and we don’t and here’s the thing, you don’t get to impute to your employee resentment about the fact that they have chosen something that benefits you. Right? Their work does benefit you. That happens to be different than the choices that you make. Right. Because everyone rises to the level of stress that their life circumstances requires. So if your parents suddenly became ill and you became a full-time caregiver to an ailing parent and then you watch them pass away, that stress, is stress that is particularized to you. The fact that someone else didn’t have that particular stress doesn’t mean that they didn’t have other stress, nor does it mean that the fact that they didn’t have that stress somehow would negate the need for them to take a break from the stress that they did have. Maybe they had the stress of losing a child, maybe they had the stress of being in an unhappy marriage and had that prolonged, distressful, relational situation for an extended period of time. Maybe they just had the stress of being an employee and having in their own minds a great responsibility to perform for you in ways that they don’t feel that they’re capable of.
Allison Williams: [00:17:23] Right. So whatever the stress is of your employee, keep that in mind that the stress is there. Life is inherently stressful, and the way that we are taught to think about life tends to exacerbate that stress. So for that reason, if nothing else, you want your employees to unplug, unwind, take a break, completely off the clock, completely detached from email, completely unavailable to you in your office and then you want them to come back and be a better version of themselves. OK, so vacation should be highly encouraged, particularly so, where your employees are not seeing each other every day. Right. So a lot of what would otherwise be that sharing of stress, kind of that communal sense of we’re all in this together and when you’re having a first moment, I have a light moment, I can pick up some slack or if nothing else, I could be a shoulder for you to cry on. I can be a welcoming ear to listen. A lot of that is lost when you don’t happen upon people in your daily work experience, so vacation is particularly important for your, your virtual employees. All right, third, third strategy for building your virtual community is that you should have regular check-ins. OK, now these regular check-ins are not the chatter that we talked about in strategy number one, the regular check-ins are a meeting with someone in the management of the business.
Allison Williams: [00:18:50] It can be the office manager, can be a paralegal, can be managing attorney, whomever it is, I would probably not advise would be a managing attorney, but, every office is a little bit different, but you want to have check-ins so that people can just relate, right, and the relation here is not about problems in the business. I mean, certainly, if there are problems, you can use this as a problem-solving session and any responsibility or entitlement, your employees would have to be able to report problems generally to management that should definitely still be a part of your work environment. In fact, most states will require to some degree, that you have a level of accountability in management, that there is someone to report to. So that’s not exactly what we’re talking about here. You want to have that, but having that is kind of less of an issue. What we’re really talking about here is having just kind of a stop and pause. Hey, how you doing? Right. And those check-ins can be biweekly, they can be once every two or three weeks, they can be once monthly but you want to have enough consistent stop and converse moments in your business that people feel connected to each other. And these are great opportunities for relation building. So what you’ll find oftentimes is that managers often feel like the only time that they are managing people is when there’s something wrong, right. They’re putting out fires.
Allison Williams: [00:20:18] They’re solving compliance issues, they’re dealing with underperformance, you don’t want your manager to be seen as the police. You want your manager and by the way, your manager in this instance can be you if you’re the sole person in a position of leading and managing in your office, then it is you. But whether it’s you today and it’s someone else tomorrow or simply someone else tomorrow, however you get there, you need to have those check-ins so that the people in your community feel that there is someone that cares about them as humans so that when things are going wrong or when problems arise, you’re learning about those proactively in the course of regular communications rather than you suddenly see someone falling off. You suddenly see non-performance, you’re getting the message that something needs to be done, you’re having to figure it out. All of that time lag in terms of performance is oftentimes delayed and thus problems are exacerbated during that time period because there was not that safe place to come and relay a problem. And that safe place comes from having that connectivity of regular check-ins. So by the way, this does not have to be long this could be a 15 minute once a week or 15 minutes once every two weeks by your team members, depending on the size of your company. 15 minutes every two weeks is negligible in the grand scheme of things.
Allison Williams: [00:21:44] But you want to have that space, that check-in so that people start to associate management, not with discipline, right, not with I’m in trouble, not I’m going to the principal’s office, but I’m moving to the next level, I’m checking in with my team, I’m staying abreast and oftentimes you will find that those sessions become the filter for creativity and ideas to be shared, Right, so don’t make this into a formal agenda sort of thing it really should just be kind of a, you know hey, just want to see how you’re doing, but you want to make it regular and consistent, so it’s not like a pop in, persay that can cause a feeling of discipline or a feeling of being in trouble, you really want it to be a hey, we’re going to have our biweekly check-in to see how you’re doing and sometimes there may be positive things here and sometimes negative, but it’s an opportunity to grow the cohesion of positive communication in your office. All right, this week on the Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast, we have covered and creating your virtual community and I want to welcome you all into our community. So in particular, if you have not joined the Law Firm Mentor Movement, closed Facebook group, join the group so that we can stay connected so that you can learn more about how to crush chaos in your law firm and make more money. I’m Allison Williams, and I’ll see you on the next episode.
Allison Williams: [00:23:25] Thank you for tuning in to the Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. To learn more about today’s guests and take advantage of the resources mentioned, check out our show notes. And if you own a solo or small law firm and are looking for guidance, advice or simply support on your journey to create a law firm that runs without you, join us in the Law Firm Mentor Movement free Facebook group. There you can access our free trainings on improving collections and law firms, meeting billable hours, enjoying the movement of thousands of law firm owners across the country who want to crush chaos in their law firms and make more money. I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor. Have a great day!
Allison C. Williams, Esq., is the Founder and Owner of the Williams Law Group, LLC, with offices in Short Hills and Freehold, New Jersey. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney, and is the first attorney in New Jersey to become Board-Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in the field of Family Law.
Ms. Williams is an accomplished businesswoman. In 2017, the Williams Law Group won the LawFirm500 award, ranking 14th of the fastest-growing law firms in the nation, as Ms. Williams grew the firm by 581% in three years. Ms. Williams won the Silver Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017. In 2018, Ms. Williams was voted as NJBIZ’s Top 50 Women in Business and was designated one of the Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs and Business Owners. In 2019, Ms. Williams won the Seminole 100 Award for founding one of the fastest-growing companies among graduates of Florida State University.
In 2018, Ms. Williams created Law Firm Mentor, a business coaching service for lawyers. She helps solo and small law firm attorneys grow their business revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money. Through multi-day intensive business retreats, group and one-to-one coaching, and strategic planning sessions, Ms. Williams advises lawyers on all aspects of creating, sustaining, and scaling a law firm business – and specifically, she teaches them the core foundational principles of marketing, sales, personnel management, communications, and money management in law firms.
My favorite excerpt from the episode:
00:09:22 (38 Seconds)
Remember, we learned about llamas through talking to this employee, right? So like, there’s little things that you don’t really think matter. And they might seem kind of like, why does that why, why take additional time for that? But it really does create cohesion between people. They feel closer to each other, actually, when they are intentional about communicating with each other, and communicating about something positive sets the tone so that over the course of time, everyone’s message has gotten increasingly more positive and everyone has gotten more excited about the things that we are learning about each other and sharing with each other through that channel.