In last month’s Michigan Bar Journal, I wrote about the “Great Resignation” and its impact on law firms. Communication — whether working remotely or in the office — is a key tool to keeping and retaining employees. In this series finale, I’ll share tips and tools to ensure your communication is designed to keep your team engaged and informed.
When the State Bar of Michigan Practice Management Resource Center launched in 2006, one of its web resources was a guide on how to conduct a meeting. Of the approximately 125 resources available when the website debuted, this was consistently one of the top 10 downloads. It’s somewhat of a surprise, but it shows that members were aware that they needed guidance when conducting meetings and was an issue that never disappeared.
The takeaway: With the COVID-19 pandemic dragging on, meetings abound. Make your meetings productive and keep your employees engaged with the article “Five Ways to Make Meetings Matter” from the popular Attorney at Work blog.1
Most people don’t like to be put on the spot, particularly in a room full of their peers — or on a Zoom gathering. Sometimes, the element of surprise is appropriate. A business meeting isn’t the time or place.
The takeaway: Create an agenda and make sure attendees have it well in advance of the meeting. This allows your colleagues to prepare for the meeting and come into the room (physical or virtual) knowing its purpose. To learn about the 16 types of business meetings and access templates and charts, visit Lucid, a meeting innovation company.2
ZOOM: BEWARE, NO TABLES
I first encountered Zoom at ABA TECHSHOW many years ago. The company’s exhibit featuring a huge screen with little boxes impressed me even then. Little did I know it would evolve into an operation that we all wish we had bought stock in. Even though it has other respectable competitors, the onset of the pandemic has cemented Zoom’s spot as the leader in virtual collaborations and meetings.
Prior to COVID-19, in-person meetings had boundaries (such as conference tables) separating us from other attendees. Not anymore. Today’s Zoom world forces us to be front and center with tightly cropped headshots and, at times, less than optimal lighting and webcams. There’s no hiding, and we can feel exposed in ways that should not affect a meeting’s goals.
The takeaway: Make sure your team members are well trained in your collaboration applications and have the proper technology to utilize its functionality and put their best face forward, both internally and with clients. A detailed Zoom resource guide is available on the Practice Management Resource Center website, and additional resources can be found on the PMRC collaboration page.3
It’s rare to hear someone say they prefer email over in-person communication, at least on a regular basis. With COVID-19 forcing many to continue remote work, email suddenly became the main mode of communication.
Email can be inefficient. What typically can be accomplished in a brief face-to-face meeting often results in lengthy email threads that can be unproductive. Also, are you often left scratching your head after reading an email? If so, you’re not alone. Without eye-to-eye contact and the benefit of hearing the tone of one’s voice, email recipients are often left to interpret email content, meaning, and intent.
The takeaway: Bone up on email etiquette and train everyone in your firm on best practices. A good place to start is with “16 Workplace Email Etiquette Rules for Communicating with Co-workers and Customers” from the customer communication platform Front Page blog.4
It’s no secret that lawyers don’t routinely take advantage of software training. While vetting the best software for their firms is a detailed process, training is routinely overlooked, and implementation falls on support staff — who were not involved in the software selection process to begin with and have no idea as to its intended usage or functionality — being told to “learn how to use this.”
In my experience, most law firms use only about 35% of their software capability. This typically leads firms to search for additional software to complete tasks their existing software can probably already handle. The result? Unneeded expenses, increased inefficiency, and greater user frustration.
The takeaway: Most software vendors offer training; many have certified consultants for onsite training. Even better, many vendor-based options are free. Take the time to explore your options. If you need help finding training, contact the Practice Management Resource Center at (800) 341-9715 to speak with an advisor.
TELL ME WHAT’S HAPPENING
When employees work remotely or in a hybrid work environment, communication can suffer. While often not intentional, unless there is a detailed method for sharing information, the disconnect only grows with time. Workers can feel left out, isolated, and invalidated, resulting in low morale.
The takeaway: Clearly define communication goals and policies throughout the firm; the best practice is developing a policy on working remotely. Legal software company Clio has a guide to help you through this process.5
GENERATIONALLY BASED DESIRES
Is the “Great Resignation” due to different factors based on your generation? I think so, and I’m not alone.
Well before the onset of COVID-19, millennials and Gen Z congregated socially online. It was (and remains) the preferred mode of contact, with texting favored over phone calls and online game nights the norm. Now that these generations have a taste of remote work, they don’t want to give it up; having more control over the working environment has opened a whole new world for many.
The takeaway: Understanding what drives people to leave the workforce is a key to retaining them. Forbes provides good insight into this phenomenon with articles on why Gen Z is leaving the workforce6 and how to retain millennials.7
MORE FEEDBACK...AND FASTER
There are as many articles about performance evaluations as there are opinions on them. I contend they can be a wonderful vehicle for sharing insights about goals and other information. If done poorly, however, employees can view them as punitive and critical.
The takeaway: Management should be trained in performance evaluation to ensure the process is uniform for all employees. Goals should be evaluated at least quarterly, if not more frequently. Feedback should be swift, meaningful, and not punitive and a two-way exchange in which workers can engage in open discussions without fear of retaliation. Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of commending employees on a job well done.
Navigating the “Great Resignation” can feel daunting, but open communications, an eye on employee well-being, and willingness to craft a flexible work environment can help law firms retain their best and their brightest assets.