As technology continues to advance, more law firms and corporate legal departments are allowing employees to work remotely. The pros of this arrangement are numerous. Whether it’s once a week or full-time, virtual workers are able to save valuable time telecommuting and spend less money on transportation and dry cleaning. Lawyers who can work remotely don’t have to sacrifice their legal careers for better work-life balance.
Yet there also can be cons to a remote work arrangement. Telecommuters may miss out on the action at the office or opportunities to develop deeper work relationships, and may, rightly or wrongly, get passed up for promotions and salary increases. There can also be resentment from colleagues who do not qualify for this perk.
So how do remote workers stay in the game and make sure their legal careers don’t stagnate when they’re not physically present in the office? And how can they demonstrate their work ethic to their boss and coworkers? These are very real concerns, but it doesn’t have to be one way or the other. Here are four tips to help ensure that you don’t trade career advancement opportunities for flexibility when telecommuting.
- Have regular hours. Even though you’re freer to choose your work hours than your onsite colleagues are, make sure you’re available to answer questions or respond to a quick turnaround when everyone else is working. Since many a legal job requires collaboration, try to observe office hours that match those of your coworkers. If you can’t be available during a large chunk of the day, give your boss and teammates a heads-up, set up your email to send out-of-office auto replies, and change your voice mail message.
- Maximize technology (but have Plan B ready). It goes without saying that your telecommuting perk would not even be possible if it weren’t for modern technology. Make sure your broadband is fast and reliable. Fast-paced project and large-file transfers would be painful if you had to rely on a sluggish or fickle Internet connection. Also, since residential services can go down, have a back-up plan in case there’s no signal on your mobile or if you can’t get online. This could mean keeping your landline and being familiar with nearby cafes and libraries with free Wi-Fi.
Besides email, phone and text, other options for staying in touch and improving legal project management include Skype (helpful if you have international colleagues or clients), FaceTime and Google+ Hangouts. If your company doesn’t supply one, invest in a good smartphone with a generous data plan so you can keep in touch with the office while away from your desk.
- See and be seen, even if remotely. If you’re a full-time virtual worker, you don’t have many opportunities for face time. Phone conversations are important, but there’s something special about in-person meetings. To make sure you’re not forgotten while toiling away at home or the coffee shop, make it a habit to drop by when opportunities arise. Translation: If you live within a reasonable commuting distance away and there are big meetings scheduled, come in instead of dialing in. When there are social activities, consider those as face-time opportunities instead of a drag on your productivity. And even if you’re allowed to have your performance review performed remotely, a face-to-face can be more meaningful.
- Network with the office. When working remotely, you’re not bumping into your coworkers at the water cooler or chatting with your manager after meetings. So be active and use social media as another way of making yourself visible. Many companies use enterprise social media, and you can participate in the ongoing company dialogue to put your thoughts and ideas on the table. By using all channels of communication, you can make yourself heard and noticed, which is a key to getting ahead in a legal job.
Remote work is a much sought-after perk, but legal professionals have to make sure it doesn’t get in the way of their legal careers. By following these simple tips, you’ll increase your chances of staying in the spotlight and moving up the ladder — even when working miles away from the physical office.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.