This is a guest blog post by Puja Sachdev, Founder of Sachdev Legal Group.
We are an "office"-office. And what I mean by that is that our physical office is our second home. It is designed and decorated to feel like a living room: warm, inviting and peaceful. My team and I thrive by being in the same space, physically and mentally. We are family. We spend more time together at work than we do with our actual family.
So, on the evening of March 19, 2020, when Governor Newsom ordered all California residents to stay at home and non-essential businesses to close, we were not prepared. Immediately came the flurry of group texts filled with shock and panic: "What does this mean?", "We can still go to work, right?", and "We're essential, right?" I did not have the TV on when the press conference probably interrupted all local channels and I didn't know what was going on. After I caught up, I answered the last text. My response was, "No. We are not essential."
A few weeks into this now, my team and I have learned a lot about ourselves and how we work. More than anything I am learning to lead with more fluidity. Here are a few tips from lessons learned:
- First and foremost, I did not want someone sitting on standby at home, during office hours, waiting for the phone to ring. That is where Smith.ai came in. We were only using the services for the weekends. Since we were already set up with them, it was simple to modify our call forwarding to include all calls.
- We used Slack for internal communications before this transition — it really helped us avoid clogging up our emails. It is even more important now that we can’t walk over to each other’s offices, and has become vital for maintaining personal connections.
- Working from home on laptops with 15” screens is hard to get used to when we use 24” dual monitors in the office. The struggle is real! So I trusted my team when they told me what they needed. When I was asked if my team could take home monitors, I let them. Another asked to take home a printer and scanner. I let them.
- Speaking of trust: for work hours, I don’t expect anyone to sit at their laptops from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. or to even be working that entire time. Some are maintaining that schedule as “work hours” and some of us are not. That’s fine. For me, I have found that taking a longer break in the afternoon and returning to work after dinner is best for me. Give your team your blessing to do what works for them.
- As lawyers, we function with deadlines. Court deadlines direct our entire office flow, organization and prioritization. The courts are currently closed and we have no hard deadlines. As a result, one attorney is creating her own deadlines by setting up phone conferences with clients. This self-imposed deadline drives her to complete the case’s tasks and send the client anything they need to review before they talk.
- Acknowledging this is a confusing and stressful time allows everyone to act with compassion towards themselves and others. Knowing our clients are going through the same thing as us frames how we are having the hard conversations with them.
- When clients email or call, we have changed our response policy to respond immediately or the next day, at the latest – and not with detailed and researched answers to their questions, but with a simple response that we have received their inquiry. In this unpredictable time, we have little within our control and we can help to ease the anxiety of our clients, which in turn, also eases the pressure on ourselves.
- We have weekly Zoom meetings on Monday mornings. This helps us stay bonded and to see each other’s faces! This also sets the mood for the week to come and keeps us all motivated, focused, and centered. It’s important to do this check-in because we don’t know when this will end.
The biggest obstacle we have right now are the limitations placed on us. We are trying to persist under these limitations and redefine what productivity means to each of us and our professional, and personal, identities. The greatest gift we can give our team is permission to treat themselves with kindness. This is not the time to pass judgment, but to act with grace. We are not “working from home”, we are all living through a collective crisis and trying to get some work done.