Together but Apart

Staying connected while working remotely

Together but Apart

We have moved from a hug or a handshake when we see a co-worker to checking our audio and video feeds. Instead of hello, it is “can you see me,” or “you are still on mute.” With screens between us, how can we stay feeling connected with our colleagues? Being connected means more than knowing how to use Zoom or MS Teams, although a proper tech set-up and getting comfortable with video technology is foundational. Once you have everyone organized with good internet connections and headsets, and maybe even a ring light, you are ready for the next steps.

There is no one-size-fits-all formula for how to stay connected. In sharing some of the strategies we have used, we hope it will help inspire a closer and happier legal profession.

Craft a connection plan together

Earlier this year, we went through a team coaching process with executive coach Monica Murray of Caratt. This process helped us identify what our priorities were as a team to get the most out of our work together. Personal connection quickly emerged as something we all agreed we were doing well but wanted to continue to foster.

We talked about what success would look like and made a game plan incorporating everyone’s ideas. This approach made sure we were not wasting time and energy, or even worse, planning “connection” activities that annoy people.

Make space for fun

One of the elements of our connection plan was to overhaul our weekly all-firm MS Teams meetings to make space to foster relationships with each other. One way we do this is by starting each meeting with an “ice breaker” question, which gets answered round-robin style. These questions have quickly become the highlight of our meetings. We have learned about each other’s favourite ice-cream flavours, biggest pet peeves, the make and name of our first cars, our first jobs and where we are most looking forward to traveling. We learned in one of the meetings that everyone in our firm loves to play board games, so we stocked our new office with a games cabinet, and play in person and online games together over lunch twice each month.

By adding social connection to the agenda, everyone gets to know each other a bit more, which in turn makes people feel supported during a time when many are feeling adrift. In this billable-hour focused profession, it can seem like a waste of precious time to put “non-productive” items on the agenda, but the wellness payback is a great return on investment.

Checking in and making changes

Another element of our plan was to check in at each weekly meeting to take a measurement of our connectedness. Using the chat function, we each type in, on a scale of 1-10, how connected we are feeling to the team. 10/10 standard is like we are linking arms and dancing around the office together (and those are rare). The ratings are not discussed at the meeting, but if someone puts in a low rating, other team members make an extra effort to reach out.

With the twists and turns of this rollercoaster pandemic, our needs will change, individually and as a team. In March 2020, working 100% remotely in a time of chaos, we had daily team meetings. Weekly meetings are what works now. Part of the connection plan is to revisit and adjust.

The practice of law can be lonely, especially when working remotely. It is clear now that this pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint, and intentional work to foster relationships within firms is a necessary infrastructure investment.

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