How Well Is Remote IT Really Working for Law Firms?

After six-plus months of working anywhere but the office, how well is remote IT really working for law firms? Law firm administrators, managing partners and IT professionals have posed hundreds of questions to their outside technical experts during this time. Security, productivity and general IT tools seem to be most on their minds. Following are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

Is remote IT a long-term trend or an emergency approach? 

Remote IT has become more prevalent over the last several years, largely made possible by technology and tools such as cloud-hosted systems and remote access/control technology that allow an IT person to perform work regardless of location. Even prior to COVID-19, there was a trend toward a remote IT workforce, and this will continue.

For many law firms – even in nonpandemic times – having IT professionals off-site has many benefits, including less office real estate needed to house IT teams and potentially longer support hours because IT teams are often spread over several time zones or offer extended/on-call assistance.

What are the top challenges of managing a remote IT staff? 

Each person has a unique situation when working remotely, and we no longer have consistency of environment and technology. Some people have kids at home, and that may come with additional background noise on calls, distractions from concentration on work and, in some cases, degradation of internet access. Some people may not have dedicated workspaces where they can replicate their office technology setup, and that could make them less efficient and effective.

Being flexible and understanding each person’s unique situation, understanding the inherent distractions of working remotely and trying to maintain the same level of security, productivity, effectiveness, efficiency and quality are the top challenges. Maintaining effective teamwork, collaboration and inclusion are important.

What kind of metrics should law firms consider using to gauge how well their remote IT workforce is performing? 

Working remotely has its challenges, such as unexpected interruptions, home dynamics and flexible schedules. Measuring productivity, or utilization, requires documentation of time spent on individual tasks, not just the time spent working in general.

Tracking productivity or utilization will help a firm understand how the team is spending their time, being efficient and productive. However, this does not measure quality of work done. Satisfaction surveys are a great way to track quality. Implement satisfaction surveys consistently and using the same set of questions so your firm can track quality over time and address concerns as they arise.

What are the most effective tools and strategies that can be assigned to a law firm’s remote IT staffers? 

Tools that allow remote IT staff to easily access software and systems are critical to a productive IT workforce. Those remote access tools should allow the IT team to be just as secure and productive regardless of where they are working. The most effective strategies include dedicating a space for remote work away from possible distractions, creating a quiet environment, mimicking the in-office technology setup and adhering to a routine schedule.

Is security a major drawback to building a temporary or permanent remote IT workforce? 

Security is a major factor when working remotely, and a remote workforce should be just as secure as an in-person workforce. Several additional factors should be considered when building a secure workforce, such as device management and controls, secure remote access and policies to ensure nonfirm devices do not access law firm resources directly. These measures take additional time and money to implement, but are necessary to building a proper, secure remote IT workforce.

Can a remote IT staff ever be as productive as an on-site team? 

Working remotely full-time can be just as productive as in-person activities. Some functions of IT staff traditionally have been better suited to in-person collaboration, such as a help desk or tightly coordinated team of people, and remote work may never be able to replicate that experience exactly. Personalities of individuals are also a factor, as some people work better in person with others, and some people work better alone. Collaboration tools are essential to bringing people together virtually to mimic an in-person experience as closely as possible.

Is there a way to discover whether the tools introduced to the remote workforce, such as apps collaboration, are being adopted and helping workers? 

Absolutely. There are a few ways to check for adoption and adherence when using collaboration tools. Those tools usually have some type of logging device when documents are created and modified, and some even have metrics on usage and engagement. Management should also inquire about such tools with each employee to ensure they are being used. Further, they should discuss any challenges they have with the tools or suggestions of how to make the tools work better for the team.

Is remote IT the first step into transitioning to a fully automated IT environment? 

There are many robust automation tools for IT, such as automatically detecting and remediating issues proactively, patching systems and scripting tasks that would normally be done by a person. These tools have been around for many years, and they are ever-increasing in functionality. Transitioning to a remote IT staff is a great step forward in changing the IT landscape and abilities, and it will make way for future IT automation. However, IT staff perform many functions that may never be automated.

As law firms head into 2021, a remote IT workforce will continue to be a reality. With the proper tools, security practices and a continued dose of patience, law firm IT departments can continue to be productive regardless of work location.

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