Archive for the ‘Remote office’ Category

How would you like it if I told you that you only needed to go into work three days a week?  Almost all of you–given the chance–would take me up on that offer, right?

Now here’s the fine print:  I said, “go into work” as opposed to “not work.”  In other words, we’re not talking about only working three days a week, but instead working a full week but spending two of the five days at home or elsewhere.

The prior posts from the past two weeks have dealt with the concept of the remote office.  I’ve argued that Citrix and other software have made it possible for us to have increased flexibility in the workplace.  Attorneys fly around the country all the time for client meetings, depositions, and court hearings in other jurisdictions–and during this time, they manage to continue to log in to the firm server and work as though they were in the office.  All these road warriors need are a cell phone, a laptop, Citrix, and Wi-Fi.

So why is it that most of us are stuck in the office five days a week, from Monday to Friday?  Who came up with the idea that people have to commute to work five days a week out of every seven?  Does it still make sense in our technologically advanced society?

I had lunch recently with a friend who is a brilliant lawyer.  He’s a mid-level associate at a large law firm in the Bay Area, and he decided that there was absolutely no reason for him to physically be at work five days a week.  He felt that he could actually be more efficient at home, where he could focus on his job without the distractions of the office.  Plus, when he was at the office, he generally communicated with partners and other associates through calls and e-mail anyway, so what difference did it make for him to be physically present?  It was a waste of commute time, a waste of gas, and it meant having to eat out instead of being able to fix himself a nice healthy lunch in his own kitchen.

Being somewhat of an independent thinker, he decided to simply not show up to work once in a while.  It started as once every couple weeks, just on a trial basis.  No one seemed to notice, so he increased it to once a week.  No one complained, and so he started disappearing two days a week.

When partners needed to get a hold of him, his assistant would simply transfer the calls to his cell phone.  During the work days when he worked from home, he was completely responsive to calls and e-mail.  When he first started disappearing, the partners never even noticed.  Only his assistant knew where he really was.

Of course, eventually, the partnership caught on to what he was doing.  But, by that point, what could they say?  He was produced high-quality work product in an efficient manner, and there was no justification for keeping him in the office.  In fact, he could argue to the partners that eliminating his commute time actually increased his billable production, ultimately adding value to the firm’s bottom line.

As to days when he physically needed to be in the office for face to face meetings or when there was a project that would be easier to supervise from the office, on those days, he would show up.  The key is that he didn’t attempt to completely eliminate going to the office; he simply reduced the time he spent there for moments when his physical presence was actually needed.

So if you’d like to commute to the office only three days a week, why not try it?  Figure out opportunities when your physical presence is not needed, and stay home.  You’ll be surprised just how empowering this can be, and how wonderful it feels.  Just make sure you don’t end up turning on the TV and watching the NCAA tournament all day.  If you don’t have the discipline to actually work from home, this is not for you.


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Last week, I wrote about how I loved Citrix for its ability to let me “get away” from the office once in a while.  Today, I provide the counterpoint based on what some other associates have told me.

For some, the flexibility and refreshing qualities of working from home are either not appreciated or simply outweighed by other considerations.  Apparently, some people need the more formal office environment to focus on work.  Sitting in a bathrobe at home doesn’t bring out their best legal skills.

Creatures of habit may find that changing their “normal” routine could feel jarring.  I know some employees who actually hate having 3-day weekends due to holidays such as Memorial Day, MLK Day, and Labor Day.  When asked about this, they tell me they “don’t know what to do” and it disrupts their schedule.  Go figure.

But the greatest opposition to the remote office apparently stems from resistance based purely on principle.  Some self-styled purists in the world believe that work is meant to be done at work, and home is a sacred place where the office should never impinge upon.  The expression “leaving work at work” was probably coined by one of these purists.

I certainly respect the principle behind this position, but the reality makes it difficult to practice.  We would all love to come home and not have to think about work.  The problem is that, as an associate at a law firm, there’s sometimes too much work to complete during “normal” business hours.  The other problem is that practicing law is often an “around the clock” job.  There will be circumstances that require the constant thinking of legal strategies, positions, arguments–and you can’t just artificially turn it off like a light switch.

So the question isn’t whether you should leave work at the office (we’d probably all like that), but instead whether–under those circumstances when you are forced to work after hours–you should continue your work at home or stay at the office until 2 a.m.?

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Technology has altered the way in which law is being practiced at large law firms.  Blackberries allow for clients and their lawyers to be in constant communication via instant “push” e-mail.  Electronic legal research has almost completely supplanted law libraries.  And the ability to work from home or elsewhere has begun to change the way in which we perceive the “office.”

Personally, I love Citrix.  I love being able to work from home sometimes, out on my deck or the boat dock.  Even though I am still working, getting out of the office and changing my surroundings is, literally, a breath of fresh air.  It breaks the tedium and flow of the same old routine, day in and day out.  It gives me an opportunity to feel the warm sun on my skin, to sense a gentle wind blowing through my hair–to experience an actual day.  Sitting in a climate-controlled office doesn’t count.

Citrix has also come in handy during those days when I am literally too busy to commute into work.  When I’m facing a huge deadline at work–those days where it seems like every second matters–I save at least a good hour and half in the morning when I don’t have to shower, shave, put on work clothes, drive to the BART station, and commute into the city.  Instead, I literally roll out of bed in my PJs and log onto the firm’s server.  At my disposal is my work e-mail account, all my documents, and pretty much anything I need.  Since I tend to have my best ideas early in the morning, I’ve now applied my mind when it’s sharpest to the tasks at hand, instead of wasting that valuable window of opportunity trying to catch the train.

This leads me to my next point.  Working remotely can also free you from the distractions of being at the office.  I know, the whole point of the office is so that everyone is physically present in the same building.  But that’s also the problem.  When I’m at the office, people are constantly stopping by.  Paralegals and secretaries always have questions, a partner or workflow coordinator wants to know if I can take on more work, and other associates stop by to chat.  Don’t get me wrong; the social interaction is a good thing.  It’s just not an efficient use of time when I have a legal brief due, and I need to get it done pronto.  At those moments, hiding myself from the world so I can focus exclusively on the task at hand is the best and most effective way to get the job done and done well.  Citrix allows me to do that.

There’s also an emotional component to the remote office.  If you have a spouse, pet, or child who is at home during normal business hours, it’s nice to be able to spend some “extra” time with them.  Bosses are always afraid that when employees work from home, they aren’t actually working because of all those possible distractions.  The reality is surprising.  If work needs to get done, it will get done.  But somehow, being in the same room as your spouse, pet, or child–even if you’re working the entire time–makes all the difference in the world.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go home and try it.  You’ll soon understand.

Do you enjoy working from home?  Do technological advances such as the remote office help or hurt our lifestyles?  Feel free to let me know what you think.

By the way, in case you were wondering, I’m writing this post from home.

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Recently, I’ve received a number of queries such as “Why are there no new posts recently?”  “Can you post more entries?”  Well, after being on the road, I’m now back.  By the way, I have also set up a new e-mail account so that readers can ask questions privately or contact me directly.  It’s associatespeak@gmail.com.  I will do my best to respond to e-mails within a few days unless I am traveling.

Speaking of travels, I thought this might be a good time to discuss the remote office.  If you’re currently an associate working at Biglaw, you probably are familiar with Citrix or some equivalent meta-frame software that allows you to access your work computer from home.  Whether you use a work laptop that locks into a work station, or a desktop computer at work that you’d like to access when you are at home or elsewhere, Citrix gives you the flexibility of accessing not only the documents saved on your work computer but the firm’s server.  It’s designed to ensure that whatever you see on your screen at work can also appear on your screen at home.

I’ve heard the argument that lawyers want to leave their work where it belongs; namely, at work.  When they go home, the last thing they want to do is log in and have the “freedom” to do more work at home.  That makes sense when you work a normal 9 to 6 job.  Do your work at work, and go home and relax.

But what happens if you have to work late?  If there’s a brief that needs to be prepared and you’re working up against a real deadline?  Do you really want to be at the office at 2 a.m.?  If you have to work, wouldn’t it be much better to prepare that motion while in your comfy PJs?

This week, we’ll explore the advantages and disadvantages of the remote office, and how it can be used to provide you with a lifestyle option that is at least partially within your control.

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