As state and local stay-at-home orders begin to lift, law firms that closed or minimized access to physical office locations in March are devising plans to bring employees back to the office. There are safe and best practices for law firm employees returning to the office. Employers should follow recommended guidelines to keep workers healthy and to minimize the risk of claims which require employers to re-furnish a safe working environment. In other words, be proactive when it comes to protecting your employees.
What does a safe return back to work look like at a law firm? It may look like one-way traffic in the hallways, log sheets to monitor contacts, testing employees, temperature checks, elevator modifications and installing barriers for receptionists. Part of the New York Bar’s guidance which can be implemented anywhere, recommends that law firms form an office reopening transition team that would monitor oversight of the reopening plan and its implementation; develop a plan for testing employees for the virus as well as develop client and visitor policies and communicate with legal and support staff on the transition process.
If the office space allows for it there should be a staggering of workstations and occupied offices to increase the distance between people, and barriers should be installed for receptionists or other employees at high foot-traffic locations. There also needs to be a plan put into place to develop a cleaning and sanitizing protocol that will be in line with public health guidelines including an assessment of systems involving HVAC, fire/life safety as well as installing signs regarding social distancing and hygiene measures.
Overall, firms should try to alternate workday hours and monitor returns, giving these specific recommendations for opening the office:
Urge the use of technology for remote mediations, hearings, arguments, and depositions.
While state governors are allowing certain industries to reopen, not all employees should be required to return to the physical workplace. Even if employers adhere to the safe and best practices for law firm employees returning to the office, it is important to keep a few things in mind. Employees who have been working remotely might be just as productive as before the COVID-19 pandemic and should continue to work remotely if possible. A good legal CRM at your firm can help you engage with clients faster, and close more deals while providing better service and maintaining social distancing. A top-rated legal CRM software system will also contain follow-up automation and will include text messaging, online forms, social media, and email marketing, as well as a click-to-call autodialer. During the current health crisis, such features are not only game-changers but are pivotal when it comes to keeping your firm competitive and efficient.
Additionally, a good legal CRM should also provide contact management and it should sync with your email and calendar while allowing for tagging of each intake or case to make them easy to find later. Tagging is vital for identifying trends between cases or to emphasize special conditions. Lastly, a good legal CRM should be mobile device friendly – you should be able to get to your data from anywhere, home, court, or wherever the road may take you on any given day. As a result, Law Ruler has included all these features into its legal CRM and legal case management software.
No in-person meetings in the office among attorneys and support staff or with new clients for at least a specified time.
But how do you keep new clients coming in? You implement online intake forms. All that needs to be done is add the custom fields for each practice area. Then, set up a decision tree for smart forms to hide or show fields based on responses. Finally, you will find that you can use the online forms in a few different ways. First you could have a scripted approach for phone intake meetings. Any staff member can conduct the intake process because the form has everything needed to qualify or disqualify potential clients. They can even email and text message the online intake forms to potential clients by clicking one button. Law Ruler intake forms are mobile friendly and viewable on laptops, desktops, iPads, iPhones, Android, and Windows devices. This software will continue to help you limit face to face contact while keeping your firm’s staff and clients connected and safe.
Revisit Work Travel Expectations
Considering COVID-19, employers should revisit the need for employee travel to clients as part of the job. Travel and the inability to maintain social distancing may increase risks for all parties involved: the company, its employee, and the customer. Only necessary travel should occur, especially to so-called “hot spots” where the risk of exposure may be intensified.
After several months of working from home, employees have likely fallen into a home office routine. However, going back to commuting, with earlier alarms and less flexible work hours, your staff might feel disconnected. Dealing with a lack of enthusiasm to give up remote working will probably be one of the biggest challenges for HR teams. To ease the transition, try one or more of the following:
- Flexible work hours for the first few weeks
- If their job allows it, keep some employees working remotely for longer
- Offer to add a one or two remote workdays each week to an employee’s contract
The major goal of returning to work after COVID-19 is to get employees safely back to work with as little interruption as possible. To accomplish this, make the office feel as normal as possible. Employers will need to stay current on health and safety updates from federal, state, and local governmental agencies since new COVID-19-related laws and recommendations are evolving daily. Employers should also assess company morale as employees return to work and take seriously any complaints regarding unsafe workplace practices or other matters. Finally, employers should be mindful of company expectations for employees, and make certain that those working from home are not deprived of stature or opportunities for promotion simply because they are not physically present in the workplace. Taking these steps will ensure not only a positive workplace, but also one that minimizes the risk of COVID-19 and preserves company culture.
Look at the YouTube videos available from Law Ruler and see how easy it can be to keep your employees and your current and potential clients safe with Legal Case Management Software from Law Ruler.