Mandatory closings of nonessential businesses are pushing more employees into home offices. Conversations about clients and other serious matters that usually occur in offices and across cubicle dividers are being held in flurries of emails and conference calls.
They should be taking place in Slack. Our firm uses the secured, online platform because it fosters open communication. Attorneys and their assistants receive information faster without checking their inboxes every two minutes.
How? In the traditional law firm model, for example, a senior partner interacts with a client shares a portion of the facts with someone, who in turn shares a smaller portion of it with someone else.
Working from home has disrupted that weak flow of information. Team members now have less of an understanding of a situation because they have to read and respond to email chains. Matters become worse when they miss a video or telephone conference due to schedule conflicts.
Another problem: When a senior partner is in charge, there’s an attention gap. Let’s say that individual works on the matter for an hour, goes to an online meeting, and then has a different client matter. That person is constantly delivering information to the team, pushing deadlines and assigning tasks.
When you open the process on Slack, people within the firm get the information themselves. They assign their own tasks. And they act without having to ask the senior partner what’s next.
The free flow of information in an online channel creates a new, more agile project management system. Members can see all the components and act on any of them.
The most valuable aspect may not be that digital huddles speed tasks. It’s that the system improves business structure. In most office settings, senior staff members operate on high with all the information. Everybody else runs around, doing what they’re told.
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Slack flattens that structure by giving everyone access to information and, with that, the ability to contribute ideas and insights. Those can range from discussing strategy to reminding team members what happened in a similar instance, or even, “Hey, don’t forget that our client likes this way of doing things.”
This model, and there are other platforms like it, creates transparency. The way our firm has structured its use, everybody on a team knows everything they need to move a matter forward, including the financials.
We preserve a client’s privacy by showing the information only to those who need it, just as if they had the keys to a locked file cabinet. Others within the firm are shown details only when their contributions are needed.
We’re not the first to use Slack. Others have tried it and written that they abandoned it: too chatty, distracting, and addicting at the personal and organizational level, social isolating. Well, we’re self-isolating due to COVID-19. Chatting can help people feel in touch with colleagues.
To be clear, Slack is not social media; you don’t log in because you’re afraid you’ll miss something trending or to track your likes and followers. Because it’s not advertiser-driven, alerts are designed to be useful, not keep you online as long as possible scrolling through selfies and cat videos.
Email’s evils are magnified in this environment. Videoconferences waste time in the wrong hands, such as those of micro-managers.
Still, there’s the human temptation to stay online all the time, whether it’s Slack, Instagram or texting. Self-discipline is needed, just as it was when workers sat at their office desks.
View Slack as an opportunity to adapt and improve office operations. It can help restore a sense of normalcy at a time when nothing seems routine.
Luis Salazar is the founder of Salazar Law of Coral Gables. Luis@Salazar.Law.