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Making Working from Home Work during the MCO/CMCO

Being in a profession that is notoriously known for its demanding workload and long hours in the office, the coronavirus pandemic and the various iterations of the control movement order has certainly afforded us an unprecedented amount of flexibility to work wherever and whenever.

Whether or not this will be the “future-of-work”, it is undeniable that remote working has brought with it many challenges that can affect work productivity.  With meals to prepare, dogs to walk and Netflix to binge on, the following are some practices that may help maintain productivity and some semblance of pre-pandemic lives.

Effective Document Management

Having to work from home takes lawyers away from the simple luxuries of having easily accessible hardcopies of documents and laying them all out on a desk while drafting endless affidavits.  Taking home physical files, while seemingly a good idea, may pose practical difficulties in carting around voluminous documents and places them at risk of being lost.  It is now more crucial than ever to have in place a system that ensures that you have access to your documents at a moment’s notice, especially when a video conference is scheduled at the 11th hour.

In this regard, storing documents onto cloud storage systems not only eradicates the need to transport files back and forth but also ensures constant access to files.  All you would need is a stable internet connection and your files are just a click away.

Cloud storage is also a better alternative to external hard drives as it cannot be stolen, corrupted or misplaced.  Further, the ability to use multiple devices to access documents stored on the cloud at the same time makes it easier to cross-refer between documents and is certainly a tidier alternative to having hardcopies of the said documents strewn all over your desk.  At least now your desk (or dining table) will not look like a tornado had passed through every time you have an affidavit or submissions to do.

Familiarising yourself with Video Conferencing

Having to largely move all work online, your work-from-home regime is the perfect opportunity to master new technological skills. It is one thing to be a whizz at word processing and another to be able to effortlessly navigate through sharing documents and screens on the likes of Zoom and Teams.  Admittedly, there are the inevitable few in the profession with an aversion to technology.  If that happens to be your boss, you need to be ready to step in and ensure that you know how to navigate through any and every technological issue that may pop up during a hearing or meeting conducted via video conferencing.

Aside from putting you at ease in the event that your hearing is moved online and heard via video conferencing, a semblance of familiarity with the various video conferencing platforms and their interfaces will go a long way in helping you work collaboratively with your colleagues even in isolation.

Adhering to Working Hours

It is easy to want to give in to your body’s natural waking and sleeping rhythms when you are away from the watchful gaze of your bosses.  After all, you probably have had a late-night and would much rather lay in bed for a little longer in the morning.  You tell yourself that you are more productive at night and that there is no harm in starting your day at noon.

The problem with this is that the courts operate at fixed working hours.  Having a schedule with odd working hours can be problematic on days when you have hearings or e-Reviews fixed for 9:00 am or where you need to get in touch with a court officer to enquire whether your hearing fixed for the following week will still be proceeding via Zoom.

You do not want to have a hearing fixed for 9:00 am only for your new circadian rhythm to wake you at 8:55 am in a state of sheer panic resulting in your inevitable faffing about till 9:15 am, trying to set up your devices, getting dressed and finding the link to join the hearing.  If you are lucky you might, through some divine grace, make it for your hearing.  If not, be prepared to be used as an example of what not to do at online hearing every time anyone else has them.  Your new title of ‘person who missed the hearing’ will not be easy to shake off.

While your bosses and clients can call you if they need you urgently, the courts are unlikely to extend the same courtesy.  Keeping a sleep routine that keeps you awake and alert throughout your usual working hours will, at the very least, ensure that you will not accidently sleep in and miss an early hearing.

It is also useful to keep a set schedule.  Lawyers have generally never really adhered strictly to the nine to five routine but it helps if the day is roughly sketched out the night before.  Make daily schedules and prioritise your tasks.  This not only gives you an idea of the tasks you need to complete but also helps create a routine and structure that we often lack when working remotely.

Getting Dressed

The best part of working from home is that there is no need to sit for hours on end in stuffy collared shirts.  Your outfit is limited only by what is in the wash and it is appealing to just throw on whatever is comfortable (and hopefully, clean) before getting on with work.

Getting dressed in your usual office attire, while seemingly insignificant, can subtly impact your day.  Psychologically, it helps to put you in the mindset of being at work and not in bed.  Being dressed for the office will also ensure that you are ready for any surprise (or forgotten) video conferences that you may have for the day.  If you happen to get a reminder 10 minutes before your meeting those are 10 precious minutes that can be spent reading through your notes instead of rushing around trying to find a shirt that’s been ironed.

Besides this, on days when you have an online hearing done at home, you might be tempted to pair your blazer with your boxers.  It is best not to give in to the temptation as all it takes is one wrong camera angle to be in court with your pants down.  Literally.

Taking Breaks

With the phone calls and emails coming in incessantly throughout the day, it can feel like you need to constantly be at your desk working.  Without a pantry and colleagues around, you may forget to take time away from your workspace.

Allowing yourself some time to get up, stretch and reset will help you not only mentally but physically as well.  Taking time to focus on something else away from your desk, whether it is making a dalgona coffee, reading the newspaper or even posting a Tik Tok will boost your productivity and may even help you see new arguments you have not thought of – and who knows where your new found love of posting Tik Toks may take you.  The curtains of your legal career may come crashing down but at least you now have a fall-back option.

Keeping in touch with colleagues

Ever spend hours and hours in front of your screen only to realise that you have only typed out the intitulement for the written submission due tomorrow?  We know we have.

Having to hold yourself accountable to your colleagues at certain times of the day can help you stay on task as well as motivated.  Further, scheduling designated group lunch breaks can help ensure that all of you are adhering to a routine.  It is also a good way of forcing scheduled breaks into your workday and goes a long way in representing some semblance of normalcy and familiarity.

Ultimately, this is foreign and new to everyone in the office.  Being able to share your working-from-home frustrations and brainstorming ideas with your usual lunch buddies goes a long way towards maintaining camaraderie and facilitating the completion of team-based tasks without the need for voluminous email exchanges.