Remote work has become a part of the fabric of our profession, so leaders must learn how to manage a team that is working in a different place than them (and sometimes at a different time). To be successful in ANY environment, and certainly in a remote or hybrid one, clear expectations about what we can count on from each other are a must. 

Expectations about the firm’s “non-negotiables,” such as quality, profitability, client experience, and teamwork need to be defined first. The more specific you are in defining these and any desired results or outcomes you expect, the more successful your partners and team members will be in achieving them. We also recommend that you specify expectations related to team member availability and accessibility, transparency about when each person is working, and expected response times whether working remotely or in the office. Getting crystal clear on expectations in these “communication” paradigms will create trust and confidence in what you can expect and allow for true collaboration no matter where (and when) team members are working.

To clarify and agree on expectations, consider these definitions and examples for availability, accessibility, and responsiveness:

  • Communicating Availability and Accessibility – simply put, you need to know when (availability) and where (accessibility) you can reach each other. Some firms put “core hours” in place and define them broadly as 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., which are more like traditional “office hours.” But those traditional hours don’t work for everyone. In today’s business climate, you may have team members adjusting their schedule to balance working full time plus other responsibilities like child and school responsibilities, caring for a family member, and more. Plus, core hours don’t consider preferences about how to structure the day’s work. Instead of creating rigorous core hours, establish one-size-fits-one expectations and be crystal clear about what is needed on both sides – from the team member and the firm.

Agree up front what deliverables, client commitments, and other responsibilities are required, along with any specific expectations for availability to meet or collaborate with the team or client(s). Then, choose the appropriate tools or modes of communication so others can “see” each person’s schedule and availability. We rigorously use our Outlook calendar to note both work and personal meetings. Any unscheduled time indicates “available hours.” We also note when we’re working outside of our normal location and the best way to reach us there. Keeping shared calendars current is a must to create confidence in team members’ and partners’ ability to reach each other when needed. Clients, too, appreciate this transparency by using tools such as Microsoft Outlook Bookings or Calendly so outside parties can schedule meetings directly on the calendar. Consider using Teams or other collaboration tools to indicate your status, including signaling your availability, when away, or in a meeting. Agree on “breakthrough” technologies, such as text, when it is an urgent matter or outside agreed upon business hours or other modes of communication aren’t working - but use these sparingly!

  • Cultivating transparency and trust, where each person communicates when they will be working and when they’re not. Calendars are sometimes vague, or team members can “hide” in vague accounts of how they are using their time. When that happens, you leave others guessing or feeling they’re alone to solve client or team member problems or requests.

Trust is required. It’s essential that we truly trust that our colleagues have the best intentions for our team and each other, our clients, and firm. This is challenging for some of us when working at different places or times than others. But trust is an essential element of any successful work environment. Transparency will help. And this is a two-way street and applies to firm leaders and those who work more in the office in addition to those working remotely. When all parties demonstrate more transparency about when and where they are working, it builds trust and results in a smoother and more successful team environment.

  • Agreeing on Expected Response Times– most of us would say we should reply to clients and team members in a “timely” fashion; however, each of us has a slightly different definition of what “timely” means. This often leads to disappointment and even frustration. Instead, agree on expected response times. A general expectation is to respond to emails or voicemails within one business day (to both clients and internal team members). The response may be simply acknowledging the receipt of the email or voicemail and committing to address the request in the future.

In addition, when making requests or assignments, whether “live” or in email, include a by-when date you would like a response or the deliverable to be completed and returned. This will alleviate the conflict that often occurs where the delegator expects the deliverable “as soon as possible” (code for “in the next hour”) and the recipient of delegation will get to it when they can (code for “seeing where it fits based on priority, who is requesting it, and how they feel about the work”). When we are explicit in our expectations for response times, we will reduce the conflicts that arise when we perceive a lack of responsiveness by others.

Your firm’s leadership team can ensure a more harmonious and collaborative hybrid environment by defining expectations for communicating availability, accessibility, and responsiveness. Then, service lines and departments can establish specific expectations to fit peak periods, client work, and workflows. But be careful not to create a culture of haves and have nots: those in one department who have flexibility and transparency in when and where they work and those who don’t have it.

Creating these expectations and guidelines allows you to tailor them in a one-size-fits-one approach to accommodate the needs of the individual, team, and clients. Your goal is to make your hybrid work environment a win-win-win for all involved. Consider these simple dos and don’ts to help you on your journey towards a firm of accessible and responsive team members:

DO:

  • Over-communicate and provide updates and status often
  • Use the right mode of communication
  • Agree on “breakthrough” communication methods
  • Strive to learn and honor others’ preferences
  • Always keep your calendar current
  • Check people’s calendar for availability
  • Schedule time with your colleagues – ask for the time you need
  • Document expectations and write recaps

DON’T:

  • Be afraid to share your true circumstances – speak up if something doesn’t work
  • Expect your colleagues to be “on” all the time
  • Be vague about when you need things or make everything seem urgent
  • Assume you know why someone isn’t getting back to you – ask instead
  • Ignore the communication systems in place (calendars, Teams status, etc.)

What can you do to better define expectations around accessibility, availability, and responsiveness? How can you create more transparency about your own accessibility, availability, and response times? We’d love to hear strategies you’ve employed for yourself to create more transparent, workable collaborations with your team members – please post a comment and share!

Warmly,

Tamera

P.S. Our 2024 Anytime, Anywhere Work™ (ATAWW) Survey launched Monday, May 6! Please watch for our communications and plan to participate or check our ATAWW website page for the survey link!