Hybrid Office Work Tools: Top Tech Solutions for Managing Your Law Firm’s Distributed Team

7 min read

Here’s how you can keep everyone on your team happy and productive, no matter where they are.

Managing a remote team is complicated. Both remote and in-office work bring benefits and challenges, and a good many lawyers have very strong opinions about whether they work better at home or in the office. The COVID-19 pandemic may have forced law firms to adopt work-from-home policies, but now, with the vaccine rollout well underway and cases declining, the legal industry is split on whether the end of the pandemic should be followed by a return to the office. Chances are, your employees are split on the decision as well. Some of your team members may have developed a strong affinity for remote work and will be reluctant to come back to the office; others might already be lining up at your front door waiting for you to let them in.

So what’s to be done when half of your lawyers and paralegals want to keep working from home, and the other half insist on coming into the office? 

There’s no need for argument — whether opening or closing (trial pun) – your law firm can have the best of both worlds through a hybrid office arrangement; where part of your team works in the office and part of your team works remotely. Here are some of the top tech tools that are making hybrid-remote offices the new norm in law.

Enterprise Messaging Apps: Instant Text Communication for when Email is Too Cumbersome

Email is great for contacting clients or external partners. Everyone has email, so you never need to worry that the recipient won’t be able to view your message, and you can attach press releases or other resources for important announcements.

But when it comes to communicating with your team of lawyers, paralegals, and legal assistants, email quickly becomes a burden. Catching up on your team’s conversations requires you to constantly move between multiple email threads. Email recipients may also feel that responding to an email demands a significant amount of time or attention, so they might delay opening that email until the end of the day (even if a one-sentence reply would suffice).

These are the problems that enterprise messaging applications like Slack and Microsoft Teams aim to solve. These apps are instant messaging platforms specifically designed for business use, with a variety of built-in features meant to make collaboration fast and simple.

Both Slack and Teams enable your team to communicate with each other by text, voice, or video; the apps support one-on-one, small-group, and company-wide communications. You can also upload files and share links, and these apps offer hundreds of integrations with other software services (like GoToMeeting) that enable advanced features.

While enterprise messaging software often claims to be an “email killer”, both emails and instant messages have their place in managing a hybrid office. Messaging is ideal for minor day-to-day discussions and quick requests, while email is better for more in-depth communications.

Slack and Teams can also function as digital water coolers, enabling colleagues working remotely to maintain a rapport with the in-office team while also discussing work-related topics. Users can create custom channels for specific topics, making it easy to keep conversations organized. Your law firm’s digital workspace could feature channels like Water Cooler for general office chit-chat, Industry News for sharing blogs and magazine articles from publications like ABA Journal, and Marketing for discussion of marketing-related projects. You could even add some more light-hearted channels to boost morale and promote camaraderie, like a channel for organizing a March Madness-style Best Fictional Lawyer pool.

But perhaps most importantly, enterprise messaging is secure. Slack and Teams both encrypt data by default and use enterprise-grade security features to keep your information safe. Both of these products boast ISO, SOC1, and SOC2 certifications, and both of them can be configured to support HIPAA and FINRA compliance.

In March 2021, The New York Times declared Slack to be the best team messaging app on the market. Some of the organizations that use Slack for internal communications include TD Ameritrade, the United States Department of Defense, AIG, and Roche. Windows users may find Teams more convenient, though, as Microsoft recently announced that Windows 11 will ship with Teams integrated into the Windows taskbar.

Virtual Private Networks (VPN): Make Any Internet Connection a Secure One

One of the dangers inherent in running a distributed team is data security. When your team is working remotely, you can’t control which network they connect to or whether that network is secured. If your team is working from coffee shops or libraries, for instance, those public venues may provide unsecured WiFi that anyone can access without a password. Even if your employees are working from their homes, there’s still no guarantee that they’ve taken the steps to secure their home Internet connections.

Here’s the problem with unsecured WiFi:

If your employee Phoebe the Paralegal is working from a library, and if she’s on the library’s unsecured public network, then anyone with the right tools can see everything Phoebe does. If Hank the Hacker happens to be on that same network at that same time, then with just a few clicks, Hank can spy on Phoebe, copy her files, steal her login credentials to your internal systems, and even plant a virus on her computer.

That’s where a VPN comes in. A VPN works by layering a secured network on top of the existing WiFi connection and then routing all of the user’s Internet traffic through that secure network. All of the data that runs through a VPN is encrypted, so third parties can’t access it. Anyone who attempts to spy on a VPN user will see a scrambled stream of meaningless noise. And while no technology is completely immune to hacking, VPNs are designed to be highly hack-resistant. In essence, a VPN enables users to instantly turn an unsecured network into a secured one.

There are several free and paid VPNs on the market for both individual users and teams. When looking for a VPN, you’ll want to ensure you’re choosing a provider that undergoes an annual security audit by an independent third party. These audits are designed to detect any security issues in the VPN software and then disclose those issues to the public.

The first VPN provider to begin the practice of independent security audits was TunnelBear, but this practice has since become the norm for other providers like NordVPN and ExpressVPN.

Appara: Document Automation & Records Management Makes Remote Collaboration Easy

Yes, that’s us!

Appara is a start-to-finish document automation and records management suite designed by lawyers, for lawyers. Appara’s suite of products enables users to draft complex documents like tax reorganizations, instantly collaborate with colleagues, and maintain access to your critical records anytime, anywhere. Appara is entirely cloud-based and accessed through your standard web browser, so you can use it anywhere you have an Internet connection.

Appara’s record management workflow makes drafting and handling documents faster, simpler, and less error-prone even when working remotely. Plus, integrations with DocuSign, QuickBooks, Google Workspace, and more enable your team to seamlessly manage all of the paperwork it takes to run a law firm, whether they work from home, the office, the beach, or the ski chalet. These integrations enable your team to conduct full transactions (whether simple or complex) entirely digitally in an efficient manner.

With Appara, you can collaborate on documents with your team and clients no matter where they’re located. Real-time collaboration enables your staff to work on the same document at the same time, and Appara’s records and notations features will permit collaborators to view any client-specific instructions as they’re working. (For instance, if you want a document to only be emailed to an administrative assistant, you can create that notation in Appara). From Appara’s Sharing Centre, you can invite external stakeholders (like clients or accountants) to view virtual minute books while simultaneously controlling their level of access.

Appara also makes it easy to securely digitize your records – no more paper needed. All of your data is kept secure in our ISO-accredited platform. Appara’s best-in-class security complies with SOC 1, SOC 2, PCI-DSS, and EU-US Privacy Shield standards, and we conduct regular cybersecurity penetration testing to monitor for new threats.

Managing a hybrid legal practice may seem challenging at first. It’s certainly a paradigm shift. But hybrid offices come with a wide array of benefits, like reduced overhead, a happier and more productive team, and more effective talent acquisition and retention. By providing your team with the flexibility of both in-office and remote work, you’ll enable your lawyers, paralegals, and support staff to perform at their peak.

Are you transitioning your law practice to a hybrid office? We can help! Check out these case studies to discover how Appara can save your law firm time and money, whether you’re running annual maintenance, engaging in a reorganization, or doing something entirely different.

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