We must respect the right to disconnect.
Our 24/7 access to technology and each other is a double-edged sword. We’re available to each other like never before, which also means we’re expected to be accountable to each other like never before.
Fortunately, the legal industry is slowly adopting more appreciation for a healthier work/life balance. This dynamic, and the frustrations pushing this trend, have been amplified considerably during the pandemic.
“I’ve noticed that law firm managers have been expecting their attorneys to be hyper-responsive because everyone is homebound. But they’re missing an opportunity to encourage rest and family/downtime, which I believe allows lawyers to refresh and better do their jobs,” said Annie Little, attorney career coach, resume coach, and founder of JD Nation.
The bottom line is that we must give employees the ability to disconnect, and respect their need to do so. My recent discussion about the right to disconnect led to some great tips from experts.
Communication Is Key
Claire E. Parsons, partner and owner at Adams, Stepner, Woltermann & Dusing, PLLC, explained, “I sometimes send emails after hours because that’s when I am working, and I don’t want to forget. But, as a partner, I have trained myself to say, ‘I’m sending this now, but you don’t have to respond right away.’ when I do.”
Similarly, Natasha Alladina, attorney recruiting director at The Partners Group, recommended, “Set up a regular weekly time to discuss ongoing projects. That way everyone stays on the same page and stays accountable while having the freedom to work when and how makes the most sense for them.”
NRB Your Emails
Dawn Edwards Martin, director, business development, at Legalpeople, said, “I heard a technique several years ago, but I don’t think it ever took off in the legal field. ‘NRB’ codes in an email subject line tell the recipients that you need-response-by tomorrow or next week or 5 p.m.” She explained, “Especially when the sender is a manager or supervisor, this signals to the recipient that the message is not urgent just because it is coming “from the top.” Leadership in our industry has an opportunity to communicate responsiveness expectations and confirm the right to disconnect.”
Disconnect Intentionally And Regularly
“Just because we CAN all be on-call 24/7 doesn’t mean we should be. I had a friend who was a family law attorney, and when her clients would call with an ‘emergency’ she would say, ‘Well, I really can’t help you with my law license — you should probably call 911.’” explained Rachel Coll, a certified life coach who helps lawyers rid themselves of romantic drama and enjoy healthier relationships.
A work/life balance is always essential but “especially right now with our work and home lives being so blurred,” said Patricia Baxter, managing partner at Morgan & Akins, PLLC. She continued, “Disconnecting regularly is the only way to stay strong mentally.”
We’re now more than three months into a global pandemic that is forcing many of us to take care of, teach, and feed our kids while worrying about our parents and completing the typically demanding responsibilities of our day jobs. Without boundaries, all that stress is bound to make us less effective at each.
But let’s take this opportunity to understand that all employees have countless invisible stressors that are also weighing them down outside of work, even during normal, nonpandemic times. As we question the way we’ve been doing business — and see little certainty and a lot of opportunities to change ahead — let’s place a greater appreciation on the right to disconnect and a healthier work/life balance — so that we can enjoy life a little bit more and bring our full selves to work each day.
Olga V. Mack is the CEO of Parley Pro, a next-generation contract management company that has pioneered online negotiation technology. Olga embraces legal innovation and had dedicated her career to improving and shaping the future of law. She is convinced that the legal profession will emerge even stronger, more resilient, and more inclusive than before by embracing technology. Olga is also an award-winning general counsel, operations professional, startup advisor, public speaker, adjunct professor, and entrepreneur. She founded the Women Serve on Boards movement that advocates for women to participate on corporate boards of Fortune 500 companies. She authored Get on Board: Earning Your Ticket to a Corporate Board Seat and Fundamentals of Smart Contract Security. You can follow Olga on Twitter @olgavmack.