Attorneys, similar to accountants, bankers and other professionals, work with nuanced, time-sensitive and confidential information. They need office environments that offer the concentration and creativity necessary to solve complex problems. At the same time, in the midst of this health crisis when children and other loved ones are home throughout the day, they need to ensure their “home” and “office” settings coexist without one trumping the needs of the other.
Following is some practical guidance based on my experience. While access to purchase many of the items listed below is clearly limited at this time, the good news is that you probably already have many of them throughout your home. Specifically, you should strive to create the following.
The Right Space
Ideally, find a room or a space that is not currently being used for another purpose and may be clearly separated from the rest of your house. It’s important for your sanity and your business that you conduct your work in a designated area — not all over your house, and not in common areas such as living rooms or personal areas such as bedrooms. Setting up your office in a bedroom not only disrupts personal space, it also doesn’t visually appear as professional in video chats, as you do not want your colleagues or clients to be staring at your bed and other personal items.
The Right Setting for Legal Work
Working from a home office can be unproductive and unenjoyable if your space is not set up properly. Some practical things you will need include: a desk, a file cabinet, a comfortable ergonomic desk chair, a printer/scanner, your preferred pens and office supplies, and all of the usual office basics that you utilize in your traditional corporate space.
Make sure your space is properly organized and free of visual clutter. Also, consider a “Do Not Disturb” sign to hang on your door, so people know not to interrupt you when you’re in the middle of important calls.
The Right Ambiance for Inspiration
Your home office should enable your productivity, but also encourage your creativity in an environment that feels warm and inspiring. Most professionals don’t enjoy working in sterile, cold environments that feel unwelcoming. They also don’t enjoy having to sit in the same chair the entire workday.
Therefore, if possible, try pulling in a comfortable sofa or recliner (and even a side table if you have one) where you can put up your feet and relax for a change of scenery in your office. A window with a nice view also adds inspiration. What things do you like to look at? Art? Family and travel photos? Decorate your space with personal touches. Some items to include in your home office:
- Wireless speakers and home sound systems that stream music in any area of your home;
- Coffee or espresso machine;
- Minifridge with water, refreshments and snacks;
- Jars with protein bars, cookies and snacks;
- Phone and computer chargers;
- Charging station;
- File organizers;
- Desktop sterilizers for your cell phones and other items requiring sterilization;
- Proper lighting — an attractive desktop lamp or whatever inspires you;
- Desk calendar;
- Plants and flowers.
Without a doubt, most people understand that lawyers working from their homes, home-schooling their children, and juggling an array of pets and other issues might not have the perfect corporate appearance now. Of course, in extenuating circumstances, almost anything goes.
Working in casual attire is more acceptable than ever. However, there are boundaries. While nobody expects lawyers to work from home in formal attire, it is recommended that you present yourself in appropriate work casual clothing for your clients so they feel reassured that you are poised and ready to continue doing your important work and represent them in a professional manner.
The Right Technology for Videoconferences
First, make sure you have the right videoconferencing solutions to ensure seamless access to video platforms like Zoom, reliable conference lines with clear audio, and Bluetooth or other hands-free solutions that enable you to type or take handwritten notes while speaking. Make sure your company provides you with a designated conference line for your personal use, so you don’t find yourself accidentally dialing into other people’s calls.
Before joining any calls, find the appropriate angle for your video setup. Generally, people present better when the cameras have a slightly higher angle, rather than when the cameras are below them and pointing up at their faces. Sit in front of a neutral background, such as a simple wall with your credentials behind you, and maybe a nice piece of art or a well-decorated bookcase.
Be mindful, however, of the visuals that you display — they shouldn’t give a wrong impression or create distractions while you are speaking. You want all eyes to be on you as the speaker — not fixated on an interesting piece of art or series of family photographs behind your head.
The Right Privacy Protocols
It’s important to ensure that your home office is designed to protect you from any potentially compromising or embarrassing situations that may arise in phone or video calls. For example, rather than having an open door or an open space, such as a family room, clearly visible behind you on video calls, make sure to position your desk in front of a wall and close your door for privacy. That way, you can ensure no one involved in any private activities can be seen behind you during your video conferences.
Minimize the noise and interruptions by keeping pets in other rooms and asking family members to stay away (unless it’s an emergency) while you’re conducting your calls. Additionally, make sure you are careful with your computer or devices, such that your camera doesn’t accidentally reveal confidential documents and other sensitive materials that may create liabilities for you and your clients.
The Right Limits
It’s important to know the difference between creating an office within your home, and turning your home into an office. While we must keep working, we also must keep living.
Lawyers must be able to detach and “leave the office” so they can remain productive and retain an appropriate quality of life. Set work hours for yourself, take “lunch breaks” during which you eat in your dining areas (anywhere outside your home office), and make sure that you and your loved ones can continue to enjoy a good quality of life at home.
As lawyers and other professionals continue to get accustomed to doing business from home, it’s clear that there will be some adjustments and learning along the way. Lawyers who spend the time upfront to establish appropriate home office environments will position themselves for continued success in today’s new normal, and will be in a stronger position when regular business activity resumes.
Luciana Fragali is a licensed architect and interior designer, and owner of Design Solutions.
The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.
For a reprint of this article, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.