A few years ago, I had an epiphany which fell on a Black Friday and much like Jerry Maguire (I must have eaten some pizza that just did not go down right), I felt compelled by this gnawing voice in my head to create or recreate something, and my thoughts kept coming back to my business (and more specifically my business life).
What was I doing with my business? How was it different to any other immigration practice? Was it just a means to an end? Was it meaningful? Did it give my life meaning? Did it give my colleagues a place to succeed?
Around that time, I had invested in an outsourcing business and we were excitedly pooling together funds to remarket that business and grow it organically through our respective networks. This made me feel like an entrepreneur as I was invited to marketing meetings and discussions around potentially listing that business.
A life crisis compounded by pizza fermenting in my small intestine screaming at me to figure out what I was doing with my life – I quickly and quietly did what felt natural, and that was to write! I wrote about what I wanted most in life and how being a business owner and employer meant I had an obligation to right the wrongs that I perceived as an employee. I wrote about what my ideal life would look like from the outside, and what I envisaged the ideal working life would be like at my businesses.
And it all came down to freedom. Freedom.
The notion that you have a right to choose and be whatever you like. Naturally, I needed to place context around this idea of freedom but it was freedom that had kept me motivated throughout my entire life thus far. It is the idea that one day, yes, one day, I would be free to wake up whenever I wanted and do whatever I wanted (interestingly it feels like that now).
Knowing that this had motivated me (and was the underlying notion for countless self-help guides and ultimately most spiritual texts), I went about designing a business model that would create freedom for me and the collaborators within that model. The first thing that came to mind was the issue of the time and place of work.
The Shift in Accessibility
Rewind a few years back, I was fortunate enough that my partner at a Big 4 thought I had a sense of humour as she gracefully overlooked the fact that I arrived at work 45 minutes after the commencement of normal business hours. Now as an employer, I essentially started work the moment my eyes opened as I would immediately reach out for my mobile device and check emails and messages and reply where I could. This excited me as I felt productive and responsive. It felt like the right thing to do by the client and by our unique selling proposition of being client-centric. And in business, it always feels good to be busy. Especially being busy making our clients happy.
So my collaborators (read: senior staff) were slowly introduced to the idea of having their emails on their mobile device. This was slow on the uptake as accessibility can also create a false expectation of responsiveness. It is not uncommon for senior lawyers to provide limited contact details such that telephone calls are taken and advice is given in an environment where full preparation and access to resources are available. In accord with that reasoning, it is an unspoken practice to leave emails for the office to enable a complete and fulsome response. Our KPI to emails is a response on the same day but heightened accessibility can result in a heightened expectation of responsiveness (with some clients expecting a response within 20 minutes of an email being sent).
Being able to access our emails meant we could be anywhere and still be able to service our clients. The simple shift in mindset of being accessible then opened up the notion to staff that we could be anywhere and still ‘work’. This might sound a little archaic but the legal industry remains light years behind many other industries when it comes to mobility in the workforce. This simple shift in accessibility was the impetus we needed to get us to the next stage of mobility.
This was our initial investment for the freedom to work remotely. Whilst not recognised as being IT savvy, my daily vernacular started to include dongles, VPN, cyber-risk and things like notebooks, Todoist, redistributed technology and dial in hubs became our new way of operating. We started to view ourselves as a business as well as a law firm, and this was ground breaking.
Essentially, our objective was to create an ecosystem where we felt productive in or out of the office. The baseline for this is being able to access the same software applications at the same computing powers whilst maintaining the security integrity that exists within the office. Provided that we could meet our baseline, the biggest obstacle (I felt) was our own perception around work.
Then and Now
Traditionally, lawyers place inherent value on face-time in the office and face time with clients as the primary factor of establishing a brand and unique selling proposition (as this was the methodology by which we billed our clients and therefore generated revenue). With the shift in seeing ourselves as a business and helping other businesses do business, we reconfigured how we viewed ourselves within the paradigm of legal work. We started an introspection into how our clients valued us and essentially, we considered that clients valued us for being responsive, caring and intelligent.
This was more about the people making up the collective. It paid no attention to where we were and as a consequence, we instinctively accepted this new value paradigm and slowly found the commute to work could be easily replaced by another hour in bed, an early morning jog or meditation or breakfast with a significant other. Interestingly, I found that my collaborators found the extra time allowed them to devote some energies to things like blogging, mentoring, and business development.
When asked to contribute to this article on our mobile working arrangements, one of my senior collaborators candidly offered that “the most satisfying aspects of such flexible work arrangements for me have included:
- No time wasted in commuting to and from work. I can work in the comfort of my own home and still be productive;
- I have no set working hours. I can work at any time of the day or night and still complete my work in an efficient manner;
- There is generally less distraction than the office environment and as such I find that I can be more responsive to clients;
- I have a work-life balance which genuinely makes me happy.”
That said, there are things we are continuing to manage and the adventure of being a redistributed workforce is not without its challenges and that same collaborator adds: “on the flip-side, working remotely can also have its challenges. Some of these may include:
- Maintaining the workplace culture;
- Managing a team when you are not present to provide direction and instruction in the office;
- Inability to meet with clients or prospective clients face-to-face;
- Juggling work with personal appointments;
- Lack of infrastructure at home.”
Personally, I struggled with the initial period of reduced face time as I felt one of my key roles was time in the office interacting with staff and helping create our culture. Slowly, I began to dedicate this time to blogging hence rekindling my love for writing, which I found to be much more fearless and candid outside of the office. I find a genuineness in writing about Gilton Valeo and immigration when I am miles away in the bush or gazing at the ocean. I feel like a tabula rasa which enables me to be honest and withdraw from the typical self deprecating self-promotion that can be common in business blogging.
Evolving from this, I have witnessed a team that understands the ROI on accessibility and savours the flexibility of our collaborative relationship. We are now exploring our current tech platforms and investing in new ways of delivering our services which are easier for our clients and staff.
Stay tuned as we continue to grow and develop ways of being a leader in the immigration space.