This article by Manar Morales, President & CEO of the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance was published in Law360’s Expert Analysis column on July 15, 2020.

As states begin to lift restrictions and people emerge from the shutdown, law firms are developing their strategies for reopening offices after weeks of remote working.

Many firms will find that it’s not as simple as it sounds, and there are countless intricacies to consider before employees return. While most firms will focus on ensuring physical spaces are as safe as possible, it’s equally important to consider the impact reopening decisions will have on your firm’s culture of inclusivity moving forward.

Firms will clearly focus on safety measures such as social distancing guidelines, the use of masks and gloves, plexiglass dividers, temperature checks, bathroom and cafeteria limits, and frequent sanitization. Additionally, many offices will choose to bring employees back in phases or have them alternate days in the office. However, even with all the protective measures in place, experts agree that nowhere will be 100% safe from the virus until there is a vaccine or cure.

Consequently, firm leaders are facing extremely difficult decisions regarding how and when to reopen the office and who should return. When contemplating these significant questions, firms should consider the following tips to maintain fairness and support a culture that embraces diversity and inclusion.

Continue Reading on LAW360.com here.

This article by Manar Morales, President & CEO of the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance was published in Law360’s Expert Analysis column on May 14, 2020.

 

A successful team is made up of individuals who perform their responsibilities, support each other, and possess the flexibility to pivot and meet the needs of their coworkers.

While law firms have always functioned in teams, the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified this equation and exponentially increased the need for cohesive teamwork at all levels. In order to ensure smooth operations during remote work and navigate the uncertain road ahead, each team member needs to commit to his or her unique role, intensify support for colleagues, and support the idea of flexible flexibility.

The Role of Chairs and Partners

During this pandemic (and beyond), leadership plays a critical role in setting the tone and navigating the course. All staff and attorneys are dealing with heightened stress and anxiety, and in many cases, increased caregiver responsibilities and isolation. Firm leadership should take this opportunity to demonstrate gratitude, empathy and commitment to their teams by:

Sustaining Morale

It’s particularly important for chairs and partners to relay optimism and empathy while remaining realistic during this pivotal time. To sustain employee morale and engagement during remote work, firm leaders should continuously send messages that reinforce the notion of “we’re in this together” to reassure employees and combat feelings of isolation and anxiety.

Continue Reading on LAW360.com here.

This article was published  April 16, 2020 in THRIVE GLOBAL.

By Manar Morales, President & CEO, The Diversity & Flexibility Alliance

There’s no doubt we’re living through one of the darkest and most uncertain times in modern history. We’re anxious and overwhelmed by the news of so many people affected by COVID-19 and the corresponding financial damage. However, many of us are fortunate to be able to work from home as we shelter in place and distance ourselves from others.  In the midst of so much heartache and chaos, we’re grateful to maintain our professional responsibilities, continue to receive a paycheck and stay home safe with our families.

Ultimately, it’s this gratitude that will help us through this struggle and is critical to remote working success during the pandemic. The most important tool in your crisis-mandated remote working toolkit is mindset. We may not be able to control the chaos around us, but we can control our mindset and outlook. It’s essential to train your mind to focus on what you’re grateful for and what’s going well. Once you’ve focused on the positives, other strategies critical to your remote working toolkit include:

Routine

Create a routine that works for you, your colleagues, and your family. Wake up at the same time and identify blocks of time when you can work most effectively (i.e. early in the morning, late at night, or when the kids are doing online schoolwork). Make sure to communicate these and any changes in timeframes with your team.

Space

Finding a quiet space where you can focus solely on your work will help you transition from your personal responsibilities to your professional obligations. Even without a dedicated home office space, a quiet corner will help you maintain focus and productivity.

Communication

While in person meetings are restricted, virtual and written communication should be increased. Be proactive; outreach to your supervisor and colleagues and make sure to communicate when you’re available for calls and video chats. Provide email updates on projects and express realistic expectations and deadlines. Some projects may be temporarily shifted to the back burner and others will become priorities.

Support

Seek out resources if you need training on new technology or if you need mental health support. Turn to your employee resource group or affinity group for support and connect with peers, mentors, and sponsors.  Provide and solicit feedback on how things are going; be open to solving challenges with colleagues during this unique and difficult time.

Self-Care

It’s important to take care of yourself both mentally and physically, especially during times of crisis.  Take a walk or engage in some kind of physical activity each day. Try to maintain healthy eating habits and reach out to friends regularly.

Flexibility

In a recent article I explained how important it is for business leaders to be optimistic, empathetic, and realistic as they weather the challenges of maintaining  business continuity during this crisis.  It really boils down to everyone being flexible. Dogs will be barking and kids will be heard during phone calls. You may not always be prepared to be on a video call, and that’s OK. It’s really up to all of us to come together, be flexible, and do our best right now.

In time, we’ll return to our physical offices. But in the meantime, care for your families, lean on your friends and co-workers, and rely on these success strategies in your remote working toolkit.

We are here to help you navigate your crisis-mandated telecommuting plan. Please contact Manar Morales to schedule a complimentary call today.

This article was published  April 3, 2020 in THRIVE GLOBAL.

By Manar Morales, President & CEO, The Diversity & Flexibility Alliance

Many organizations around the country have completed their first week or two of transitioning to working remotely. No one knows exactly how long this stay-at-home mandate will last or the extent of the economic or mental health impact. With no clear end in sight, we must prepare for the long haul. Telecommuting 100% of the time for 100% of staff may be the new normal for US businesses and firms for several months.

However, there is a Bright Spot for business leaders during the COVID-19 stay-at-home mandate. This crisis provides leaders with an extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate their gratitude, empathy and commitment to their employees at this pivotal time. My suggestion to business leaders is take this unique opportunity to shine and focus on being optimistic, human, and realistic.

Be Optimistic

Just like Presidents in war time, business leaders are faced with the challenge of setting the tone and sustaining employee morale and engagement. During this crisis-related remote working, it’s essential that business leaders increase their communication to their teams to reassure them and ensure that no one is left feeling isolated or overwhelmed. The more vocal and positive the leader, the less anxious the employees will be. Business leaders must continuously send a message of optimism and hopefulness. Employees will need to sense a “We’re in this together” tone and know that their leaders are there to support them during the crisis.

Be Human

It’s equally important for business leaders to demonstrate their humanity. Undoubtedly, leaders are feeling just as much stress, fear and anxiety as everyone else. It’s critically important for leaders to walk the delicate balance of being positive while also demonstrating that they too are human and they have the same stresses and challenges. Take the time to ask your team members how they are doing personally and share a humorous story about your family life. Explain that babies crying and dogs barking during calls are to be expected. Clearly communicate your schedule of availability and encourage your team to do the same. And, finally, understand that some employees may need remote working training, technology stipends or mental health resources to successfully complete their responsibilities at home.

Be Realistic

The reality is that business leaders will need to temporarily redefine their expectations. While in normal times you may expect to receive immediate responses from your team members, you may now need to be more realistic about deadlines, clarify expectations and prioritize workflow. It’s important to understand that some employees may only be able to work for a few hours at a time while their children are occupied or their babies are sleeping. Understand that some may need to take sick leave if they become ill or to care for sick family members. It’s very important to understand that this is not the same as everyday telecommuting where an employee is expected to perform at the same level as they would in the office. The reality is that with all the obstacles we are facing right now — including school, care center, church, restaurant and gym closures coupled with increased stress, anxiety and illness — this crisis-related telecommuting will look very different.

One day we will go back to business as usual and your employees will remember how they were treated. How do you want to be remembered as a leader? You now have the unique opportunity to increase loyalty…or lose it.

 

We are here to help you navigate your crisis-mandated telecommuting plan. Please contact Manar Morales to schedule a complimentary call today.

This article written by Manar Morales, President & CEO of the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance, is published in the July 2019 issue of Modern Legal Practice. Read on to learn why flexibility is your organization’s new business imperative.

The culture in law firms around the globe is slowly evolving and changing with the times. Once only known for its grueling office hours, inflexible schedules and high turn-over rates, the legal industry is slowly beginning to embrace a new normal; one that offers and supports flexible working arrangements. Traditionally seen as a perk for employees, flexibility has now become the new business imperative.

Law firm leaders, who have long endured regrettable losses and challenges with recruitment and retention, are now reaping the benefits of flexibility — enhanced productivity, higher innovation, improved talent recruitment and retention, increased employee satisfaction and, most of all, a stronger bottom line.

As an industry that provides professional services, the sustainability of a law firm correlates directly with its ability to recruit and retain the best talent. Each year, competition for top legal talent increases and a firm’s ability to offer flexibility is vital to its ability to win the war on talent and mitigate regrettable losses…

READ FULL ARTICLE

 

Tips for Managing a Team When You’re Working a Flexible Schedule

This article by Manar Morales was published on ThriveGlobal.com on November 29, 2018.

It’s one of the most important traits found in good leaders. They lead by example. Never is this more important than when the leader is working a flexible schedule. The fact is there are certain behaviors that are necessary to successfully working a flexible schedule. And, if you’re managing a team while working a flexible schedule, it’s your responsibility to model these behaviors to interrupt flex stigma and unconscious bias, and set the tone for the rest of your team.

 

Laying the Foundation for the Business Case

As a former employment litigator, an adjunct professor and now as the President & CEO of the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance, I have advised and coached hundreds of individuals and organizations on flex-related issues during my twenty-plus-year career. In every case, the success or failure of a flexibility initiative has depended on the actions, commitment and support of leadership. Leaders must begin by laying the foundation for the business case for flexibility. It’s essential that they communicate with all employees that the flex initiative is a business imperative and essential for the recruitment and retention of top talent.

 

Embracing the Cultural Shift

For a flexible work initiative to be successful and to benefit all employees, leaders need to guide a shift in organizational culture to one that sincerely supports and embraces flexibility. Research shows that while many organizations offer a flexible schedule, only a small percentage of the workforce take advantage of the policies. Education and training on flexibility can help close this gap between policy and practice and help to shift the culture of an organization

 

Trust in Your Team is Paramount

While leaders play a pivotal role in ensuring the success of the flex initiative, the responsibility should be shared with the entire team and leaders must be able to trust their team. As Dell’s Global Director of Human Resources, Mohammed “Mo” Chahdi, explains, “In a flexible work environment, leaders must make a conscious decision to trust their team members and to hold them accountable for their outcomes, rather than trying to control them on a day to day basis.” Dell has demonstrated a clear commitment to flexibility as a key component of its culture and their leadership team has led the initiative by working remotely and modeling the behaviors that give it legitimacy.

 

Leading By Example

So how can leaders “walk the talk” on flexibility? Once they have laid the foundation for the flexibility initiative, there are five key flexible work behaviors leaders should model:

  1. Maintain Visibility

There is often an assumption that being productive equates with being in the office, despite the fact that there are just as many distractions in the office as there are outside of it. Professionals who work remotely need to take proactive steps to counteract this misperception by maintaining their presence and their visibility. Be strategic and take advantage of the days you are physically present to develop relationships, participate in events and spend one-on-one time with colleagues.

 

  1. Communicate Proactively

Stay in touch with your team members, keep tabs on all projects and respond to emails and phone calls in a timely manner. Keep in mind, however, that being responsive is not enough. Professionals who work remotely have to be especially proactive with their communications. Supervisors must be more intentional about sharing timely feedback (to avoid the “out of sight, out of mind” tendency) and should be sensitive to the method of delivery of feedback.

 

  1. Be Transparent but Seemless

As a leader working a flexible schedule, it’s important to be accessible. Your team should know how to reach you and should feel comfortable contacting you. Clearly communicate your office hours and make sure you are accessible when you say you are. Make sure someone on your team knows where you are and how to reach you at all appropriate times. Be as transparent as possible about your schedule as it provides your team members with affirmation of their own flexible schedules.

 

  1. Leverage Technology

Make sure you are leveraging all available technologies that enable real-time communication such as chat and messaging features. Additionally, video conferencing should be utilized as often as possible to get face-to-face with your team and create “water cooler moments.” Schedule sharing technologies are useful for sharing real-time availability. While these technologies may seem simple, they can make a meaningful difference in communicating with your team.

 

  1. Be Adaptable

We like to call it “flexible flexibility.” It’s important that you are open to shifting your schedule when needed to fit the needs of your team or clients. Being flexible implies some give and take. In the context of working remotely, this includes demonstrating a willingness to adjust when you need to physically be in the office. It does not, however, mean accepting repeated submission of your schedule to false urgencies or stigmatized views of working outside of the office. To avoid rigidity either way, clearly communicate organizational expectations and work priorities.

 

As Mo Chahdi says “You have to be collaborative and efficient with people you can’t see, and as a leader you have to model this effective collaboration.” Clearly, this new way of collaborating is evolving into a new and improved workplace culture that can reap huge benefits for individuals as well as organizations.

 

Contact Manar Morales for more guidance on flexible work initiatives and how to find your own flex success.