Dear Amicus Agony,
I am quite adept in meeting and interacting with clients face to face – this is the modus operandi that I am used to and trained in. But with the onset of COVID-19, client meetings have essentially all shifted to virtual platforms, either via Zoom or Microsoft Teams and I am struggling to evaluate whether I am being effective or doing it right. What are the etiquettes that I need to be aware of? Any tips?
Tech Dinosaur Associate
Dear Tech Dinosaur Associate,
There is really no magic formula and a universal set of “netiquette” so to speak. But let me share with you a few of my own personal observations.
First, it is important to show the client that you are 100 per cent engaged and focused in the meeting. So, even if you are on mute, talking to others (or on your mobile) during a virtual meeting may be seen as rude because it shows you are not listening to the speaker. Also, unless you have a good reason, in the event that everyone else has their camera turned on during a virtual meeting, you should too. I feel that it is good etiquette to always appear on video, if you can. Being seen on camera really helps to show that you are engaged in the discussion, and it gives your clients and colleagues visual cues about how you are reacting to what is being discussed. And, of course, if you are on camera, it is more likely that you stay focused with the meeting.
Second, it is imperative for the virtual meeting to be seamless. Any issues and hiccups arising from connectivity and the hardware disrupts the flow of the meeting. So, I feel that it is good practice to test your internet connection prior to the meeting. I personally enter into the meeting room five to 10 minutes earlier than the scheduled meeting with my colleagues so that we all can check that our internet connection is working just fine. Backgrounds are also important (check the lighting, adjust your camera position, clear the clutter on your desk and keep distractions to a minimum. It also helps if you download a virtual background). It may also be worthwhile to invest in an external microphone because earpieces on traditional earphones may catch unnecessary noise when physical gestures get captured.
Third, consider using visual tools and prepare your documents beforehand. It can be more difficult to keep the client’s attention when you are not sitting in the same room. So, one way to combat distraction and help ensure a productive meeting is to come prepared with relevant slides, documents etc. to help all the participants stay engaged. However, screen sharing and navigating documents on a virtual platform is no easy feat. Think ahead of the meeting about what the meeting is intended to achieve and set an agenda – list out what documents need to be discussed, tab the necessary documents on your own PDF reader so that the relevant pages can be accessed with one click away and without relentless scrolling. One tip: Always triple check that you have closed all windows except those needed for the meeting. If not, you may accidentally share some personal information that you don’t mean to!
I wish you all the best.
Dear Amicus Agony,
I am a junior associate. Before COVID-19, I worked six days a week – which is already very stressful for me. Now, with COVID-19 and working from home, I get immersed with work while at home and I feel that my work-life balance/boundary is further challenged. I feel that work stress has also crept into my interpersonal relations with friends and family. I am very concerned. What can I do to strike a balance?
Dear Stressed-out Associate,
I can totally understand your concern. For many legal practitioners, work-life balance may be an elusive goal and impossible to reach especially with the billable requirements and work demands. And, the move to work from home arrangement in the wake of COVID-19 has blurred the lines of work and personal time even more. However, I feel that with the right support and planning, a healthy balance is indeed possible.
It is important to leave aside time for yourself and your family. More often than not, work can take precedence in our lives. Our desire to perform and succeed professionally can surpass the need to care for our own well-being. I personally make it a point to carve out time throughout the day to step away from my workspace/computer – say, to take a short walk or whip up a meal. I also reserve an hour or two at night whereby I don’t check my e-mails or work computer so that I can really focus on my personal time.
It is also smart to maximise your firm’s resources. You only have 24 hours in a day. So, find out and plan ahead whether many time-consuming tasks can be delegated to support staff or other professionals, which will save you hours.
Also, don’t forget your colleagues and peers. It is common knowledge that networking with clients is crucial for career success, but networking and fostering meaningful relationship within your firm and practice group is just as important as making contacts outside of the office. A strong support structure with partners and fellow associates helps build trust in times of need when you need that little bit of extra flexibility – for example, due to personal obligations outside of work (childcare, elder care and the likes).
I wish you all the best. Remember, focusing on your well-being will bolster your long-term legal career goals – they come hand in hand.