Mar 02, 2021
Reflections on Working Remotely: One Year and Counting
Mar 02, 2021
By Daniel J. Schneider
Owning a young bi-coastal law practice has meant both growing pains and delights. COVID-19 added an entirely unexpected twist. After a year of change and uncertainty, my firm is now fortunate enough to need to hire our first associate. The most popular question during interviews is, “Are we expected to be in the office every day?”
My own office for the last year has been my dining room table in my 1,100 square foot apartment. Weighing various risks, I have chosen, despite my office technically being open, to do 95% of my work remotely. To my immediate left is my wife, whose office is at the very same dining room table.
With the price per square foot in my home base of Manhattan in the thousands of dollars, having a home office is a little too much to ask. Further complicating the dining table proximity, my wife spends her professional life on Zoom. To drown out the sound, my headphones have been in such regular use, I might as well graft them to the inside of my ears.
When I have my own Zoom calls and remote court appearances, I travel thirty paces down the hall to my bedroom where the bed frame acts as my backdrop. While in the bedroom, I am mindful of my volume because my stepdaughter is attending high school virtually in the bedroom next door. It’s not the ideal setup for meetings and appearances, but on the bright side, I’ve never been turned into a cat.
Manhattan in a pandemic winter makes this even harder. When there is no need to commute, when everything can be delivered, and with cold air and hardly a hint of nature nearby, I have gone literally days without leaving my apartment. I have found myself looking out my window at the cement down below on a 20-degree day and adding yet another 24-hour stretch of staying inside.
That is the pain of remote working, but I am lucky too. Many of my clients are restaurateurs and contractors—boots on the ground sort of occupations, making it hard to forget the luck I have that I am a lawyer in the virtual age. I also don’t take for granted that the infrastructure of my firm allowed me to seamlessly transition to totally remote productivity. Serendipitously, cybersecurity requirements meant that our entire file catalogue is on a secure cloud system and when we opened, we decided on laptops rather than desktops. Everything I need is securely at my fingertips. The only obstacles are cabin fever and declining concentration.
For the most part, I find my groove in my dining room, music in my ears, and am able to do my work, generate business and run the back office fairly seamlessly. And I get to save all of the travel time of commuting and getting to and from court, depositions and other meetings. Having transitioned to this new normal, my firm has found its footing and is actually growing.
Which brings me back to the young associates-to-be. Interviewing today is yet another wonder of technology and remote practice. All of ours has been done on Zoom. The applicants have shown up almost entirely on time and appropriately dressed. The conversations have been easy and informative. Perhaps not being on our “turf” has made candidates less anxious and more open.
“What is your policy on remote work?” they ask. We respond that our policy is ensuring employee comfort and safety, that our office is open and all required COVID safety measures are in place. Nonetheless, so long as the work is getting done and everything needed can be retrieved from the online files, remote work is acceptable.
To our surprise, more often than not, candidates go out of their way to stress that they would be more than happy to come in and work in an office environment. It appears that so long as safety is taken into account, people are ready to get out of the house.
Regardless of how seamless your systems are, nothing is going to be able to replace the benefit of (professional) human contact in the workplace. As busy and successful as I have been working from home, I, too, am ready to safely return to the office. But I am sure happy to know that the alternative works too.
Daniel J. Schneider is a New York based trial attorney and a Founding Partner at Farber Schneider Ferrari LLP. His practice centers around the real estate arena, representing developers, design professionals, interior designers, contractors and others with a multitude of issues which affect real property and construction projects. This includes, without limitation, property damage, construction defects, personal injury defense, neighbor disputes, corporate disputes, contractual issues and employment issues within the various companies. Mr. Schneider previously practiced in Southern California as General Counsel for an education-based start-up and his firm has just opened an office in Santa Monica. He opened his firm with his partners and a shared philosophy that good relationships are good business and that efficiency and effective advocacy cultivate a years long attorney-client relationship that spans multiple matters.