What Millennials Can Teach Us About Working from Home and Managing Through a Crisis

By Jacqueline R. Bretell, Esq.

I was named chief executive officer of Bighorn Law on March 11, 2020. On March 12, Governor Steve Sisolak declared a State of Emergency.

Three days later, the schools closed. On my fourth day as CEO, the state mandated all non-essential businesses, including Bighorn Law, to close. And on my fifth day as CEO, an earthquake struck in downtown Salt Lake City – causing damage to Bighorn’s offices in Utah.

If there is a book on how to handle this stuff, I don’t own it.

Like most law firms, many of our employee team members are millennials. I am 32 years old, and a millennial. And now, I am leading millennials through a time of crisis.

By early March it was clear that the coronavirus pandemic was wreaking havoc on businesses across the world. As we watched the mandatory stay-at-home orders be put into place in other countries, it became more and more clear to our firm that we may also face this new reality. I am fortunate that our former CEO, my talented law partner, had the foresight to begin transitioning the remaining members of our team who were still utilizing desktop computers to laptops, in the event that we followed in the footsteps of our friends in Europe. This planning meant that when Clark County schools closed on March 15, forcing our team members with children to work from home, we were nearly 100percent ready to transition our team to a complete work-from-home operation.

The first week of our new reality proved difficult. Of course, there were the obvious issues, such as figuring out the best way to print large documents and send mail. Our team of millennials easily worked through these challenges. Without hesitation or direction, they proceeded to download apps to connect their “work phones” to their cell phones and discovered new ways to scan documents using their smart phones. They implemented schedules, on their own, for one person at a time to go into the office to print large sets of documents for mailing.

As each day went on, things became more and more uncertain. While I was pouring over case counts, financial records and payroll reports in an effort to formulate a plan for our firm’s survival, our team members, aware of what was happening in our community, were sitting in fear and anxiety as they wondered what their own fate would be. This was not conducive to the increased productivity that was needed to get our firm through this crisis.

It was clear we had two vital problems:

  1. Our firm needed an emergency organizational restructuring to best utilize our team members; and
  2. Our team desperately needed hope and direction.

Our firm has a set of axioms we strictly follow. One is “dar la cara” – a Spanish phrase that means to give, or show, your face. With our entire team working from home, I was without the ability to show my face to our team. To improvise, on March 23, I filmed a “selfie” video (like a true millennial) by propping my iPhone against a lamp, and then performed some amateur editing using the iMovie app. I sent the video to every member on our team.

This was my first opportunity to lead our team as their new CEO, and I had to do it right. In the video, I told our team that at our firm, people have always been our No. 1 priority. That included not only our clients, but every one of them. I told them that my No. 1 priority was to ensure their jobs were safe. But I needed their help. I could not do this without them. I needed them to work harder than they ever have before. I needed them to be more creative than they have ever been before. I provided specific details about what was needed at that time – with an emphasis on things like finalizing disbursals as quickly as possible, as so many of our clients were now without work and desperately in need of their settlement funds. I was brutally honest about the grim reality of our firm and what was needed from each of them. It was clear that although I was worried about the uncertain future, I was determined to get through this time, and determined to protect their jobs.

It worked.

In the days that followed my first video, our team’s overall productivity increased. In fact, in the three weeks that followed my first video, our team was more productive than eight of the last 10 weeks that we were working in the office, before the pandemic. While we previously saw 23,000 to 27,000 actions per week in our case management software, we now saw our actions range from 25,000 to 30,000 per week. Our team members, no longer living in fear, were open and honest regarding their decreased workload, allowing me to temporarily modify their workload to include things like disbursal or demand preparation. We saw a record number of disbursals completed. Despite the challenges of an abrupt change to work from home mid-month, our teams exceeded their settlement goals for the month of March.

I needed more videos. I ordered a ring light on Amazon, which held my phone and provided amateur studio lighting. I uploaded two to three videos a week, typically in the mornings. With each video, I focused on providing two things: hope and direction. Hope for a brighter future for our clients through our continued hard work, and direction for that day and the days that followed. Each week, our increased productivity remained consistent. We exceeded our demand goals; we exceeded our settlement goals. Without the pressure of court appearances and depositions, our teams became more creative in their ability to resolve cases for our deserving clients, despite the difficulties of working from home.

Our firm would not be in this place without the help of technology. Here is a list of the tech items that we used to easily make the transition from the office to our homes:

  • Filevine: Filevine is a cloud-based case management software. I love Filevine because it allows me to access a case file from anywhere. Filevine also allows me to text a client directly from their file, which has been extremely beneficial as we work from home.1 
  • Slack: Slack functions as a chat room for our firm and has replaced e-mail as our primary direct messaging and group messaging tool. We have channels for each office and state, as well as for specific groups like our attorneys. Slack also allows for phone calls within the application, to include video phone calls. We use Slack for one-on-one meetings and calls, or small group calls. I added the “Kyber” plugin to our Slack workspace, which allows me to schedule videos to post on certain days and times.2 
  • Vimeo: Vimeo is an ad-free video platform that allows users to upload videos to their website. We use Vimeo to provide a private link to a video, which allows a specific user (with the link) to watch the video without the need to download the video – an important tool when working from home with slower internet speeds. 3 
  • Jive: Jive is a cloud-based VoIP program with an app for your smartphone. As we transitioned to work from home, our team members added the Jive mobile VoIP app to their phones, which allows them to make and accept calls from their own phones, the same as if they were in the office. This also means that a call to a client will show up as coming from our office, even if the call is made through a personal smart phone.4

  • Zoom: Zoom is a platform that allows video conferences. We use Zoom for everything from partner meetings, to our Friday night Happy Hour Bingo with team members.5

Millennials were made for this. We have spent nearly our entire lives using technology for good. We entered the job market during the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression. Despite this, we are driven, tenacious and optimistic.

COVID-19 is a once in a generation challenge. My generation is ready to meet that challenge head-on.

Endnotes:

  1. I do not have any financial interest in Filevine. You can check it out at: filevine.com.
  2. I do not have any financial interest in Slack. You can check it out at: slack.com.
  3. I do not have any financial interest in Vimeo. You can check it out at: vimeo.com.
  4. I do not have any financial interest in Jive. You can check it out at: jive.com.
  5. I do not have any financial interest in Zoom. You can check it out at: zoom.com.

Biography:

Jacqueline R. Bretell is the CEO of Bighorn Law, based out of its Las Vegas office. She specializes in managing high complexity and volume in Bighorn Law’s multi-state personal injury practice. In addition to managing Bighorn Law’s practice, Bretell is a practitioner, specializing in personal injury. She is a member of both the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, as well as the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum.