5 ways to ensure your virtual firm is not open 24/7
Thought Leadership

5 ways to ensure your virtual firm is not open 24/7

Being a virtual firm has its advantages: lower overhead costs, improved productivity, and my favorite perk, flexible hours. But just because you have the power to build your own schedule doesn't mean that the schedule is 24/7. In a traditional brick and mortar firm, it's easy to separate work and home. However, those lines can get a little blurred when your virtual practice is run from home. The solution? You will need to establish some boundaries to let your body and brain know when it's time to shut down for the day.

According to a study conducted by Robert Half, remote workers are now working on the weekends because of the transition to work from home that began during the pandemic, and 45% of respondents are putting in more than 8 hours a day during the regular workweek.

The inability to "shut down" can lead to physical and mental fatigue, as well as the potential for clients, employees, managers, and/or other co-workers to disrespect your boundaries.

According to a LinkedIn article posted by Justin Black, burnout is a growing threat to the productivity and engagement of today's workforce. Those who struggle with balancing home and work are 4.4x more likely to show signs of job burnout. One of the major causes of burnout is the inability to disconnect from work. It's easy to lose track of time—working during lunch or late into the evening just to meet your deadlines. So, you must be intentional about how you manage your time and set those virtual boundaries.

Technology makes it convenient and easy for people to access us, so how do you ensure you are available for work, but also make space for yourself? Here are five ways I set boundaries to ensure I don't get burned out and my work still gets done.

#1: Have a morning routine

I don't start my day by checking email. As easy as it is to roll over, grab my phone, and respond to email, I try to resist doing that. After I shower and get dressed, I make my coffee, grab a book to read 10 pages, and make an entry in my 5-Minute Journal. This helps me prioritize me and focus on the things that I'm grateful for and are important to me. I call this the calm before the storm because it allows me to slow down for about 30 minutes before I start my workday and jump into my several calls and/or meetings for the day.

#2: Schedule everything

I schedule EVERYTHING. Every single client and staff meeting is scheduled, as well as my personal appointments, including my bi-weekly haircut and gym sessions. These appointments are in my Google calendar and written into my paper planner weekly. The digital calendar lets my team and booking app know my availability, while my paper planner helps me build in time blocks to get actual client work completed. I use a weekly overview so I can set my priorities for the week, and understand how many Pomodoros are needed to get those things done. I put my personal appointments on my calendar so that I keep those appointments. If I can show up to meet with others, then I definitely should be showing up to take care of myself.

#3: Set a communication policy

Our clients know we are appointment-only, so rarely do they email or call us for quick questions. In our onboarding documentation, we clearly spell out our office hours, how to get in contact with us, and what our response times are. This sets the tone from the beginning of the relationship and helps them understand that even though we are working with you virtually, we are not available after hours or on the weekends. 

If we are guilty of working after normal workday hours, we schedule emails to the clients to be received during our normal business hours, so the client isn't under the impression we are available when we say we are not.

We also have an internal communication policy for responding to team members. It's easy to expect an immediate response if someone pings you in Slack or sends a text message, but I encourage my team to do deep work and minimize distractions. In our firm, not responding to someone immediately is OK. Our policy is to check instant messages at least hourly, and we also hold weekly team meetings to ensure we are all on the same page for the priorities of the week. I also hold 1:1 meetings with individual team members bi-weekly to catch up and see if there is any way I can help them grow and develop in their current roles. 

#4: Anticipate emergencies

I leave one day a week free and clear of meetings, in anticipation of any time-sensitive issues. Having this day blocked off allows me to not stress if something major comes up during the week because I know I have time in my schedule to handle it. Most weeks I don't need it, but on the occasion I do, it's nice to know that I don't have to work after hours or on the weekend because I planned for it.

#5: Minimize meetings

I try my best to avoid unnecessary meetings. On average, professionals now spend more than half of their 40-hour workweek in meetings, according to the Productivity Trends report from Reclaim. Instead, I like to anticipate the questions my clients may have and use video to answer them before being asked. For example, I send a video review with tax returns that compare the prior year to the current year if there are major variances, the refund is lower than last year, or the client owes a big balance. I explain why in a quick 2-5 minute video that's delivered with the return. This cuts down on several back-and-forth emails, or the "I need a meeting" request, ensuring that I do not add another meeting to my calendar. 

Don’t forget your staff

As you continue to design the virtual firm of your dreams, remember that the people working in the firm are the heart and soul of the organization. You and your staff will need the mental capacity to not only serve your clients, but also enjoy your life outside the office. In the long run, this time not thinking about work will only make you better at what you do. You’ll have the space to improve your mental health, motivation, and perspective, allowing you to handle whatever comes your way.

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