When Bill Thrush was starting his career as an attorney back in 1994, the internet was new and the technology that law firms depended on were the telephone and the fax machine. He has watched technology evolve over the years, and he’s been a proponent of remote working long before COVID-19 forced companies to send employees home to work.
Bill Thrush is a managing partner at Friedman, Framme and Thrush, P.A. They have offices in Owings Mills, Maryland and Richmond, Virginia. About a third of their 110 employees worked remotely prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of them attorneys who conduct phone consultations for LegalShield members in six states and the District of Colombia.
VoIP Untethered Employees from Their Offices
Bill has watched technology evolve through the years, and he pinpoints a major turning point in that evolution to be when phone communications were no longer locked to landlines, but were available through the internet with VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). That’s when people gained the freedom to have their “desk” anywhere.
“I think one of the things that sparked that evolution for us was shifting from a landline-based hard telephone system to a VoIP system,” said Bill. “Once we did that and had the technological ability to basically make the phone call from anywhere through a hard phone or soft phone or an app, I think that was probably the thing that really set us in the direction of being able to go with remote workers.”
Decrease Physical Footprint with the Cloud
Bill is very forward thinking about technology and the importance of cybersecurity. He recognizes that technology can be used to improve client experience and he’s been working toward a goal to decrease the law firm’s physical footprint by increasing their remote workforce.
Bill recognizes how cloud technologies have been integral to untying both voice communications and business operations from a physical location. When the technology to log into a server from a location exterior to the office was first possible, it was clunky and unwieldy if you wanted to work that way for a whole day. The cloud changed all that.
“Once we migrated and moved into the cloud-based environment, it really didn't matter where you were sitting,” he explained. “I work from a laptop, and whether I'm working from a laptop at my office desk, or I'm working in a laptop from my home, or whether I'm working from the laptop in my office in Richmond, or I'm working while I'm sitting on the train in between Baltimore and Richmond, I have access to the same exact thing in my system that I would have if I'm tethered into my machine in my home base headquarters office. I think the cloud really helped to do that.”
IT Guidance from XPERTECHS to Evolve Their Technology
Bill and his office manager, Steve Myers, partnered with XPERTECHS to move Friedman, Framme and Thrush, P.A. towards their goal of making business operations flexible and location agnostic with technology. The law firm had been working with XPERTECHS since 2010 and relied on them to bring them the IT expertise they needed to move them towards their vision.
It was Bill’s idea to start moving people to work remotely, and he collaborated with the XPERTECHS team to create an IT roadmap that identified the technology improvements that were needed. These improvements included moving their infrastructure to the cloud and implementing robust security.
Staff Offered a Work-from-Home Sampler
It’s one thing to be able to equip your staff with the technology they need to work from anywhere. It’s another to make sure that the work at home environment is going to be successful for individual people. Sensitive to the differing attitudes that his staff had about remote working, Bill introduced the concept gently, giving people a sample of remote work life a little at a time.
“What we did was we took certain subsets of people and started moving them out, because there was a little bit of trepidation with some of the employees too, about not wanting to work outside of the office,” said Bill. “People get sort of ingrained in what they like to do and what they're comfortable and familiar with. We recognize that and just didn't want to flip a switch and make everyone go. So we started sending certain people, individuals out, and then let them come back and tell everybody about their experience and then switch off and let others do it.”
COVID-19 Remote Work Transition Was Easy
The ”try it you’ll like it” strategy worked. Once people got used to the idea, more people volunteered to work remotely. Then the COVID-19 crisis hit, and the choice turned into necessity. Because they had already laid the groundwork for equipping their staff to work remotely – moving their infrastructure to the cloud, implementing robust security, and utilizing VoIP communications – their transition when the shelter-in-place order came was easy.
“On that Monday morning, just before all the government people started to recommend going on lockdown, I just sent everyone home,” said Bill. “It took us about two hours for everyone to commute and get home and get us up and running. We were only dark for about two hours.”
Increased Communication Compensates for Lack of Face-to-Face Interactions
Becoming a virtual company was easy, but the firm has had to make some adjustments in how they operate. They recognize that the lack of face-to-face human interaction means that there’s also a lack of spontaneous idea exchange. There’s also a risk of losing the feeling of camaraderie that comes with being part of a group of people.
To accommodate, they’ve increased communication to make sure that people stay in contact with one another and avoid feelings of isolation. Managers have been circling back with people more frequently to touch base and stay connected.
Just before the pandemic hit, Bill and his IT manager had launched the Microsoft Teams app for communication and collaboration. Its use has blossomed with the increased communication that has been needed to keep everyone connected and up to date with the ongoing work of the firm.
Remote Working a Valuable Benefit to Employees and Employers
There are now a few people back to the offices of Friedman, Framme and Thrush because their job descriptions were more reliant on activities that happen in the office. There’s still mail to handle and visitors to greet. Some attorneys working in litigation have a better workflow when they’re in the office. If Bill has his way, he’ll figure how to make that workflow efficient from a virtual standpoint and he’ll bring up the option for those people to return to remote work.
You could say that Bill was ahead of his time with his vision to enable a remote workforce. He saw the opportunity that technology offered, and he didn’t share the fear that some business leaders have that their employees are just going to goof off when they’re at home. Instead, he’s found that when you give people the ability to work remotely, they really do enjoy it, and they'll work harder in order to not lose a benefit that’s valuable to them.
Attitudes About Remote Work Have Changed
“This pandemic has changed the landscape completely in terms of how people view remote workers and working from home, both from an employer standpoint and an employee standpoint. It's probably escalated that whole evolution, and sped it up significantly,” said Bill.
As the situation with COVID-19 progresses, and the firm is able to bring more people back to the office, there will probably be a good number who want to stay remote, at least for part of the time. The office will still be a home base, but Bill’s vision for decreasing their physical footprint while increasing their virtual footprint is becoming reality.
Read more about how XPERTECHS worked with Friedman, Framme and Thrush to create an IT roadmap that would prepare them for a smooth transition to remote working when the COVID-19 crisis sent employees home to work: XPERTECHS Fast-Tracked Virtual Upsizing at Friedman, Framme and Thrush, P.A.
About Friedman, Framme and Thrush, P.A.
Friedman, Framme & Thrush, P.A. is a large firm with a small firm mentality. We combine exceptional experience, modern efficiency and a commitment to personal service. Our practice areas include commercial and retail collection, bankruptcy matters, general litigation, auto accident, workers’ compensation, business, criminal and family law. We’re the providers of LegalShield for six states and the District of Columbia. Learn more at https://fftlaw.com/