Close
Login to MyACC
ACC Members


Not a Member?

The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) is the world's largest organization serving the professional and business interests of attorneys who practice in the legal departments of corporations, associations, nonprofits and other private-sector organizations around the globe.

Join ACC

What unprecedented times we are living in. As we’ve all had to adjust to a new normal, both personally and professionally, I’ve been reaching out to colleagues and members all over the world to ask how people are coping. While there are definite challenges, I am heartened to hear about some of the positives that have come out of this pandemic, including finding ways to stay connected and close the distance of social distancing.  

When it comes to work, most of us have transitioned to working from home. As leaders, perhaps it was your call to decide when this shift would happen for your organization. I made that decision on March 11, and after one of the most restless nights ever, announced ACC’s office closures via a town hall with staff on the morning of March 12. With that, our journey began and thanks to our talented and hard-working IT team, we continue to get the job done and hope our members continue to experience the same great ACC that they have always known. 

Deciding to close all of our offices and transition to work from home in early March was simply the right thing to do to protect ACC staff. It was a hard decision because at the time, there were so many skeptics and critics and raised eyebrows, and I had initially been one of them. But looking back, I feel very glad that our team was safely working from home by the time other local business leaders eventually followed suit. Making a big organizational change like this one necessitates putting that nagging self-doubt aside, trusting your judgment and the ability of others to do their jobs to plan and execute well. Although relatively minor in comparison, this time reminded me a bit of the anxiety I felt when we moved ACC’s headquarters to an open workspace environment.   
     

When walls fall … 
My personal experience is likely similar to yours — from the time we graduate from law school, to our first positions and beyond, we typically found ourselves in walled offices. The work life of an attorney is often tightly scheduled, deadline driven, and many conversations and meetings require confidentiality. While office walls and doors have obvious advantages, they also lack something that I have come to love — an office environment that is more collaborative, spontaneous, and yes, open. 

When ACC staff worked in traditional office space, there were invariably more office doors closed than open. So to be honest, I had anxiety about the move, and many staff made sure we knew those anxieties were shared. Not having an office door to close can be scary, especially for those of us who’ve worked behind doors and within walls for many years. However, I was committed to a more open work experience, and determined to lead by example. I too have no office — staff are free to walk up and speak to me in our DC offices just like they can with any other colleague. I am interrupted several times a day and have come to welcome, “do you have a minute?” so much so that my response is always, “sure, please have a seat,” and then the learning begins. I feel more energized and connected than I ever did from my office with four walls and a door. In our corner of the office, there’s a rule that if you can hear it, you are free to listen and comment on it. That rule has lead to some very fun and eye-opening exchanges! 

… So does the office “hierarchy”
Yes, it was my choice to move our entire staff to an open work environment, and of course there were protests. But I truly believed that we as a staff would create a stronger sense of community and connectedness, as well as dismantle silos and the sense of hierarchy that often exists in traditional office spaces. You know, this level gets an office with a view, and that level gets a larger office with a bookshelf. Those old “rules” no longer have a place in today’s business environment. Traditional hours, offices, roles even — they have all changed so much over the years and continue to do so. Many of us work across departments and even specialties, and flexibility has become one of the most important things job seekers look for when thinking of joining an organization. For these reasons and more, many of us had regular work-from-home days already in place. Although I’m sure none of us imagined this!

A new transition brings challenges as well as opportunities 
As COVID-19 was the catalyst for ACC’s transition to all staff working from home, we, like you, have had to adjust our daily routines (and quickly!). Now that we are separated again — albeit within our own homes — we’ve had to work on maintaining that connectivity and community we developed in our open workspace office environment. Being resilient, the ACC team has done a great job fostering this connectivity, from daily “virtual coffees” where staff can catch up with each other at the beginning of the day to staff wellness activities like virtual yoga or even hosting virtual happy hours. Despite the distance, we remain a connected team. The move to Microsoft Teams earlier this year has enabled us to participate in these activities, as well as video conference, view presentations, screen share documents, and more.  

 

Separate But Connected

We can communicate. We can meet online and get work done from the comfort of our homes. I say that, realizing that while we love our homes, being in them 24/7 can be confining, not to mention the line between work and home has gone from blurry to virtually non-existent. We must make concerted efforts to separate work and home, as well as to stay connected and communicate effectively during a time when things are so uncertain and scary. We are not only working from home; we are working through a pandemic. How do we cope? 

Even as we master new skills and transition to this socially distant reality, there’s the anxiety of so many unknowns that no amount of planning or personal diligence can help us to control. So how do we cope? Well, I don’t have all the answers, but I thought I’d share a few tips I’ve picked up over the past several weeks.

My WFH Coping Kit  

Have and maintain a routine

Don’t make being at home an excuse for behavior that is otherwise not reflective of how you want to live or present yourself. Make the bed every morning and keep things tidy, get up and get dressed — I strive to look like the professional and leader that I am daily. This routine puts me in the right mindset each day. I read an article written by a much-decorated retired military general who said, if you cannot handle the small task of pulling yourself together at the start of each day, why should anyone look to you to lead when it really matters? That resonated.

Be purposeful

Have regular check-ins with colleagues. Our morning virtual coffees are something I look forward to in order to receive and give quick updates, share good news. In addition, my one-on-one meetings with members of the executive team have become even more important, as is connecting to all staff in order to have a sense of shared purpose, which may be as simple as sharing a recipe for an easy lunch or talking through plans for a new online service.

Communicate with care

Remember the old adage, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it”? I’m not sure that’s still true, as what you say is very important when we are all living through a global crisis. The topics you choose to raise can influence the overall mood and spirit of the team. When daily news updates include how many people have died and how many new cases of the virus have been determined — not to mention the financial burdens this pandemic is and will continue to have on global business — it can be easy to focus on the doom and gloom of the day within your messaging. I could easily fall into this regarding the impact on ACC and our finances. 

I don’t recommend sugar-coating or misrepresenting the truth. However, once known, the negatives should not be dwelled upon, but the strategy and vision forward should be the focus. Further, do not speculate, but speak from a place of knowledge and facts to the extent possible. We all know that speculation can cause miscommunications, misunderstandings, and mistakes. Therefore, communications need to be focused and crafted with care. What is said, how and where, matters today more than ever. 

Sink or swim in technology’s riptides

I’ve lost the luxury of on-site tech support and someone to come over and “fix” it for me. Sound familiar? In the office we can get help from a colleague when technology proves … challenging. Without that help, or safety net, it’s like being tossed into the pool and having to learn to swim in order to get the job done! And guess what? I am learning. It is humbling, but I’m proud of being able to navigate my way. Also, when technology inevitably does not work, be forgiving, resourceful, and have good humor. We are all experiencing the same challenges; people understand. And that technology gremlin who drops in at the most inconvenient time to make familiar processes suddenly freeze up or fail will eventually go away. 

Versatility and pride in self-reliance

Many of us already wear multiple hats — employee, caretaker, virtual educator, community leader, etc. Now we wear those hats in the same room and continue to add to them. For example, I am now also an IT repair professional (if you count climbing under my desk to reconfigure cables, reboot and install systems and apps, and review online tutorials to follow the instructions), and an administrative assistant — organizing my daily schedules and necessary materials to review, implementing a filing and tracking system to find what I need, and more. I’m also moonlighting as a hair colorist, cleaning lady, gardener, house repair, home chef, manicurist, dog groomer, bartender — all roles I happily “outsourced” before. While these may all fall under the category of “first world problems of the privileged,” this is still a big change. We all have to give ourselves some grace and some slack. Yet we are juggling a lot more than we thought we could. We have our communities and networks to rely on. We are resilient.

Take time for you

As the lines between our work and home lives become even more blurry, it’s important to create separation and remember to take personal time. Keep work out of your bedroom for example, and schedule time to veg out with a movie or a good book. Take a walk. Listen to music and get up; dance like no one can see you; sing like no one can hear you (because for many of us, this is likely true!). Be a little bit selfish and carve time for you. My sanctuary is now my garden where weeds don’t stand a chance and instead of spending time with electronic equipment, I am literally slowing down to smell the flowers. 

Our community is stronger than ever   

At the beginning of this piece, I mentioned the challenges and opportunities that have come out of this pandemic. While things have changed drastically, what hasn’t changed is our desire to connect with other people. Yes, we may be communicating differently and virtually, but we are still connected. I see this not only through ACC staff (with virtual lunch dates and happy hours), but also through you, our members. You are working for your organizations, sharing articles and best practices, and more. The above are just a few of the ways I am coping and finding joy during this difficult time — I’d love to hear your tips for working from home, as well as the lessons you’re learning as you cope. 

If you have any comments or questions to share with your in-house community, please send a message to us at [email protected]. Also, I know many of your organizations are doing innovative things and supporting the legal community and beyond. Please take a moment to tell us about those initiatives, and perhaps spotlight your colleagues. Thanks for keeping in touch. 

 

Take care and remain hopeful. We are in this together! 

-Veta 

veta logo

Periodically, ACC President & CEO Veta T. Richardson interviews innovative leaders in the business community. If you or someone you know is doing something note-worthy in the legal world or beyond, if you have a story to tell, or if there's a topic you'd like to see Veta explore, we would love to hear from you!

Share Your View 

ACC

This site uses cookies to store information on your computer. Some are essential to make our site work properly; others help us improve the user experience.

By using the site, you consent to the placement of these cookies. For more information, read our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

Accept