Solo/Small Firm

Managing Your People Online

Tips for Leading Virtually

Written by Martha M. Newman

an online meeting with the manager in the middle of the video 
screen and her employees around her

Remote working necessitated by COVID-19 challenges section chairs to manage their lawyers and staff as effectively virtually as they do in person. Lack of face-to-face interactions, the impersonal nature of video meetings, trying to read people’s reactions in postage-size images, and coping with distractions at home make it difficult to supervise effectively. Management as usual is not sufficient. Unorthodox work conditions full of uncertainty and anxiety demand new skills.

You Cannot Rely on Your Charisma Online
You may be charming in person but talking to a camera diminishes your professional presence. Raise your energy level to keep your lawyers focused. Use strong body language—lean toward the screen when talking, get your hands out of your lap and gesture with authority, verbally acknowledge others, and strengthen eye contact. Watch for signs of disengagement and lighten the monotony of meetings with laughter.

Think Strategically
Ask yourself, Is this meeting really necessary? Does it need to last 60 minutes? Before each meeting, decide your objectives, your agenda, the time you want to spend on each item, and to whom you want to speak. Delegate timekeeping and note-taking.

Avoid Update Meetings
As Roger Glazer wrote in Forbes, “Take a page from Jeff Bezos’ playbook and use a memo system … [H]ave [your team] write down their updates in a memo that gets circulated to all meeting attendees before the call … Not only will your attendees be more engaged, but your discussion will lead to more ideas and solutions.”

Keep an Eye on Productivity
Set clear expectations regarding work volume, quality, billable hours, and deadlines. Create action plans after every meeting to foster accountability. Consider requiring staff to log calls and tasks performed daily.

Stay in close contact with your people. Social isolation can damage the morale and productivity of lawyers and staff who are normally self-motivated.

Build Virtual Camaraderie
A team approach can make a scattered workforce feel cohesive. Encourage your people to share their wins. Recognize outstanding work. Ask questions about ways your people are handling work from home. Allow some time at the beginning and at the end of meetings for non-work talk. Encourage social time during off hours to boost morale.

Stop Toxic Behavior
Take control of bad actors. Shut down bullying, blaming, rude interruptions, and other toxic behaviors during remote meetings that damage morale and embarrass others. If you allow unhealthy dynamics to persist, rapport and teamwork will disintegrate.

Monitor Morale and Well-Being
It’s OK to talk about feelings. Acknowledge the strain of the crisis. Empathize with the struggles caused by the pandemic. During one-on-ones, ask questions to provide emotional support during this stressful lockdown: “How is this remote working affecting your family?” “Is there any help you need?”

Help Your People Weather the Storm
Skillfully managing your people during this crisis will impact their lives and their work profoundly. Your resilience, calm, and optimism can inspire all those who look to you for leadership and pull them through the pandemic. Grow your skills to meet that challenge.TBJ

Headshot Martha M. NewmanMARTHA M. NEWMAN is a former oil and gas litigator and owner of Top Lawyer Coach. She specializes in lawyer coaching and consulting in the areas of law firm management, business development, leadership, time management, presentation skills, career advancement, and job interviewing. Newman has been awarded the Professional Certified Coach, or PCC, credential by the International Coach Federation in recognition of her coaching excellence. For more information, go to

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