So by now we’ve maybe gotten into a groove of working from home, and overseeing projects, but if you’re a new supervisor (whether it’s full time staff or interns) finding a way to manage while managing everything else that comes with a pandemic can feel like a bit much. In these situations, when it feels overwhelming, we may end up doing one of two things: completely letting go, which is not great or micromanaging to an extreme, which is never good. So what can you do to ensure you’re still being a good supervisor while dealing with everything else?
One. Scream. Seriously! We may not recognize how anxious we are about everything because we’ve been doing this for months now, but unless you are 100% zen, you are likely tense. Make sure you are taking care of your mental health and keeping an eye on the big picture as you approach work. If you notice that you’re quick to anger, then it’s important you take a beat to regain composure.
Two. Look for balance. Because we have a duty to clients, it’s not enough to just relax the rules a bit; we have to still focus on quality deliverables. But we cannot act as if life isn’t happening. If you have the ability to dictate schedules, case loads, or other portions of the work take time to strategize how to most effectively leverage time and the limited resources of your staff. Because they’re going through it too. And it’s really important we don’t turn a blind eye to how the pandemic is affecting us—working moms especially have been leaving their jobs in droves because of gender inequity issues and if we’re in a position of power we should work to fix those barriers, not just ignore them.
Three. Establish new protocols. Don’t set your people up to fail. Create new systems to keep track of work so that deadlines aren’t missed and no major mishaps occur. This may mean you’re changing normal processes but be upfront that you want to add some new safety nets because everything is so chaotic. For example, if normally only the absolute deadlines are tracked on calendars, add an extra check in or two so that if they fall behind you still have time to step in and help them fix the issue. The key here though is that you then also have to become comfortable in letting the staffer do the work without needing to check constantly. They need to feel like you trust them in their role because nothing diminishes confidence more than an overbearing supervisor.
Four. Time time off. You have to encourage time off from work. And not just encouraging them to take vacation but discourage after hours meetings or emails. It may be part of the job (it is in my current role) and sometimes that is unavoidable part of legal work, but if you can encourage more structured hours, you should do that. There is no glory in nonstop work and eventually they will burn out or provide shoddy work (it’s only human!). And just like they should take time off, you should as well. First, to lead by example so folks know it is ok to take vacation but also for your own mental health. We all need space to decompress even if it’s just time on our couch.
Managing and supervising isn’t a walk in the park. Especially for women who have to grapple with really unfair assumptions about how we’re “bad” managers/leaders. But if we view supervising for what it is—a really important responsibility—then it’s easier to understand why we have to go the extra mile for our team. Because we know that we’ve been given an opportunity to help guide someone through a portion of their career and if you do it right—if you build trust, help them gain skills and confidence in themselves, and provide opportunities for growth—then you will have done a service not just for the individual but for the legal industry as a whole.