Cowen Cafe: Getting down to business

On Thursday, July 23, 2020, 56 participants gathered for another invitation-only Cowen Cafe call, sponsored by IproNightOwl Global, and Onna. As usual, we started with a 30-minute group chat, separated into four breakout rooms, and reassembled for a final recap. This week’s highlights: documentation, onboarding, and bacon.

Participants seemed to be in a different mood than at earlier meetings. They seemed to have moved on from a sense of operating in crisis mode. Instead of asking “what do I do in the next two weeks?” they focused on “what do we do for the next two years?” This was not seen as adjusting to a “new normal” – there is no such thing, one participant opined – but rather turning our thoughts to what we need to do so we can conduct our business in a business-like fashion.

Documentation opportunities

From the onset, the discussion was on documentation. One in-house person commented that they are ramping up and evolving all their documentation. They are trying to improve its quality, gathering together information about a lot of processes, procedures, and workflows siloed by the different groups working on them. They are trying to capture the purposes of those activities – why the activities are being done – and look at the activities and their purposes across groups rather that just within silos.

A second in-house person echoed that sentiment. Her current hot topics are reassessing processes, procedures, workflows, the tools supporting them, and the documentation for all of that, both now and for the near future. A provider remarked that while is it important to have the right documentation for everyone’s institutional knowledge, being able to find that documentation contextually is key!”

Another participant wrote, “We do not have any downtime, but we are trying to make sure to document because everything is changing so much and so fast, that we need to document quickly.”

“I think documenting things is also an important way to make sure there is redundancy so that if something happens to the primary knowledge-holder, then someone else can understand the processes,” wrote an in-house participant. “We work closely together with the business to understand what information they store and how they use it so we can proactively figure out how to deal with that data if we need it for discovery”, remarked yet another in-house attendee.

One participant retorted that efforts at documentation can go too far. He just joined a new company that is incredibly obsessive about documenting everything, so much so that he does not know how he is going to both meet the documentation requirements and get his work done.

Another noted that his recent documentation challenge has been to get his people to actually follow the documentation they have spent years building out. When people were in the office, it was much easier. Now it is much harder to get people to adhere to processes when they are juggling the demands of work with the inescapable ones of home.

Onboarding challenges

The second topic the group took up early on was onboarding. They have new hires to onboard, commented an in-house participant, who then asked, “How do you onboard them well in the current environment?”

Things that used to be basic when onboarding people in-person now are difficult to achieve. Once simply by sitting next to a new hire, you were reminded to pay attention to them, remarked a participant; having that physical reminder is impossible when working remotely. Another corporate participant agreed: The ability to see people in the hallways is gone, you have to try to find ways to make up for that.”

Some participants offered suggestions for how to make remote onboarding more effective. “The key issue, I think, in remote onboarding is being conscious of and purposeful about the onboarding items that happened organically in person,” wrote one attendee. “One thing I am seeing related to onboarding is a close tie to IT rights and permissions,” wrote another, “Not only, ‘Are you here?’, but also, can you securely see what you need to see.”

For one law firm participant looking back at his firm’s summer program, a game helped immensely. They used a software program to help manage the summer program at the onset and throughout, and did a lot of hand-holding to make things work. The best aspect of their summer program, however, was the Bingo game they instituted to help folks new and old get to know each other. If anything, it seemed to do an even better job than traditional approaches of breaking down barriers between summer associates and all levels of law firm personnel.

And on the lighter side

During the breakouts, one group jumped to…bacon.

Data is the new bacon, they concluded: everyone is hunger for data, just like bacon, we have to have it all the time. “And like bacon, too much data can lead to ill health effects, ;-)”, wrote one person. “Yes,” commented another, “and like bacon, data can be spoliator if you are not careful!”

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