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Autonomous workers. Are they the key to your business success in a post-Covid world? Are they different from remote workers? Do they help or hurt your bottom line?
Explore these important questions and concept of autonomous workers from a leadership perspective with special guest, Hannah Genton, co-founder of CGL LLP.
What You’ll Discover About Autonomous Workers (highlights & transcript):
* The difference between autonomous workers and remote workers [01:44]
* How autonomous workers stay focused on results [03:19]
* Thoughts on recruiting autonomous workers [04:26]
* How autonomous workers still collaborate with colleagues [05:45]
* How to establish accountability for autonomous workers [07:02]
* Why autonomous workers experience more employee engagement [09:40]
* Tips for embracing a business culture that includes autonomous workers [11:52]
* How autonomous workers reflect diverse demographics and psychographics [15:53]
* And MUCH more.
Hanna Hasl-Kelchner: [00:00:01] Autonomous workers, are they the key to your business success in a post covid world? Are they different from remote workers? Do they help or hurt your bottom line? When we come back, this and more as we explore the concept of autonomous workers from a leadership perspective.
Announcer: [00:00:19] This is Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner helping you see business issues hiding in plain view that matters to your bottom line.
Hanna: [00:00:31] Welcome to Business Confidential Now, I’m your host, Hanna Hasl-Kelchner. And after years of toiling at big law firms where attorneys were constantly overworked in tight, rigid office environments, today’s guest, Hannah Genton, co-founded CGL LLP. She wanted to reimagine the legal workspace and give freedom, flexibility and autonomy to her staff. So what she created is a fully distributed transactional law firm that provides clients big law quality legal services at competitive rates, while at the same time delivering a great work life balance for attorneys and staff.
Hanna: [00:01:11] Now, having been a practicing lawyer myself for over 30 years, I know firsthand what those uptight legal cultures are like. And so it’s really refreshing to hear what autonomous workers are all about and I’m eager to learn more about how CGL’s experience with that management philosophy is transferable to other businesses and professions.
Hanna: [00:01:34] So without further ado, welcome to Business Confidential Now Hannah.
Hannah Genton: [00:01:38] Hi, thank you so much, Hanna. It’s great to be here today. I look forward to our conversation.
The difference between autonomous workers and remote workers
Hanna: [00:01:44] Me too. Well, congratulations on embracing this concept of autonomous workers. I’m sure some of our listeners are wondering how autonomous workers are different from remote workers or whether it’s just a fancy phrase for the same thing. Is there a meaningful distinction? What, in your view, is an autonomous worker?
Hannah: [00:02:06] Yeah. So one piece to touch on is the word you used: remote. So remote, a remote worker often indicates that they’re remote, away from a headquarters. And in this case, we’re actually fully distributed, which means we have no offices anywhere. So there is nowhere for our workers to be remote from. Everyone is autonomous in the sense of kind of who they are and how they work. So that’s always just a distinction that we like to clarify there.
Hannah: [00:02:40] There’s also a bit of a, I guess there’s a, conception in the world that remote workers sometimes are kind of like a second-class citizen. That’s shifting quite rapidly, I think, with Covid and a lot of the remote work that’s become much more commonplace over the past year. But for us, an autonomous worker is a very proactive, independent worker. That’s someone that’s very aligned on our model and how we get work done. So at scale, everything is about the value that’s contributed, and that’s where autonomous workers kind of fall into our definition.
How autonomous workers stay focused on results
Hanna: [00:03:19] That’s interesting that some people might think that autonomous workers means that an employee can do whatever they want whenever they want. Now, is that the case? How do you set boundaries?
Hannah: [00:03:31] Yeah, I mean, that’s always something. I guess the big piece here is the culture that you’re running. And we trust our workers deeply. Our team, we’re not an adult day care center, so we’re not about babysitting our employees. They have projects that they need to complete. We also don’t have a lot of concern with controlling how they get things done.
Hannah: [00:03:55] So we’re very focused on the end result, the value, whatever it is, the output of the project that we need done. There are specific requirements to what the deliverable is, and it needs to be up to a certain standard. But for us, it’s not important. If someone can do that in one hour from the beach, on a boat, versus eight hours in an office, it’s not important to us how they get it done. What’s most important is the end result or the value that they produce.
Thoughts on recruiting autonomous workers
Hanna: [00:04:26] How do you recruit? I mean, when you’re screening people and doing and going through an interview process, not everybody can handle autonomy. Do you hire people straight out of law school or what kind of experience do you look for? What are some key factors?
Hannah: [00:04:42] Yeah. So right now we’re primarily made up of very senior experienced attorneys. The piece you’re touching on is a vision of mine. I hope one day that we can set ourselves up to be able to train every level of attorney and bring on every level. Right now, we’re really just set up to bring on senior experienced practitioners. And that’s because those folks generally are able to run with projects and run with matters more autonomously.
Hannah: [00:05:13] They don’t necessarily need that infrastructure or support that is commonplace in a law firm, which is really tremendous training. I think that’s starting to shift actually for us now. We’re getting smarter with technology and communications. And although we’re fully distributed, I mean, we’re constantly in communication with the team. And so I think in the next little bit we’ll actually be able to start bringing on more junior attorneys. But for right now, most of our team are very seasoned practitioners.
How autonomous workers still collaborate with colleagues
Hanna: [00:05:45] So they can work totally on their own autonomously. They know what they would need to get done in order to bring a matter or a case to a resolution. So this is really like partner level, if I understand you.
Hannah: [00:05:59] It is. But I want to ensure that, or just clarify that, there is a lot of collaboration and kind of work that we do. So we might have a commercial expert who’s a seasoned commercial attorney who knows what needs to happen for a commercial project. But part of the commercial agreements have IP language and they need to talk to IP attorney. So there’s a lot of collaboration across the firm in terms of how the attorneys communicate.
Hannah: [00:06:26] It’s just not someone popping into somebody else’s office. We use the phone a lot. We use a lot of tools. We use Zoom and use Slack and we have a lot of tech devices that we use, but people tend to pick up the phone and call each other pretty regularly, so there is that collaboration among different teams.
Hannah: [00:06:48] But yes, in terms of kind of having the ability to handle a project or staff it, even if an attorney needs to staff different specialists on something, they need to have that visibility. That’s what allows them to work a little bit more autonomously.
How to establish accountability for autonomous workers
Hanna: [00:07:02] You touched on something earlier about remote workers sometimes being viewed as second class citizens, that if they’re out of sight, out of mind from management or an organization’s leadership, that maybe they’re just not doing everything they’re supposed to. They’re watching soap operas in the afternoon. And, you know, so my question to you is, for those listeners who maybe have that nagging doubt in the back of their mind, how do you establish accountability?
Hannah: [00:07:34] We’ve been very lucky in the sense that our team, we take that autonomous, that autonomy very seriously. We also take that trust very seriously. And I think that we provide that benefit to our team and they return that. I think that there’s an expectation that, look, we give you the freedom to do what you need to get your job done. We’re not micromanaging you or not following where you are all day or tracking your computer. But in return for that, we expect that you get the project done, you get the project done up to our standards.
Hannah: [00:08:09] We have very strict quality control standards here at CGL. And a lot of that, I think is maintained through the processes that we have. So it’s, nothing is a send it to the attorney and the attorney does the work and then it’s delivered to the client. We have very strict kind of quality control processes that we have implemented to ensure that things are up to our standards.
Hannah: [00:08:31] But we’ve really seen that when we’ve given that trust to our team there’s great reciprocity in that when we’ve treated folks as adults, they’ve responded very well in terms of returning high value projects on time for our clients.
Hanna: [00:08:48] That’s great to know. It sounds like these processes and these quality control mechanisms that you’ve established really create the guardrails that help promote accountability.
Hannah: [00:09:01] Definitely. And I think we’ve spoken about this quite a bit in terms of the importance of processes and that that has helped us tremendously in running the business and figuring things out. When you aren’t all in the office it’s almost like you have to create step by step systems to ensure things are handled properly. And so we’ve really heavily relied where . . . I would say we’re a very process driven business. And that’s helped us in terms of managing expectations and managing our team and most importantly, ensuring that client work is done to our kind of quality standards.
Why autonomous workers experience more employee engagement
Hanna: [00:09:40] Awesome! So do you feel that you’re autonomous workers are more engaged in their work?
Hannah: [00:09:47] Definitely. I feel that it’s been such a difference in terms of the engagement, the enthusiasm, the happiness of the attorneys. You know, my colleagues here are comparing that to a lot of the experiences I had at my big law firm. Although there were happy and wonderful people there, it’s just in that environment, folks are very burnt out there.
Hannah: [00:10:10] We provide people with great latitude to build the workplace scenario that works for them. What’s been most humbling for me and this experience is, what works for one person, like learning there’s different things for different people, but what works for one person, may not work for someone else.
Hannah: [00:10:26] Someone might appreciate and love a 60-hour work week. And that’s where they feel most engaged and they’re able to apply themselves most to clients. Some others may only need about a five-hour work week. That’s where they feel most engaged and tapped in. But because our team has that autonomy to decide what works best for them, I feel there’s so much greater energy and enthusiasm and kind of engagement and attention to our client matters because folks aren’t burnt out.
Hannah: [00:10:53] We’re not trying to not exploit the . . . or bill our attorneys out at the maximum capacity. That’s not the type of firm that we’re trying to be. And we really empower them to determine what that looks like for them. And I think that that translates into greater engagement with the clients and definitely happier attorneys for sure.
Hanna: [00:11:13] Well, it sounds like, correct me if I’m wrong, you’re allowing them to shape the work environment in a way that allows them to perform their best. Would that be fair?
Hannah: [00:11:24] Exactly. Exactly.
Hanna: [00:11:26] Ok, you know, I understand that the legal community is very special, you know, especially big law and the demands that they make on. . . Great, great learning ground for learning the profession, the practice of law that you don’t get in law school, but also very unique as compared to other professions and other types of businesses.
Tips for embracing a business culture that includes autonomous workers
Hanna: [00:11:52] So I’m wondering if we could explore how what you’ve achieved and learned about creating a firm with autonomous workers could be transferred to other professions or other businesses, for example. What advice would you give other business owners about exploring the possibility of engaging autonomous workers?
Hannah: [00:12:17] First piece of advice would be that they’d have to really be passionate about wanting to do it. It’s certainly not easy to figure out, and it’s something that requires dedication and commitment. So first and foremost, just ensuring that they have the appetite for that and tackling that kind of problem and going into it.
Hannah: [00:12:38] If it’s some kind of clear or some kind of practical tips, I would say in kind of, the first one is on that you’ve got to go all in. You’ve got to commit to providing a culture of autonomous workers. It’s really important to set clear expectations with your team. I cannot emphasize that enough, communication and setting expectations.
Hannah: [00:12:57] Yes, that’s fine if you want to work from a coffee shop or the beach. But the deliverable is in this form and is expected on this date, or whatever it is that the client needs. So being very clear about expectations there. Other leaders, I’d say, really ensuring that you research and find out the technology and tools that set your organization and set your team up for success.
Hannah: [00:13:24] So you can’t just throw your workers out there and say, OK, be autonomous and I hope for the best. It requires a very engaged leader. It requires a very thoughtful process where we don’t micromanage our team. I’m constantly checking in. How are you doing? Do you have the tools that you need to succeed? How can we be helping you? You know, it takes real commitment from the employer, I think, to focus on those folks and make sure that they have the tools that they need.
Hannah: [00:13:54] As I mentioned before, really defining and having, defining and communicating, very clear processes about how things are handled that helps reduce a lot of friction. It also helps manage expectations and kind of clarify how things are run. So you don’t have kind of things lost in the ether.
Hannah: [00:14:14] This one and I kind of hesitate to do this one, but checking in with your people, just because you’re not all working in an office space doesn’t mean you’re not communicating regularly, understanding the best way to get in touch with your team. I have some team members that we text regularly. I have others that we just have a formal weekly check and call. Both work.
Hannah: [00:14:35] It just depends on, like, what is the best for the project, what is the best for that type of the work that you’re doing together and that team member. And so just, you know, it requires flexibility as a leader to identify and kind of meet your people where there at.
Hannah: [00:14:51] And then this one is the lawyer in me, but really taking it seriously and ensuring you’re compliant from an employment law perspective, especially if you’ve got employees across different states. There are plenty, whether you’re using a law firm that’s helping you kind of manage that piece. . . . There are people and organizations that help businesses kind of manage this, but really taking seriously how you manage the fact that you have workers that might be moving around safer in different locations. So they’re kind of some tips, I’d say are two things to advise others considering doing an autonomous workplace.
Hanna: [00:15:29] That’s a great list. I especially like the last one because it probably impacts, you know, withholding on the state taxes. And if any of them are in different countries, that’s a whole other level of complexity. But I applaud your efforts in adopting this autonomous worker model and concept to create your firm.
Autonomous workers reflect diverse demographics and psychographics
Hanna: [00:15:53] And I sense that there is a tremendous amount of planning that went into this before you even hired anybody else to participate in this business of yours. I’m just wondering what surprises came along the way, either, like, oh, my God, we didn’t think about this or wow, that was a good one. On either side.
Hannah: [00:16:16] I feel like every day as an entrepreneur is full of surprises and each day there’s something new that you didn’t anticipate. I think, you know, that’s part of it. I like that part and that I guess, I don’t know, stimulation.
Hannah: [00:16:33] One of the things that’s been surprising for me and this is a little bit on the personal side, but when my co-founder and I started this firm, we were both mothers. I had a one-and-a-half-year-old and a one-month-old at the time, and she had a three-year-old and so were mothers of young children still trying to practice in a meaningful way while also managing young children, knowing that our children wouldn’t be young forever and needing kind of that attention.
Hannah: [00:17:02] And when we started and coming up with this idea of autonomy and a supportive space, we have kind of the assumption that most of the attorneys that would come and join us would look like us, the mothers of young children that maybe big law wasn’t working out for them and they wanted to be home with their kids or something like that.
Hannah: [00:17:23] What one of the biggest learnings has been is actually the mothers of CGL, if you will, are a minority. Now, we are, our team is made up of so many different humans with different stories and different reasons why an autonomous workplace is meaningful to them. And I mean, just each person’s story that we learn fuels the fire, fuels the passion of why we’re doing this, how do we make an impact on the lives of these people?
Hannah: [00:17:52] And that was a big learning, I think, for us. And also something that we’ve been educating the world about is it’s not just mothers who don’t want to work at big law firms because of this kind of stereotypical reasoning. There are many people. We have attorneys caring for aging parents. We have attorneys that were partners in big firms that just didn’t want that lifestyle anymore. We have folks that are pursuing other passions and interests.
Hannah: [00:18:18] I mean, really, we have people with disabilities that weren’t able to . . . they were challenged in their previous workplaces. I mean, it’s kind of each day I’m blown away by kind of the different of a human beings we have here. And it really validates, I think, what we’re trying to do and that we so long lived in a world that work was one thing and was kind of put in the box and life was another thing and it was put in this box and they didn’t really merge.
Hannah: [00:18:47] And as you know, life is not like . . . Life doesn’t fit into this pretty box. And so what we’re trying to do with this as a workplace is really allow the worlds to merge a bit. What works for one of our workers this year might be very different for them next year because life is dynamic and it’s constantly changing. And so how do we create a workplace that adapts to that and supports humans as they go through life so that we can benefit from maintaining or retaining that talent and working with these people and they can still do work that they enjoy that kind of flows a bit more seamlessly with their life.
Hanna: [00:19:26] Excellent. I love that fluidity, the mutual respect. It just sounds like a really delightful culture where the key definitely is properly managing and finding the right talent. So very interesting about the different assumptions that you had going into this and how they’ve been blown away. And hopefully that opens the eyes of some of our listeners who realize that, hmm, maybe there is a whole universe of untapped talent that they could benefit from and maybe even revisit how they view their work life balance so that it’s a Win-Win all around and the pie gets bigger.
Hanna: [00:20:08] So thank you so much for sharing that. Any last-minute thoughts before we close here?
Hannah: [00:20:14] Not really. You know, I mean, I think that you kind of hit the nail on the head there in terms of the passion and impact of CGL. I think that if we could change the narrative about how people view this ideal worker and what they look like, we’d really open the door to (1) employers having access to just a greater pool of talent and also people having the ability to work in careers that are fulfilling to them throughout their life and not having to decide between personal life and work. That’s the vision. So something that’s very near and dear to my heart.
Hanna: [00:20:53] That’s a great vision because too many people make the trade off, they get burnt out and worst of all, developed some serious health problems because of all the stress that they’re under.
Hanna: [00:21:04] So for our listeners, if you’d like to contact Hannah and learn more about her and her law firm, you could find that information in the show notes at BusinessConfidentialRadio.com. And if you found today’s program helpful, tell your friends, let them benefit from this concept of autonomous workers and leave a review on your podcast app or at LoveThePodcast.com/BusinessConfidential.
Hanna: [00:21:30] You’ve been listening to Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner. So have a great day and an even better tomorrow. Thank you.
Guest: Hannah Genton
After years of toiling at Big Law firms where attorneys were constantly overworked in tight, rigid office environments, today’s guest Hannah Genton co-founded CGL LLP. She wanted to reimagine the legal workspace and give freedom, flexibility and autonomy to her staff.
So what she created is a fully distributed transactional law firm that provides clients Big Law quality legal services at competitive rates while at the same time delivering a greater work/life balance for their attorneys and staff.
The result is a vibrant, successful law firm that provides high quality legal services in an environment that meets the varying needs of their employees.
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