Information silos can have a profound impact on any business, but they can be especially devastating for law firms. From inefficiencies and errors to revenue losses, the ramifications of such silos can be widespread and long-lasting. And the risks can be particularly acute in the virtual office space, where colleagues may have relatively few opportunities to engage and collaborate in real-time. But what are information silos, exactly, and how can they be prevented?
Understanding Information Silos
Information silos are a ubiquitous threat in any company because they can emerge easily but are often difficult to recognize. Silos occur when employees fail to receive the information they need to do their work properly and efficiently.
The result can be redundant and delayed processes, workplace miscommunication, and performance declines. And that, in turn, can compromise company culture, lead to financial waste, and contribute to a poor overall client experience.
Information Silos in Virtual Law Firms
While silos are a threat to any business, they are a particular hazard in the virtual office space, where employees find themselves working largely alone. In a virtual law firm, the emergence of information silos can not only contribute to low productivity, procedural mistakes, and low morale, but they can also reduce attorney efficacy. And that may have devastating consequences for clients.
In the virtual law office, the principal contributor to information silos may simply be the failure to implement a comprehensive communication strategy that includes cohesive and transparent work processes.
For example, when employees lack a clear procedure for creating, storing, and sharing data, from documents to work schedules to appointment calendars, essential information can be easily lost. Similarly, when job roles are not clearly defined, employees may not understand who to reach out to for the materials they may need to complete their work. And that can lead to redundant work and incomplete or incorrect data.
Preventing Information Silos
As common as silos are and as damaging as they can be, silos can also be readily prevented with a bit of strategy and effort.
Make a Plan and Share It
The first and most important step for avoiding information silos is to formulate an action plan and share it with the entire team. Your strategy should include a comprehensive communications protocol that outlines who owns what data, and precisely when, how, and where that data should be shared, both internally and externally.
In addition to codifying your communications plan, you will also need to ensure that the required processes are understood and adhered to by the entire team. This will likely require you to outline and routinely update processes in an easily accessible employee handbook or communications guide.
Training in required communications processes should also be incorporated into employee onboarding and in refresher courses provided to all employees at least once or twice a year.
Standardize Processes and Productivity Tools
Another important risk factor in the emergence of information silos is the failure to standardize the processes and tools used in creating work products. When employees are using their preferred applications and software for creating documents or storing data, for example, you risk issues with compatibility and access for the rest of the team.
However, by defining which tools are to be used for each work product and by centralizing data and document storage through a cloud-based app such as Google Docs or Dropbox, you’re ensuring that information-sharing is always seamless, efficient, and transparent.
Hold Regular Online Meetings
As beneficial as online productivity tools like email and instant messaging apps can be, there’s perhaps no better way to prevent information silos and, thus, foster improved remote collaboration than to hold regular online meetings with the entire team. Routine virtual meetings enable the team to receive status updates, to ask and address questions in real-time, and simply to ensure that everyone is on the same page for the work days ahead.
Leverage Business Analytics
One of the most dangerous aspects of information silos is that they can be hard to identify until significant damage has already been done. However, business analytics can be a powerful tool for pinpointing and remediating silos.
For instance, business data can be gathered to identify departments or divisions within the firm that are not performing efficiently, areas where error rates, productivity declines, or revenue losses are disproportionate to the rest of the firm. Such data can indicate the presence of an information silo, enabling executives and stakeholders to make informed, evidence-based choices to improve the efficiency and performance of the division in particular and the firm in general.
Information silos are a significant organizational risk, no matter the industry. However, they can be particularly destructive for law firms operating the virtual space. The good news, though, is that information silos may be easily prevented through the development of a clear, cohesive, and comprehensive communications plan.