Henry E. Reaves III of Reaves Law Firm: “Be wary of Zoom weariness”

Create opportunities for your team to decompress and talk about non-work topics and issues. We created “chit chat” time just before our virtual meetings. Allowing even five minutes before a meeting begins to allow people to chat provides a space for them to interact with each other first, rather than getting straight to business. This […]

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Create opportunities for your team to decompress and talk about non-work topics and issues. We created “chit chat” time just before our virtual meetings. Allowing even five minutes before a meeting begins to allow people to chat provides a space for them to interact with each other first, rather than getting straight to business. This idea came from a work team staying on a Zoom call for 15–20 minutes after meeting our meeting goals in less than an hour. They were able to get to know each other outside of work, which further built a sense of bonding and team.

We are living in a new world in which offices are becoming obsolete. How can teams effectively communicate if they are never together? Zoom and Slack are excellent tools, but they don’t replicate all the advantages of being together. What strategies, tools and techniques work to be a highly effective communicator, even if you are not in the same space?

In this interview series, we are interviewing business leaders who share the strategies, tools and techniques they use to effectively and efficiently communicate with their team who may be spread out across the world. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Henry E. Reaves III, founder and owner of the Reaves Law Firm, PLLC .The Memphis native developed a passion for trial work and personal injury law while completing his degree at the Indiana University School of Law. He founded Reaves Law Firm in 2011 as a solo attorney, growing the firm to over 50 team members with significant legal victories, including jury verdicts of 1.8 million dollars and 1.3 million dollars. The firm is the largest Black owned law firm in the Greater Memphis area and top five firms overall. Also a decorated U.S. Air Force veteran, Reaves’ mission through legal work is to be the voice of the people.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Like many, I come from a family of hard workers, doers and leaders, but my upbringing also came with its fair share of challenges. My path to law began when I enrolled in the military at my father’s urging to cultivate some discipline. I served in the Air Force with a tour in Iraq and service during 9/11. I returned to college and ended up at Indiana University School of Law. Early on in my career, I was a prosecutor, working for large firms in the area. One particular case I’d won left the defendant, an elderly woman with a hefty bill to pay. That was a wakeup call that I wanted to be on the other side, helping people rather than taking away from them. Through stints at other law firms, I’d seen so many people taken advantage of during the legal process due to costs or lack of knowledge. I opened Reaves Law Firm with employees in 2011 to give people who desperately needed legal help but didn’t have connections to attorneys in their personal networks a voice and agency. This year, we celebrate 10 years in business.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

One of the most interesting things that happened was being in a position where I was interviewing to just be an associate or employee and getting rejected from large law firms, and then to be looking at myself a year down the road and having some of those people now asking about becoming partners. That was very interesting. It made me feel like I was on the right path, the right track, and that the gatekeepers had become my peers. Kind of like David and Goliath.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Control what you can control.” It helped me in realizing that I’m not in control of everything because sometimes I put so much pressure on myself to achieve this or do that. I was under the mistaken impression that I was the one in control. When I realized I wasn’t, there was a sense of peace that came over me. Now I focus on controlling what I can control and attribute the ultimate result to a higher power. It enables me to pursue more, because it completely eliminates the fear of failure. If I fail, then I was meant to fail, and that has a purpose too.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My cousin, Gregory Spencer, is more like my brother. We grew up together, but our lives took different turns temporarily, me, joining the military and him, being incarcerated for selling drugs. During my visits to see him, I would tell him I was looking for work with no leads. He said “Get a job?! You’re a lawyer! That IS your job.” It reframed my entire situation and thinking and inspired me to strike out on my own.

When RLF first started he was a runner. He traveled all over Memphis, picking up contracts, giving clients rides to the firm, and he’s been with me ever since. We work together, and I get to see him every day, realizing this dream together. He is definitely an inspiration. He’s completely turned his life around and he’s a perfect father and husband. I know RLF has helped provide stability to make that possible, and I’m grateful to be able to share the opportunity.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. Many teams have started working remotely. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits of having a team physically together?

Managing the company’s culture is, no doubt, the biggest benefit to working in person. When you work remotely, it can be difficult to see team members’ moods and get to the heart of the barriers that may stand in the way of your culture moving forward. Also, communication tends to be more effective when we are physically together. As efficient as email and virtual meetings are, context can be lost when we’re unable to see facial expressions and other non-verbal cues. we’ve also found, however, that we can over-communicate or communicate ineffectively when we’re in person simply by way of walking into someone’s work space to ask a “quick question” or neglect details of a conversation because a coworker is right there for follow-up. Lastly, addressing team members with challenges is also easier. If a proper structure isn’t put in place, distance can erode managers’ trust that workflow is continuing and goals are being met. Being in person makes it easier to see and tackle those challenges head-on.

On the flip side, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main challenges that arise when a team is not in the same space?

Getting everyone on the same page and team-minded can be a challenge when the team isn’t in the same space. Oftentimes, those who already prefer to work independently are stretched to work with a team mindset when they are physically around their coworkers. This dynamic is taken away with remote work, so leadership should have various checkpoints to ensure the entire team is moving in the same direction.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space ? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Create opportunities for your team to decompress and talk about non-work topics and issues. We created “chit chat” time just before our virtual meetings. Allowing even five minutes before a meeting begins to allow people to chat provides a space for them to interact with each other first, rather than getting straight to business. This idea came from a work team staying on a Zoom call for 15–20 minutes after meeting our meeting goals in less than an hour. They were able to get to know each other outside of work, which further built a sense of bonding and team.

Adopt an operating system to streamline communication. Solving communication issues is not a one-size-fits-all solution. We were early adopters of remote work during the pandemic, and we didn’t want to lose momentum from the office to home, so we began using the Entrepreneur Operating System (EOS), which prescribes a very clear agenda for weekly meetings between managers and managees. It’s helped us tremendously to have structure and regularity in communication.

Add a quick 15 min check-in to your teams. Three times a week we have quick check-ins with our teams. These are most efficient when they are brief to provide a touchpoint to identify and put out any fires, yet not add on to existing meetings our teams have.

Be adamant about cameras being on. Something about the video conferencing is much more personal and creates heightened accountability. For meeting facilitators and managers, It’s a good way to determine engagement and also build confidence and pivot meetings for more efficiency.

Be wary of Zoom weariness. Be mindful of the toll endless online meetings can take. You don’t get the same energy exchange that you do from in-person meetings so they can really drain you. Don’t make the assumption that the meetings need to be as long as they would be if you were live — it’s better if they are shorter, especially when you are meeting with the same people daily.

Has your company experienced communication challenges with your workforce working from home during the pandemic? For example, does your company allow employees to use their own cell phones or do they use the company’s phone lines for work? Can you share any other issues that came up?

Luckily, we haven’t experienced many communications issues on the technology side. The company provided phone lines for team members to communicate with each other or their clients. We sent work equipment (laptops, etc) home with our employees immediately to ensure they were prepared to continue work while remaining safe. In our experience, working remotely allowed us to stay in business uninterrupted, especially during the snowstorm in Greater Memphis which left our office building without power for days. Additionally, none of our team members were susceptible to health or safety risks because we were working in different places.

Two-way communication doesn’t happen spontaneously now like it did in the office. There’s more intention and focus on the work, and as a result, we found we needed other outlets for our team to remain engaged.

Let’s zoom in a bit. Many tools have been developed to help teams coordinate and communicate with each other. In your personal experiences which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?

Google Suite has been our go-to to stay connected. It being cloud-based has been the most helpful, and we do all of our business through their applications: . Google Meets for internal and external meetings, the ability to work from the same document through Google Docs and we also use Google Hangouts for quick chats to stay engaged or ask quick questions. We have not needed anything else.

If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?

One comprehensive platform that includes both project management and communication tools would be an awesome tool. Having the capability to record video conference videos and post them based on specific projects or topics is a need for us.

My particular expertise and interest is in Unified Communications. Has the pandemic changed the need or appeal for unified communications technology requirements? Can you explain?

Our firm had been considering going remote prior to the pandemic, so the shift pushed us to transition to the model as well as enhance our unified communications systems. We’ve since learned that our business can operate seamlessly, including the arc of our work, interfacing with our clients. Having chat and video functions have made the process even easier for them.

The technology is rapidly evolving and new tools like VR, AR, and Mixed Reality are being developed to help bring remote teams together in a shared virtual space. Is there any technology coming down the pipeline that excites you?

All of these technologies that have risen to the top since the pandemic started excite us, including VR, which can help us reconstruct an auto accident as it truly happened for the best analysis of the full event, damage and injuries. The most promising technology for our field, specifically, is Big Data and AI. It doesn’t help specifically the communication side of things but the ability to process large amounts of data and predict outcomes. I believe that at the stage that we are in right now it’s not the big cutting edge technology that will make the most impact, it’s actually the improvement to the overall basic services that will advance us like having reliable and fast internet speed and cyber security to protect sensitive data. For example we had an executive member lose power in his home the day of an important meeting, often someone’s internet drops at a vital time during a meeting, our case management software failed to load due to a bug and we’ve also experienced occasional crashes in our phone service app. Those small and basic things still need improvements before we begin using AR to simulate an office meeting. We’re researching to see which will be the best fit for our team to incorporate them as much as possible.

Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?

Our role is to help people in need who have been hurt, had a negative experience and simply want to be compensated for their losses. The future is focused on efficiency and we support anything that can elevate how we serve our clients and provide outlets for them to have an optimal experience with us during the legal process.

So far we have discussed communication within a team. How has the pandemic changed the way you interact and engage your customers? How much of your interactions have moved to digital such as chatbots, messaging apps, phone, or video calls?

The pandemic has significantly impacted our contact with our customers. The safety of both our staff and clients were top priority, so we cut all in person interaction. Our client base has been understanding and based on surveys, prefers simplistic means of communication in the form of phone calls and video calls. Often our clients face barriers, such as transportation or even difficulty in scheduling appointments, so our transition to remote worked well for them. Giving them the ability to do interviews and video calls with their attorney from the comfort of their home was actually a great advantage.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of working with a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote team member?

Using a “compliment sandwich” is the first thing that comes to mind. Give them a compliment, a true one, and that will soften them up and make them more open to the constructive criticism that’s coming. Move on to giving them the brutal truth, even if it’s not tasty. Finally, make sure to follow up and re-emphasize their worth to you and make sure they know they’re valued.

Also, when critiquing with Zoom, the more objectivity you can give them, the better. Move away from phrases like “I think” or “I’m feeling.” Use hard data to make the issue less ambiguous. Paint with that brush and it will help them not get bogged down in their feelings, plus the specificity will help them arrive at a practical solution to the issue.

Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?

We’ve created spaces for team members to talk during our pre-meeting chats and hosted events like virtual Bingo and happy hour. The feedback and engagement was positive so we’re looking to increase those events in the future.

Anything that creates unplanned opportunities to engage without the pressure of goal-related conversations will work. Also, planned special events during or after work hours will show your team that you are intentional about providing a fulfilling workplace for them.

Ok wonderful. We are nearly done. Here is our last “meaty” question. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would inspire people by using the same strategy my law firm is built on: to remember when. Remember when you needed help, a boost, a kind word or act and return the favor to someone else. It doesn’t take much to bring the best out of people. Starting with empathy and listening ear with the intention to back it up with action is the best way to empower others.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow me and my team at or on social media platforms, Facebook and Instagram and Twitter at @ReavesLawFirmTN.

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.

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