Personalities and interactions in traditional office environments emerge naturally. This can be good or bad, right? A person may be a hard worker, but they also may be a close talker and not respect personal space. Another person may be great with clients and closing deals but is a habitual offender of interrupting others in their office. Regular interactions are important but can get in the way of getting work done.
As more firms move to a virtual (or distributed) work environment, relationships matter just as much as a traditional set up. Meaningful relationships establish trust among colleagues and help move the business forward. In theory, you get the best out of folks. The “close talker” cannot invade your space, but still produces great work product. The rainmaker brings in clients, but is not popping his or her head in your office every 20 minutes to talk about the game.
In the virtual law firm context, embracing personalities is important to a constructive culture. Making this happen is a two-way street. On the one hand, the firm should provide the tools to make collaboration easy and find ways to encourage interaction among the team members.
On the other, it takes extra effort by the individual team members to build relationships and inject their valuable personality into the firm. This means engaging in work or water cooler talk on collaborative tools, such as Yammer. This means overly communicating the status of projects. This means picking up the phone (or jumping on Skype) and catching up with colleagues. This means meeting for coffee or a beer in person, whenever possible.
If you become invisible in a distributed work environment, you risk irrelevance.