While some law firms never shut down, and others were remote prior to the pandemic, many businesses and firms returned to the office in Spring 2022. Lawyers Mutual was one of those. After 24 months working from home, we returned to work from the office with a hybrid plan.
Lessons Learned Since 2020
What companies found about work from home is that people are just as productive, if not more so, when working from home. There were plenty of articles and surveys confirming this result.
Then in 2021, a strange thing begins to happen, people quit their jobs. The Great Resignation refers to the 33 million Americans who have quit their jobs since the spring of 2021. People are rethinking where, how, and why they work.
NPR’s Planet Money team uses the term, the Great Renegotiation, and says it’s not uncommon in a strong job market to see workers look for better pay, perks, and flexibility. During a strong job market, bargaining power shifts to employees.
As a result, employees expect flexibility from their employers. As a result of the pandemic, business has technology systems in place that allow for remote work, we have collaboration tools that allow us to stay in touch, and we are able to look at our business results to know that our employees were productive.
A Webex report shows:
- 57% of employees expect to be in the office 10 days or less each month
- 77% of employees will embrace a flexible workstyle
- 97% of employees want changes to make the office safer before they return
Hybrid Work Schedules
While lawyers have typically had flexibility and the tools to work remotely, paralegals and other team members are often not given the same opportunity. It’s not uncommon for firms to require support staff to work from the office and the technology and equipment provided for staff doesn’t accommodate remote work.
During the pandemic, as law firms had to figure out how to have everyone work at home, Martindale-Avvo surveyed firms and 50% of those surveyed plan for their staff to continue working remotely in some fashion when the pandemic is over.
For many firms, making this decision will help them remain an employer of choice in a tight job market where the best talent has many options.
There is no question that lawyers and team members are going to be interested in hybrid situations. Commute time can be significant for those living in metro areas or traveling into metro areas to work. I typically spend 1.5 – 2 hours a day on my commute. Having that extra time available to focus on myself and my family, or pending work projects when necessary, increased my wellbeing during the pandemic. Many lawyers and team members report the same while expressing a desire for hybrid opportunities. It seems we all want the best of both worlds, the ability to re-enter the world, collaborate with our colleagues, yet have some days during the week where we don’t fight the commute.
- 64% of people say the ability to work from anywhere affects whether they stay at or leave a job (Hybrid Work Index, Cisco, February 2022)
- 81% of people either do not want to go back to the office at all, or would prefer a hybrid schedule (Future of Work from Home Research, Harvard Business School)
- 58% of those working from home said they are using workplace collaboration tools more than they were pre-pandemic (Future of Work Research, Forbes, March 21)
- 87% of executives expect to make changes to their real estate strategy in 2022 (Remote Work Survey, PWC, January 2021)
Designing the Best Hybrid Workplace
Firms express the same concerns about how remote work will impact law firms over time. Here are some best practices to implement.
Be intentional in mentorship and training. Partners are concerned about how Next Generation employees will be mentored and will learn substantive skills working on a computer from home. Partners wonder how to teach young professionals if they aren’t in the office available for casual drop-ins or lunch opportunities? Intentionality is the key.
Create more structured training programs. Create skills boot camps with both virtual and in-person components. Schedule in-person lunch opportunities for internal networking followed by one-on-one meetings to collaborate on specific matters. Create collaborative work teams led by senior paralegals to teach associates how to work as part of a legal team and to fully utilize technology tools to build relationships.
Maintaining firm culture is important to partners. But sometimes maintaining firm culture is a way to say, “let’s make sure nothing ever changes”. Firm culture is important, but so is flexibility and adaptability. Rather than lament the old ways, define what is important about your firm culture. Is it the collegiality? Is it the open-door policy? None of these things have to change. Collaborative tools allow for an open-door policy. At LM Title, Troy Crawford stays in contact with his remote work force through Microsoft Teams collaboration tool. Troy is available to answer questions and support his team by keeping the chat and video feature open all day. The employee experience is as though they are in the same office.
Take the long view for retaining legal professionals through part-time and flex-time policies. Do you measure productivity by sitting in a chair for eight hours? Many partners do, but that’s an outdated measure.
During the pandemic, you may have been unaware that your employee was at a parent-teacher conference in the middle of the day or taking a walk in the park at 3:00. But you were also unaware that they made up those hours after dinner or by logging on before office hours.
Today, employees embrace work-life integration rather than work-life balance. Balance suggests that our work life and personal life are independent of each other. There needs to be balance as we exist in one world or the other. Integration recognizes that our work and life need to coexist.
Strengthen wellness and mental health programs. Mental health has always been a hot button topic in the legal profession and the pandemic has increased the need for wellness and mental health programs. This is an area where you don’t have to find the solutions on your own. The resources of the NC State Bar Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP), BarCares, hiring professionals such as Laura Mahr, using the Employee Assistance Programs that are part of your health insurance, or subscribing to an online wellness or mental health service are all steps you can take to create a more sustainable work environment.
Implementing these tips will allow your firm to evolve and thrive.
Camille Stell is the President of Lawyers Mutual Consulting & Services and the co-author of Designing a Succession Plan for Your Law Firm available from Amazon. Continue this conversation by contacting Camille at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800.662.8843.