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How Law Firms Can Master the Hybrid Work Environment 

— April 1, 2021

A well-executed hybrid work policy combines the best aspects of the traditional office and the conveniences of a remote one.

In their December 2020 “Future of Workforce Pulse Report”, UpWork found that 56.8% of the American workforce is now working from home (WFH) at least part of the time. This reflects a dramatic rise in remote work necessitated by the pandemic – just one year earlier, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that only 24% of American workers worked from home on a regular basis!

Upwork also found that, five years into the future, managers expect that 22.9% of us will be work from home full-time and another 14.6% of us will do so for part of the work week. Prior to COVID-19, those demographics were 12.3% and 8.9%, respectively. It’s a trend that professionals are largely behind: responses to IBM’s COVID-19 Consumer Survey suggest that 65% of US workers want to maintain at least some WFH permanently.

These projections align with popular sentiment among attorneys. In a 2020 report, LOEB Leadership found that over 67% of law firm professionals want to stay at least partially remote after the pandemic.

Once COVID-19 vaccinations have been distributed widely, the new normal will likely reflect this change in attitude: at any given time, most organizations will have a hybrid workforce with employees split between corporate and home offices. Many of our clients are currently contemplating this arrangement – and what it means for law firms. In order to create a sustainable work environment that allows seamless collaboration between home and office, firms must think through all the tactical considerations – from flexibility to security to additional workload. If they do, a hybrid model can bring with it a number of advantages.

Shifting focus from productivity to impact

A permanent shift to a hybrid work environment has the potential to unlock significant gains for both our businesses and our people.

First, let’s consider what WFH has to offer on its own. The data from Upwork and IBM tell two sides of the same story: employers and workers alike recognize value in WFH. And why shouldn’t they? The advantages of even part-time remote work are quantifiable:

Advantages for Workers Advantages for Employers
Savings up to $4,000 per year in travel, parking, and food expenses Savings up to $11,000 annually per employee (productivity, rent, turnover, disaster preparedness)
Gaining back 11 days of work with reduced commute Fewer sick days
Job opportunities are less constrained by geography Talent pool is less constrained by geography

On average, employee retention increases by 50%

Of course, this arrangement isn’t without risk. After a year of exclusively remote work due to COVID-19 precautions, you may have encountered challenges like these:

  • Home environment hampering productivity (caregiving responsibilities, inadequate home office, poor internet).
  • Security vulnerabilities on home networks and home computers threatening your corporate data’s integrity. The amount of sensitive client data that law firms are responsible for can make them attractive targets for cyberattacks. Now, with more employees working remotely than ever before, those risks are only increased. A 2020 report from the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center showed that 29% of law firms experienced a security breach as they shifted to virtual work.
  • Employees feeling disconnected from each other and the organization.

That last challenge is a big one. A December 2020 study by Pew Research found that 65% of workers who started WFH due to COVID-19 feel less connected to their coworkers. Another study from LOEB Leadership showed that nearly 30% of attorneys feel they haven’t had enough social interaction with colleagues while working remotely.

But with the right technology infrastructure in place, teammates who live near the office can enjoy seamless, secure flexibility between their home offices, your headquarters, and everywhere in between—and rebuild that critical connection without sacrificing the benefits of WFH.

And at that point, the entire narrative around where to work becomes much more strategic; rather than focusing on where our team can be productive, we can focus on where our team can have the greatest impact

On some days, that impact will come from an in-person appearance in your conference room. On other days, that impact might come from back-to-back Zoom meetings in their home office (and an early departure for a family vacation).

In other words, with the right technology and the right approach, we can capitalize on the best aspects of both office work and WFH—productivity, efficiency, security, savings, engagement, and retention—simultaneously.

Plan thoughtfully, and plan soon

If your firm sees value in some WFH post-pandemic, the time to develop hybrid work guidelines is right now. Here are some considerations to help drive your internal conversations:

  • Infrastructure. Will your existing technology infrastructure support a highly mobile workforce?
  • Security. When the dust settles, how many locations will your attorneys and staff work from? Will you maintain proper security protocol at each location, or do you need to consider new defenses and policies?
  • Engagement. When part of the team is working remotely and the rest are on-site, how do you cultivate an equitable, inclusive office dynamic?
  • Do you need new equipment or software to hold meetings that don’t make remote workers feel isolated?
  • Does everyone have equivalent (not necessarily identical) access to team-building events or activities?
  • Idea Exchange. Informal, spontaneous encounters with colleagues (“watercooler conversation”) often enhance working relationships and produce new ideas. Can you replicate this with remote employees?
  • Are there new tools you should add to your arsenal? Do you need to reconfigure the ones you already have?
  • Do you need to devise a firm schedule to put the right people in a position to collaborate in person?
  • Expectations. Whether you set a concrete schedule or not, are there clear and consistent guidelines for when employees should be at the office, and when they should work from home?
  • Evaluation Bias. Is your performance evaluation system biased towards employees who work on-site regularly (or exclusively)? If so, can you create new metrics that reward employees for great performance regardless of their physical location?
  • Training. If you have implemented (or will implement) new technology as part of this strategy, have you trained your team on how to use them safely and effectively?
  • Measurement. How and how frequently will you survey your teammates to see if your approach is achieving the intended results?

A well-executed hybrid work policy combines the best aspects of the traditional office and the conveniences of a remote one. For law firms, that means easy communication with clients as well as with each other, and tools that give both in-office and WFH attorneys the confidence of knowing that data is kept secure regardless of where they choose to work. With the right technology, planning, and training, transitioning between different work environments will be seamless and secure – and will allow law firms to make gains in both productivity and cost savings.

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