Arguably, modern lawyers are the poster children for the hybrid work model — checking in with the office for messages between court appearances and meetings, forwarding notes for dictation, and returning phone calls, all on the road. Until the pandemic, the way the remote and fixed components worked together was determined on an ad hoc basis. As the new normal, however, the hybrid workplace needs to be optimised not only to promote productivity but collaboration as well. Here’s how.
Challenges to Collaboration
Historically, “face time” has been an important element of working in a legal office. The longer you spent at the office, the more work you must have been getting done, the keener and more dedicated you were. Part of this may be attributed to the “out of sight, out of mind” principle.
In some cases, it may be because there are certain resources — texts, legal databases, specialised office equipment, and senior lawyers themselves — that can only be accessed in the office. Remote conferencing technology may have taken off, but there may be concerns about data security and inconsistent connectivity.
Maximising Collaboration in the Hybrid Office
Creating a hybrid workplace in a law office that fosters productivity and collaboration requires a combination of technology, planning, and attitude adjustment.
Updating Collaboration Technology
For a hybrid workplace to function optimally, remote workers should have access to the same software, associated hardware, information security programs, and protocols. The idea is that apart from certain functions that are only practicable in the office (such as document binding to adhere to court requirements), those working from home should be able to produce the same quality work product as they can in the office. This may mean investing in laptops and comprehensive IT solutions — perhaps even a dedicated IT person/team if the firm doesn’t already have one.
Collaboration technology doesn’t just include video conferencing programs but also interactive management tools that can digitise records and allow them to be searched and easily found/accessed during meetings so team members need not disengage to track down data. Of course, these tools must incorporate or work in conjunction with reliable data security and backup programs. Subscriptions to specialised databases should be revisited to ensure that everyone who needs to can securely access them remotely.
Making Time for Collaboration and Team Building
A key to the success of a hybrid office is for personnel to stay synchronised. When team members are all over the place, this will require frequent group updates and check-ins throughout the week. Develop parameters for what items or topics require meetings and what information can be disseminated in a group communication. This is also where centralised, enterprise programs can serve as a repository so the entire team stays in the know despite not all being in the same place. For regular meetings, make sure they are scheduled for the same days and times every week so people can plan ahead and decide whether they want to join remotely or in person.
In a part-office, part-remote workplace, the opportunities for spontaneous interaction are reduced. To maintain a cohesive team, support mentorship, and employee engagement, it will be beneficial to schedule more frequent in-person events and assemblies. It is absolutely worth whatever tweaks may need to be made to the firm’s office budget to ensure that personnel don’t feel like they are part of a team only on paper.
Getting Everyone (Back) on Board
For many law firms, the switch to partial or remote working was not as strategic as necessary, given social distancing requirements. As the world continues to reopen for business, people adapted piecemeal, and there was a lot of trial and error. Remote working also brought some benefits — less overhead and commuting, for example. Some law offices have taken advantage of the opportunity to streamline and strategically downsize. For many industries, the hybrid workplace model is becoming the new normal.
To make sure your hybrid workplace maintains productivity, quality of work, and coordination, you may need to provide onboarding (or “re-onboarding”) sessions and materials. Not only will it feel like a proper step forward in people’s minds, but it will also put everyone on the same page. Senior lawyers and staff need to understand the reasons for formally adopting a hybrid workplace model, and to do away with misconceptions about face time and work quality. Delineating work standards, expectations, and performance measures will help that. Using software tools such as WiseTime can help foster this environment. Information security protocols and procedures must be outlined — how to make strong passwords, avoid malware, and maintain privacy, for example.
With everyone moving forward together, a hybrid workplace can spark collaboration, not quash it.