How to Encourage and Optimize In-Office Time in Hybrid Environments
Even as return-to-office plans proliferate, it appears that hybrid environments with greater remote work flexibility are here to stay. Both firms and their people have learned that, in many cases, remote work is not incompatible with high performance and improved work-life balance. That said, being physically in the office (some of the time) offers opportunities that are difficult to duplicate remotely. The key to capitalizing on those opportunities is offering — and delivering — tangible value that will entice people to show up, get the most out of the time they spend in the office and remind (or teach) them what they’ve been missing during all-remote work.
Define value with clarity and specificity
A good starting point is defining the specific value in-office presence offers. For example, “camaraderie” or “building relationships” may be too general to be actionable. Consider zooming in on the specific goals you hope to achieve and why in-person attendance makes a difference — both for work and social events.
It’s also critical to understand and communicate how in-office presence delivers value to your attorneys and staff. In some cases, the firm’s perception of value and the perceptions of its people may not align, and you must reconcile these differences as you work to shift others’ perspectives.
Communicate value effectively and frequently
Once the mutual benefit of in-office presence is established, ensure that communication about in-office opportunities effectively transmits understanding of that value. Don’t assume that attorneys and staff will automatically grasp the value of appearing in person for social or networking events. And even when asking people to work in the office on certain days, continue to reinforce why it benefits them as well as their colleagues.
“Connecting the dots” requires ongoing communication about the benefits of particular in-office opportunities, as well as regular messaging about how in-office work fits into the big picture of a successful hybrid approach.
Ensure that value consistently manifests
If the promised value of in-person presence doesn’t actually manifest for attorneys and staff, it will become more difficult to entice people into the office in the future. You can mitigate the risk of lost credibility by keeping commitments, using a flexible and iterative approach, collecting feedback via formal and informal channels and pursuing continuous improvement of in-office programs.
An important part of this process is ensuring that people are not penalized for exercising the options for flexibility you offer and that those who opt for in-person work more often don’t receive an unfair advantage over those who don’t. The value of being in the office must be part of the larger value of a hybrid approach so that everyone enjoys the benefits of both remote and in-person opportunities.
The changing landscape of work presents firms with novel problems — but if your culture is rooted in pursuing excellence for your people as well as your clients, you’ll be well positioned to rise to the occasion. Establishing flexible work options is a critical tool not just in talent recruitment, development and retention, but also in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. The creative, can-do attitude so many firms have displayed over the last couple of years has shown the incredible potential for evolution within the legal industry. Embracing such innovation can help everyone thrive in hybrid environments.