Navigating Hybrid Environments: Lessons Learned and New Best Practices
While many firms have been eager to return to pre-pandemic norms, hybrid environments are likely here to stay. Trends point to a return to in-person work, with greater flexibility for partial remote work. While many value the connectedness of working in the office, the benefits of some level of remote work are impossible to ignore. The innovations demanded by mandatory remote work offer lessons firms can leverage to create a brighter future.
Pandemic practices: a review
The pandemic forced a near-overnight shift to remote work. Firms that successfully adapted discovered best practices that enabled their cultures and people to thrive.
How firms stayed connected
Successful firms drew on existing firm culture and relationships, rising together to meet the challenges with rapid innovation, like:
Remote recruiting and onboarding
Virtual events and initiatives like speakers series
Regular video communications from leaders
Internal newsletters to keep everyone abreast of changes
Resource groups and virtual mentoring programs
Practice group “pods” to collaborate on addressing challenges
How technology facilitated connection
Law firms dove into experiments with technology to facilitate the new connections. Particularly impactful changes included video-based communication platforms, tools that amalgamate email and instant messaging and web-based project management tools. While the legal industry has in the past been relatively slow to adopt new technology, the crisis in 2020 demonstrated rapid evolution is possible — and it raised the bar for what firms must do to thrive in the future.
5 pandemic lessons for a brighter future
1. Integrate remote recruiting
Remote recruiting can be faster, more collegial and less grueling for applicants — while laying a solid foundation for successful cultural transmission.
Lateral hires. Remote lateral recruitment can reduce timelines from at least six months to as little as six weeks. Surprisingly, the relative informality of remote video interviewing jumpstarts rapport and enables applicants to perform at a higher level.
New associates. Consider video interview platforms, Zoom breakout rooms for meet-and-greets, TikTok challenges for summer associates and hosting mock interviews and presentations for law students.
2. Leverage distant professional development opportunities
Robust remote connections make it simpler and less costly to include more junior attorneys in client meetings, reducing barriers to this crucial skill-building activity. Further, the option to participate remotely in distant conferences and other career development venues limits travel expenses, lost work time and potential conflicts with caregiving or other personal commitments.
3. Use flexibility to improve diversity, equity and inclusion
The versatility inherent in remote and hybrid work creates new pathways for promoting diversity. For example, women tend to bear a disproportionate share of caregiving responsibilities; remote work can ease those burdens. Disabled professionals have long urged firms to adopt remote work policies. Without remote options, firms are less likely to attract and retain top talent from a broad array of backgrounds.
4. Build a more cohesive culture with remote connection
Maintaining and improving upon the structures that support remote work can promote relationships that span the globe, decouple mentoring from physical location and expand the range of potential firmwide activities.
Connecting across geography. Many BigLaw practice groups are scattered across US offices and sometimes across the world. Even if all attorneys and staff return to the office, business success demands seamless collaboration despite physical distance.
Mentoring anywhere. Firms that thrive in the future will invest in mentoring across distance. Many believe that the apprenticeship model of a law career cannot be replicated without in-person mentoring. A rigid adherence to pre-pandemic models, however, risks leaving some behind — the pandemic only accelerated existing trends toward emerging models for building relationships.
Engaging everywhere. Remote activities can eliminate geographic barriers and bring together people who otherwise would not have interacted. Tactics include frequent online engagement, redoubling counseling and development resources, scheduling regular check-ins and hosting topical forums open to all.
Nurturing day-to-day connection. Social engagement must be accompanied by simple pathways for informal collaboration. Consider pairing remote workers for virtual coworking sessions, creating a “hotwall” (a large, centrally located monitor with live video connection to remote workers) and hosting weekly virtual office hours with leaders.
5. Harness opportunities for better productivity at a lower cost
Remote work, while initially disruptive, ultimately offered a vision of improved outcomes with lower costs.
Improving outcomes. In many cases, teams exceed targets while working remotely; they also experience improved work-life balance. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, firms and their people must have space to discover the protocols that are most effective for each individual, team and situation.
Lowering costs. Seamless integration of remote participation offers the potential for greater collaboration without the financial costs of travel, reduces real estate and capital investment burdens and reduces commuting costs for individuals. The same holds true for remote or hybrid professional development activities.
Flexibility is still the name of the game
The changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic will be long-lasting — but the shifting landscape will not prevent thoughtful law firms and professionals from thriving. Effective leaders will embrace remote collaboration tools and practices, flowing seamlessly between remote, hybrid and in-office work. In doing so, they will position their firms to meet today’s challenges and build a flourishing future.
Want more insights on how lessons from the pandemic can shape the future of work? This post is based on selections from Naomi Beard Nelson’s chapter “How Firms Can Successfully Build Culture Remotely” in, Accelerating Trends in Law Firms. Get your copy of the book here!