RTO Success Strategies: Articulating Vision

By Naomi Beard Nelson, Jessica Hedrick & Rosalie Chamberlain

When the pandemic forced an immediate shift to remote work, firms quickly adapted to a new paradigm. Preliminary forays back into the office represent another major shift. The pandemic and our responses to it are evolving, and new understandings of the factors that define a productive work environment are emerging. There is no one-size-fits-all playbook for this phase; firms must continually pivot given fluid circumstances.

As firm leaders imagine the future of work, an important milestone lies in creating and communicating a clear vision of what a successful return-to-office (“RTO”) will look like.

Harness change for a better future

Sweeping changes present a unique opportunity for innovation. Firms can step into this liminal space and shape a future-focused vision that prioritizes a strong sense of shared purpose and fortifies engagement.

Consider how innovations borne out of pandemic-driven necessity can continue to advance your firm’s objectives and fortify culture. For example:

  • Leveraging technology in new ways has created opportunities for greater efficiencies, increased attorney-client contact and facilitated team-building and cross-office relationships

  • Remote training platforms have enabled a wider array of people to use professional development resources, democratizing learning opportunities and supporting inclusion

  • Online feedback tools have provided channels for attorneys and staff to voice concerns, share ideas and take an active role in contributing to a connected, cohesive firm culture

In defining an RTO vision, you have an opportunity to integrate these and other innovations into a new archetype — blending the best of what you’ve been with the best of what you’ve become.

Listen actively and convey empathy 

Invite collaboration from all members of the firm as you create your RTO vision. You cannot please everyone, but you can ensure that each individual has an accessible, effective platform through which to voice their thoughts, raise issues and ask questions. Even — or especially — when their views don’t prevail, people appreciate having been heard.

Listening to concerns and openly acknowledging the discomfort that comes with change can be a potent leadership tool. Many firms have already built effective vehicles to encourage such conversations, such as pulse surveys, focus groups and regular one-on-one check-ins. Use these tools now to bolster opportunities to listen to your people.

Build buy-in with clear, consistent communication 

Once an RTO vision has been defined, a unified message from all leadership is critical to its successful execution. By ensuring everyone at the leadership level is aligned behind the same vision — the plan, the reasons for it, the associated benefits — and by anticipating questions and acknowledging unknowns, your strategy can gain traction, support and understanding.

Consistent communication is key. See to it that everyone in the firm — including staff and attorneys at all levels — has a clear understanding of the plan and their role in bringing it to fruition. This calls for regular communication to share plans, provide updates, acknowledge challenges and reinforce expectations. Everyone in a leadership position has an important part to play, whether you’re at the highest levels of firm leadership or directly managing junior attorneys and staff.

The landscape of how people work has permanently changed. This new era presents both challenges and unmatched opportunities to deepen engagement and achieve closer alignment with your firm’s core values — and your RTO vision is an essential vehicle for this evolution.