As originally published in ABA Journal August 17, 2021
Top 4 Unexpected Culture Killers for Post-COVID-19 Hybrid Work
by Heinan Landa | Optimal Networks, Inc.
Over the next few months it will, at long last, be safe for attorneys and staff to return to their offices.
While each firm’s exact approach to re-entry will vary—and while there are many separate arguments to be made about the “right” balance of remote and in-office work—current industry trends and sentiments suggest that many firms will embrace hybrid work for the foreseeable future.
In a hybrid scenario, attorneys and staff will split their time between working remotely and working in the office. While individual schedules will vary based on job function and perhaps personal preference, the big picture is that on any given day firms will have a segment of their team in the office, and another segment dispersed across their homes, client sites, and other remote locations.
After a full year of working remotely, this will be yet another disruption for law firms to endure—one that, if not approached thoughtfully, can do serious damage to engagement and retention.
Culture: Your firm’s next big hurdle
Many firms were, fortunately, able to maintain profitability through the pandemic.
As the dust settles and firms make long-term, high-impact decisions on how they’ll handle this upcoming transition to hybrid work, we reach another inflection point: will we start seeing the same record-high quit rates in the legal industry as we see now in the greater workforce?
Central to the issue of employee engagement and retention is firm culture. When quarantine sent us home, we saw our law firm clients working in overdrive to keep their teams connected and translate their firm culture digitally.
This was no easy feat, but it was just a warm-up. Though fully remote work was new to many of us, it did offer the advantage of leveling the playing field; we were all working from home, and we all interacted with our coworkers and the collective firm using the same tools and tactics.
In a hybrid work environment, on the other hand, you might have a smattering of permanent remote workers, a portion that comes into the office a few times a month, a portion that comes in a few times a week, and maybe even a portion that comes in all day every day.
This naturally creates a wide spectrum of experiences, which makes the prospect of maintaining a strong and consistent firm culture across all employees a much more complex challenge.
In fact, even seemingly routine internal interactions can actively contribute to members of your firm having an imbalanced, impersonal, and inequitable experience of your firm—which heightens the risk of losing top talent to more savvy competitors. Let’s explore these below.
Four ways hybrid work undermines firm culture
During this particularly volatile “Great Resignation,” these four subtle factors can quietly erode firm culture and fuel disengagement.