Law firms everywhere continue to grapple with how to make hybrid working work in their organisation. It’s certainly not easy. Back in lockdown-times, when there was no choice and people were duty-bound to work from home, that’s exactly what they did. They worked from home. Some people loved this. Some people hated it.
Yes, there appeared to be an “age and stage” divide. Those senior managers with their own homes and enough space within to create a dedicated working room were thrilled. Gone were the days of commuting. Let’s do this forever. Their wood-panelled study rooms were now the talk of Zoom meetings across the land.
On the other hand, younger professionals probably didn’t quite have the same kind of set-up. Those who were house sharing with friends were all fighting for the same quiet zone from which to do their work. The kitchen table was prime real estate, bedrooms as a fallback position and some even reported using an ironing board as a desk for a while.
But we’ve all moved on massively since then. We’ve now become accustomed to the opportunity of working remotely away from the office. We’ve experienced it ourselves. We’d maybe like to have this in our lives forever.
Or maybe we wouldn’t.
You see from all of the research I’ve done with my clients about what really makes hybrid working successful, it’s very clear that the answer is flexibility. I don’t mean “allowing staff to work in a flexible way”. It’s so much more than that. It’s about the organisation thinking flexibly towards its people.
Mandating people back into the office for five days per week is pretty much a non-starter for most firms. And at the other extreme, I get why some firms don’t want all of their staff to be 100% home-based/remote either.
Hybrid working cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach.
Hybrid working needs to be flexible.
Hybrid working needs to be personal.
Hybrid working needs to treat your people like adults.
Let’s start thinking about what we really want our people to achieve. Do we care more about where they are working on a given day or what they deliver on that given day? Let’s measure people output rather than measure presenteeism. Let’s trust our people to get their jobs done.
There will be performance management challenges in this approach (more on that another time). But as long as your staff are clear about their role and what you really want from them, we’re starting in a good place.
There are benefits from being together at work in the same location. No doubt about this. We are human. Human interaction is vital. Just think back to how exciting it was when the lockdown rules were gradually eased and you were allowed to meet up to six friends at the same time again. Even if this was outdoors-only, it felt amazing to have that social contact again. Then as time passed, we could meet indoors in a restaurant or pub. And that too was another massively positive shift. People felt happier when they could meet their friends and family in that social setting.
Now the day-to-day office won’t be a permanent food and drink bonanza/social whirl. But, it certainly has a role to play in creating the cultural glue that an organisation needs. Ad hoc conversations, collaboration and discussions, those water-cooler moments are all absolutely vital for both your people and for your firm’s organisational health.
And if I’ve heard the phrase “learning by osmosis” once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. Younger staff can and do benefit from overhearing how their more experienced colleagues deal with situations and challenges. That’s part of their development. And it’s not going to happen on MS Teams.
So whilst your firm may have rules in place to manage hybrid working, they shouldn’t be hard and fast and non-negotiable or inflexible. Most organisations seem to have settled into some kind of pattern where people are supposed to be in the office for a minimum number of days each week. But some are applying these rules in a slightly more draconian way than other. Last week JP Morgan “warned staff they would face consequences if they do not meet ‘in-office attendance expectations’.” Slippery slope in my eyes.
The smart firms have a bit more of a hands-off approach. And they allow people to tailor these arrangements at a personal level. Line managers can and do work with their teams to make this thrive at a local level. For some this means an “anchor day” where the whole team is in the office on a set day (weekly, fortnightly, monthly – to suit the needs of the team and it’s goals).
Where all of this gets trickier is the in-built sense of unfairness between different role types. Some people in your firm will do jobs which lend themselves to working from home. Some people fulfil roles where this is not the case. They need to be physically in the office most, if not all, of the time.
Let’s not forget about the people who HAVE to work in the office.
They may be in the minority in your firm, but let’s focus on them for a bit. I’m pretty sure that you’ve spent a mass of time thinking about making hybrid working work for the ones that can work remotely. Let’s turn that on its head and consider how your hybrid working approach works for those that are office based.
That’s one of the key challenges for firms going forward.
That’s my challenge for you.
- How can you make hybrid working work for the people who have less opportunity or ability to work remotely?
- What can you do to make them feel valued?
Rich Lambert is the founder of Morale Solutions Ltd. He specialises in helping professional services firms create brilliant workplaces through bespoke research and data-driven strategies.