As the rate and number of available vaccines increases, we’re all excited for the “return” of the new normal. But what does that look like in the workplace?
Here are four considerations for law firms as they return to the office.
When to return
The decision of when to return to the office will look different for every firm. Staff size, location, practice area, and a host of other variables will all impact decisions. As will very personal health situations, such as who’s been vaccinated and who’s immuno-compromised (or who lives with someone who is).
It’s possible that the decision you make about when to return to the office will ruffle a few feathers. The best way to handle this is to be transparent about how you’re making the call. Even if a particular employee doesn’t agree, they’ll at least appreciate the honesty and straightforwardness.
How to make your staff feel comfortable
Don’t expect the first day—or even week—back in the office to be like old times. Your staff (and you) will need time to readjust.
Besides, depending on when you return, it’s possible that many other aspects of your employees’ lives will still be heavily impacted by the pandemic—which can make the experience of working in an office again even more jarring.
First, decide on any practical precautions your team will take when returning to in-person work. In some offices, it may help to solicit employee input about how to reduce risk. Whatever you decide, make sure that everyone understands how things will operate before you reopen.
Next, keep tabs on how everyone is doing. Whether it results in addressing concerns before they become problems or simply making staff feel heard and supported during yet another step into the unknown, checking in will ease the transition. And just because someone doesn’t have concerns this week doesn’t mean they won’t next week.
Likewise, make sure employees are aware of and know how to find additional support. From mental health services to wellness programs or meditation training, be sure that your employees know what resources are available to them. It’s often harder for someone to find the energy to get support if they’re experiencing a time of greater stress.
Do you want to return to the office full-time?
After a year of remote working, many firms are trying to decide if they even want to return to the office full-time. While the answer certainly varies depending on everything from firm size to who your ideal client is, your employees will likely have some thoughts on this one.
A recent Slack poll found that only 12% of staff want to return to the office full-time. The poll consulted workers in several different kinds of office-based professions—and wasn’t specific to law firms. But those numbers have been replicated by other polls, suggesting some consistency across the workforce.
The poll’s big takeaway? 72% of workers would prefer a hybrid office-remote work schedule.
How are firms approaching hybrid scheduling?
Again, decisions about how and when to return to work will vary by firm, but if you are considering hybrid scheduling—such as three days from home and two at the office—there are a few things to plan for.
For one—and your firm may well have transitioned to this approach already—it will help to measure productivity with software metrics since you won’t be able to see if someone “looks” busy.
Another consideration is team-building. While offices where everyone had already been working together for years might not have felt it as much, creating a sense of team is more challenging when you don’t have in-person interactions that open the opportunity for casual, friendly conversation. A hybrid work model will alleviate some of these issues, but keep a finger on the pulse of whether or not specific, rapport-building time is needed.
Hybrid scheduling can also be streamlined significantly with the help of good tech, such as a practice management system that offers a time tracker that’s integrated with billing and accounting. This will also help you track productivity metrics.
The Final Call
However, your firm decides to approach the waning of the quarantine, be sure to be transparent with your staff, give them the support they need. Consider what hybrid scheduling, as well as new processes and procedures, might look like at your firm and what you can do to support your team and clients as we all shift into the next phase of normal.