Hybrid Work: The Rise of the Wereworker
Between working in the office and working from home, there is a middle-ground: hybrid work. The “wereworker” (or whereworker if you’re into puns) is in a sometimes-home, sometimes-office state of work. It’s an employee who is empowered, but available. It’s a firm that is distant, but connected and optimized.
But does it work? Are remote workers productive? Is firm culture lost? And what are the challenges and solutions firms find in the transition? The answers will depend on your firm culture, your employees, and your tools!
Law Firms and the Wereworker: How Hybrid Work Can Help Your Firm
During COVID-19, hybrid workers got a taste of remote work, and they mostly liked it. And while some are ready to return to the office now, they may want to do so on a part-time basis.
Pandemic performance has proven that some law firm jobs could be done outside the office, at least in part. Hybrid workers are attempting to get the best of both worlds. And while not everyone is suited for a hybrid work environment, those that are, may have a hard time giving it up.
Here are the pros and cons of a hybrid work environment and some tips you can use to ensure your firm – and your bottom line – are getting the most from your wereworkers.
Hybrid Work Pros for Employees
- Employee Satisfaction and Work-Life Balance: Huge numbers of employees who were forced to work remotely during the pandemic realized quality of life gains. The ability to ditch the commute is an enormous time and cost saving for them – and a hiring advantage for you if you’re offering hybrid work.
- More Productivity: Remote work is not for everyone, but far more people are capable of doing it responsibly and productively than you may think. A study by Mercer found that 94% of employees felt as or more productive when working remotely, and a Stanford study found that employees who worked from home were more likely to work a full day every day.
- Safer Work Environment: Not only does no commute reduce exposure to accidents, COVID-19 isn’t gone. Working from home reduces possible exposure to it and other pathogens. A healthier staff means fewer sick days, project delays, and dropped balls for your law firm.
The average US commute before the pandemic was more than 54 minutes per day. Furthermore, various studies put the average cost of commuting to work from between $2,000 and nearly $8,500 per year!
Hybrid Work Pros for Firm Managers
- Economic Benefits: Set aside the workers and think about the office. You probably won’t need as much space. If you’ve got hybrid employees, you can schedule workplace attendance in such a way as to reduce the total number of offices and workstations needed.
- Being More Attractive to Prospects: Like it or not, employees like remote and hybrid work arrangements, and some of the best and brightest are using it to filter potential employers. If you insist on someone being in the office all the time, you may miss out on the best talent.
- Reduce Burnout: Seems obvious, right? Giving people flexibility to attend to work and life in a way that makes sense for them improves their mental health, reduces their stress, and increases their overall happiness.
The average cost of office space per employee per year ranges between about $1,600 and $7,700 per year, and that cost many not include costs incidental to the space, like janitorial service, security, maintenance, and so on.
Hybrid Work Cons for Employees
- Transition and Focus: Not everyone is cut out to be a great wereworker. Some people just need to be in an office to focus, or perhaps their home environment just isn’t conducive to productive work. For some, the ritual of rising and commuting provides a sense of routine and structure to be productive at work.
- Communication and Collaboration Issues: This is the opposite of the “meeting that should have been an email.” Being together in one place can often reduce communication failures and collaboration and group work are often easier with everyone in one location. There are tools to help reduce these issues (see below).
- Difficulty Maintaining Routines: Having the flexibility or where to work and even what schedule to work doesn’t always lend itself to a productive, maintainable routine. For some, it’s best to choose a schedule that works and stick to it, rather than making it up as they go. You can require your workers to choose a set schedule to help.
Additionally, company culture is very hard to build and maintain without office time, and that may contribute to dissatisfaction.
Hybrid Work Cons for Employers
- Hybrid May Be Permanent for Some: Once employees have the option of hybrid or remote work, they make different decisions – big ones. Understand that transitioning to hybrid or remote work is often a one-way street. If someone only has to commute twice a week, they may choose to live in a different, more distant area.
- Information Security: Another issue that can be reduced or solved with the right tools, cybersecurity is a huge issue. Even if they’re issued the hardware and software, any hiccups can drive employees to find less secure workarounds outside of the programs and processes you have in place, potentially risking sensitive information. IT costs increased 6.7% between 2020-21, and that number may grow.
- Loss of Team Identity and Cohesion: Workplace culture impacts productivity. When everyone is in the office, there’s a very clear sense of team. When people are not in the office, it can erode that camaraderie, creative spark, communication, and collaborative environment. Using hybrid office time to address those specific things helps.
According to one study, 59% of employees are likely to choose an employer who offers remote/hybrid work opportunities over one who doesn’t. And 54% said they’d leave their current job for one that provides more flexibility, especially opportunities to work remotely.
Different Ways Employers Can Approach Hybrid Work
Law firms have multiple different ways to address the issue of worker flexibility and hybrid working. Flexibility comes in many forms, and this is a critical business decision. It will drive operational, human resource, information technology, and almost every management decision moving forward.
The gravity of the office, and the old way of doing things, is difficult for many employers to break free from. But breaking free doesn’t necessarily mean that a fully-remote work force is the answer either: 69% of no-growth or negative growth companies are focusing on entirely remote or entirely in-office workers.
Here are three options for approaching hybrid work:
Approach 1: Employer Chooses When Employees Are In-Office vs Remote
Perhaps the most rigid of the flexible work option, a business may tell its employees when exactly they can work from the office or their homes. This is still hybrid work, and it does hold together a semblance of order and control from the employer side. All employees need not be present every day, and the employer can have different teams remote on different days.
Approach 2: Employee Chooses When to Come In vs Work Remotely
The true “flex” employee can make the call as to where they want to work on a given day. It gives them the freedom to work around family obligations, or to simply create a regular schedule that works for them. Communication is key here to ensure the employee is meeting expectations, attending necessary meetings, and being productive.
Approach 3: Employees Are Onsite When Needed, But Otherwise Work Remotely
Essentially, employees are in the office on an as-needed basis. All-hands meeting? Come in. Client presentation? See you in the office. Largely, however, employees are allowed or even encouraged to work remotely.
Tools for a Successful Hybrid Workplace
Communication and accountability are probably the top two remote-work challenges businesses can face. Your wereworkers need to have the tools to communicate and collaborate securely, and you need a way to know they’re being productive.
There are a host of communication and collaboration tools you can investigate, from Slack to Monday, from Teams to Basecamp. These are not new solutions – they’ve been enabling companies with different teams in different locations to work together for quite a while. Now, other businesses are finding them and their useful – and in some cases crucial – for hybrid work to work.
Tracking productivity is another matter, though there are again many online tools. Some rely on the employee to log hours as they go, while others simply record what’s happening on their computers. None of that matters quite as much as the end product, but you really need a way to quantify it. For law firm managers, that way is GrowPath. For example:
- GrowPath enables firms to communicate through the all-in-one system, and the software itself communicates necessary tasks to those who need to complete them with Smart Reminders. Everyone knows what they’re responsible for, and when it needs to be done.
- GrowPath compiles and aggregates productivity data based on criteria you assign, and then creates useful, informative reports and analytics that enable you to see productivity, spot bottlenecks, identify superstars, and overall streamline your workflow.
- GrowPath is a secure hub of cloud-based software and document storage for law firms to conduct business no matter where the employee is. Onsite storage isn’t really necessary, and documents are collaboratively updated: one document, zero confusion.
Embrace Hybrid Workers, Don’t Fear Them
Hybrid work is not a trend – it’s been happening for a long time. The trend is that it’s coming to industries and businesses that may never have considered it before – especially law firms. But there are tantalizing advantages from overhead and a talent perspective that make it a change worth investigating.
We’ve helped a lot of firms with hybrid workers – from taking the first baby steps to implementing robust, manageable, productive, and attractive hybrid work processes. Firms that talented legal professionals choose to work for. If you’re curious about how GrowPath can do that for your firm, just speak to one of our representatives before all the best wereworkers are working somewhere else.