Finally, we are at a point where companies can actually choose freely on how to best set up the work to fit their organisations and business. A lot of talk has been going on around hybrid working, working from home and returning to the office. There is no one size fits all and now we need be strategic about working from home policies and develop our hybrid working skills.
Three years ago, we entered into a work from home mode overnight. Suddenly, we invited our colleagues and customers digitally into our homes and we socialised over Teams and Zoom with colleagues, friends and family. All of this was done in a survival mode and after the initial shock, it felt new and fresh and many of us wondered why we did not utilise the opportunity of working from home better at an earlier stage. It’s only now, after all this time, that we really can choose freely on how to best set up the work to fit our organisations and our businesses. During this time, many have found new ways of working and there is obviously no return to what it was before the pandemic.
The most important asset of a law firm is its people. It is crucial for a law firm’s success that it can recruit, train and retain the best people to serve the firm’s clients. When the discussion around hybrid working started, the narrative pretty much revolved around the questions on whether the employees had returned to the office and how to get everyone to return to the office. Even though there are many advantages of working from the office, forcing people to come in is not the answer. Working from home also has many advantages. What way of working is best for the client, the employee and the firm is not the same every day and is not the same for every person, situation or project.
“We need to be strategic about working modes to achieve the most for our clients and focus on developing our hybrid working skills.”
According to recent studies, Finnish office workers generally work from home two days per week. Based on a quick survey I did in January for an audience of around 150 lawyers working at law firms in Finland, it seems that in-office work is more common in law firms than for office workers in general. This is not surprising given the nature of the professional services work we do and the need for constant collaboration in order to be successful.
Firm culture, talent development, collaboration, social contacts, innovation and well-being at work are all reasons for in-office work. Only being in the office does not help – a half-empty office with all doors closed due to ongoing Teams meetings does not foster collaboration or lead to any surprising encounters with innovative ideas as a result. The most challenging meetings are hybrid meetings where some of the people are together in a room and some elsewhere. We are not yet very good at organising inclusive meetings in a hybrid setup. We need to develop those skills, and also be brave about organising meetings in one mode only. Some meetings are best as all-digital, and some really need everyone present in the same room.
What does the client want and need? What needs to be done in the ongoing projects or matters today? Where do I get the most done? Is there a need for in-person discussions? Asking these questions and making the decision on where to work based on the answers is much more fruitful than just fulfilling any company guidelines on how often each employee should be in the office. Hybrid is here to stay. Therefore, we need to be strategic about working modes to achieve the most for our clients and focus on developing our hybrid working skills.