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Practice Management

A Hybrid Work Model: Solving the Challenges of Remote Work

By Olivia Mockel von dem Bussche

As hybrid work models take hold and employees — especially associates — ask for more flexibility, firm leaders are testing out new ways to keep people happy and engaged. Here’s what one legal technology company has learned about balancing productivity, creativity and well-being.

The nature of the legal industry is constant, even during a global pandemic. At my company, we were able to continue to work due to our ability to adapt and quickly move our team to a fully remote setup. And, as other companies and firms have found, productivity significantly increased during this period of full-time remote work.

The Challenges of Remote Work

While remote work was the right approach for a period of time, PCLaw | Time Matters, like other companies and firms, faced some challenges.

A dip in creativity. For instance, despite seeing an increase in productivity while fully remote, we saw a dip in creativity and innovation. Clearly, losing the ability to meet with colleagues face-to-face affected spontaneity. We lost much of the natural synergy between departments and team members, leading to fewer opportunities to develop new ideas.

Miscommunication. Another way remote work and the shift to hybrid has challenged businesses is communication. Since 2020, our company has added new talent regularly, and some of those people have yet to meet their colleagues in person. This affects the onboarding process and reduces opportunities to connect with each other on a personal level. Lack of proximity can result in miscommunication and make it harder for people to feel like part of the team.

The Return to Hybrid

It is because of the impact on creativity and communication that in January of this year, our company began to promote a “return to the office hybrid work model.” Our hybrid model empowers employees to work from their home offices or wherever they like. However, we also nurture collaboration by combining this freedom with a pre-established number of in-office days.

There have been learning opportunities as well as times when this transition to a hybrid work model did not go as smoothly as we hoped. We also have to keep an eye on the rise in COVID-19 infection rates.

Through listening and adjusting expectations to meet team members’ individual needs, and most importantly, careful planning and implementation, we have begun to take steps toward driving more innovative projects and deliverables.

The Importance of Listening

When we made the decision to switch from fully remote to a hybrid office, the process did not start with an edict or a mandate handed down from the executive team. It started with conversations. Vaccination and infection rates were important metrics, but it was paramount to know where our team was in terms of comfort. The best way to know this was through listening.

For instance, were team members going out to restaurants or movie theaters? As more employees demonstrated comfort with leaving their homes for recreational activities, it suggested an openness to returning to an office and interacting with other team members.

On the other hand, other factors revealed hesitancy. We had employees with personal circumstances that meant they were at higher risk, including children under the age of five who could not be vaccinated or someone in their household who was immunocompromised.

Knowing members of our team had different personal circumstances, we wanted to make sure we were accommodating the individual needs and concerns.

Planning Is Crucial

Our shift to a hybrid office began with a holiday party. This allowed many of our team members to be together, face-to-face, for the first time in almost two years. It was also a much-needed ice-breaker as well as a fun way to meet new team members and get reacquainted with one another and see how we changed personally during this time apart.

In terms of office time, we implemented a new return to office schedule, encouraging team members to meet in-person around important one-to-one meetings, office training, innovation workshops, department meetings and the like.

Another factor to consider is an office management platform to help monitor risk. We currently use Worksphere, which enables employees to book a desk within our office and complete a brief COVID-19 questionnaire less than 24 hours before they enter the office. Many other programs or apps provide companies with similar solutions.

Knowing (and Changing) Your Goals

During this shift to a hybrid office, we have made it a goal to continue researching and evaluating what other companies are doing. Leaders who force a very strong return to the office might find they will lose valuable talent to more flexible employment options. We aim not to jeopardize employees’ well-being by adding needless changes or requirements that will only make people’s lives harder and jeopardize our positive organizational culture.

All companies and their leaders should be working to strike that delicate balance that happens in a hybrid environment.

Additionally, we should focus on ensuring there is no bias against those who cannot come into the office. With the right balance, we will continue to be productive and have a great working culture regardless of whether the majority of our interactions occur on Zoom or elsewhere.

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Olivia Mockel Olivia Mockel von dem Bussche

Olivia Mockel von dem Bussche is the CEO of PCLaw | Time Matters, and has 12 years’ experience in legal and professional services, establishing and growing new businesses in North America, the United Kingdom and the Middle East. She currently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her family.

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