In 2022, the question isn’t whether hybrid law firms are viable but how to find the right balance between in-office and at-home time. The Working From Home Report produced by the Australian Government Productivity Commission said that a hybrid work environment could have both positive and negative effects on the well-being of employees.
But as you face the potential of a long-term or permanent structure change, it’s time to define your firm’s hybrid policy clearly, so everyone understands expectations — both in and out of the office.
Set in-office days
When it comes to choosing the days your staff works in the office, your employees may want to select their days, but that could prove troublesome. After all, everyone may want to work from home on Mondays and Fridays. But the reality is your client needs, court schedule, and business processes should dictate what days your team is in-office.
For instance, if your firm routinely tries cases in court, your team likely needs to be in-office on Mondays to touch base and address any last-minute motions. (If you use legal practice management like Smokeball, your client files and court documents are already tied to the related matter, alleviating any last-minute scrambling.)
Suppose your firm sets aside certain days of the week to meet with clients in person. In that case, those days could require staffers to be on hand to greet those clients, review pre-appointment documents in their Smokeball matter, and go over any other court documents.
Decide on the number of remote days
Finding the right mix of hybrid days may take some trial and error. Bjorn Jarvis, Head of Labour Statistics at the ABS, said: "Prior to the pandemic, the percentage of employed people working from home on a regular basis had been steadily increasing by around a percentage point every two years. Our latest data, are showing an 8.4 percentage point jump to 40.6 per cent.”
Working from home continued to be more common in some occupations. Close to two-thirds (64 per cent) of managers and professionals were doing it regularly, compared with around a quarter (25 per cent) of people across other occupations.
It’s up to you to decide what will work best for your firm. As such, don’t be afraid to start low and increase your WFH days based on your team’s preferences and needs. But remember: In an economy of choice, employees are more loyal to firms that offer flexibility.
Determine what work can be handled remotely
Before sending your employees off to work at home, it’s important to decide what tasks can be completed from home — and make sure you have the right technology to support them. Tasks could include conducting legal research for briefs, transcribing dictation, making client appointments, talking with clients to gather information for court documents or in response to subpoenas, or sending invoices and collecting payments.
Outline at-home job responsibilities with each team member, and make sure they have the necessary support to complete their work at home. These new tools didn’t just keep the lights on while working from home — firms experienced real growth. If you’re introducing new technology, an all-in-one legal practice management software that integrates with the technology you’re already using will decrease the learning curve and increase firm-wide adoption.
Outline specifics in your hybrid policy
Before implementing any hybrid days, you should have a hybrid law firm policy in place that all employees can review, understand and agree to follow. For instance, if you plan to require employees to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19, that should be outlined in the policy by defining what “fully vaccinated” means and when vaccines must be completed. And while it is legal for you to require in-person employees to get vaccinated, you also must have policies in place to accommodate employees with certain medical conditions or religious beliefs who cannot or will not get vaccinated.
If you do plan to mandate vaccines, it is recommended to educate employees on the benefits of vaccination, including sharing educational materials and resources so employees can research the topic and make their own decisions.
Other elements of your hybrid policy may include any limits on remote days, how long any trial period for hybrid days may last and what circumstances could lead to the end of remote days.
Set expectations for accountability
As part of your hybrid law firm policy, you also should be clear about your expectations for accountability when staffers are working at home. For instance, how many hours would they work? What tasks must be completed?
You may be surprised at what you see. Studies show that 72% of employees say they’re as productive or more working remotely when compared to the office. And Smokeball’s automatic time tracking and Law Firm Insights put hard numbers behind purported productivity. Our legal practice management software tracks every minute spent working, from composing emails to filling out matter documents. Not only does this enable more accurate, efficient billing, but it also creates a fool proof record of productivity by fee-earner or matter in the form of Law Firm Insights.