Guest post by Marcin Durlak, managing partner at IMD Solicitors in London and Manchester
A recent story hit the headlines that CEOs were struggling to get their employees back into the office following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions. When you’re leader of a law firm, you have to understand that not everyone’s enthusiasm and ambition for the job will be the same as yours.
Equally this rationale should be applied to working from the office.
When most legal professionals have worked from home successfully for the past 18 months, enforcing a compulsory return to the office feels at odds with what we’ve learnt about agile working over the last year. The future is flexible and law firms of any size that ignore this risk alienating their employees.
What many companies have learnt is that a greater mix of home and office working provides the happy medium. Offering a space to work for those finding it difficult to work from home is important for career progression and wellbeing.
Equally, retaining remote working allows those with health issues to stay safe during the pandemic; enjoy the lost time from a long commute. And the appetite from employees is strong – 70% of people were keen for a more flexible working week in future, according to a recent study by Microsoft.
Some law firms have already introduced their agile working policy for the future and are on the cusp of putting it into practice. Forward-thinking firms have offered a more hybrid working week to take into account people’s personal preferences, while others have given their employees autonomy about when and where they work.
I recognised how well everyone at my firm worked from home during the pandemic, and we’ve made it a permanent benefit that our staff can choose where they want to work.
We’ve been welcoming of all working styles – many of our staff have families abroad and they’ve been able to work remotely, while around a third have been keen to return to the office. The flexibility has gone down well so far.
The prime minister has confirmed that all employees can return to the workplace from 19 July. But if you’re unsure about how to approach your firm’s return to the office, it’s worth considering the following steps.
Involve staff in the decision-making process and address misgivings
An important part of deciding your return to office plan is involving your staff in the decision-making process.
Conduct a survey so employees can feed back on working from home and what their appetite is for returning to the office. Show you’re listening and try to address concerns raised, as well as communicate how the decision will be made so employees know what to expect.
If you don’t show you’re taking this into account and force new measures without justification, it can have a negative impact on employee engagement and ultimately your employer brand.
Forcing employees back into the office suggests you don’t trust them. If law firms don’t trust their lawyers and staff, it’s not conducive to a collaborative, creative and open-minded working relationship.
So explore how a hybrid working week could work in practice – confront your own misgivings and concerns and what the solutions could be. Assess how you can retain the positives from working flexibly.
Adopting a more flexible approach can empower employees and demonstrate that you trust them to make sensible decisions over their working week. And if you really want people to come back into the office – ask rather than enforce, give concessions to those with health concerns that are more at risk of Covid-19 and consider offering incentives– for example a discount on travel costs and accommodation.
Ensure you have an up-to-date induction and development programme for hybrid working
Creating a virtual in-depth induction process has been a challenge for all kinds of businesses. Making sure your new recruits get a sense of the culture as well as helping them get to terms with the role has been difficult to replicate online.
Going forward, it’s worth utilising a mix of in-person and online learning, as well as social events so all employees have ‘face-to-face’ time with their new team and feel part of it. This can also make it more inclusive.
Establish regular contact from the outset – to strengthen relationships and manage progression for all team members.
Promote culture and team spirit
Mutual respect, tolerance and openness has laid the foundations for IMD and its core values, being culturally diverse, respectful, honest, committed to excellence and care.
We found the most successful way of communicating and keeping our employees engaged in our culture was structuring regular meetings for the whole team, one to one calls and socially distanced events during the pandemic.
For example, it was important we looked after our lawyers and legal professionals’ wellbeing. At IMD we made sure to check in with each employee every week.
When government guidelines permit, consider holding events that will persuade employees to come into the office. Provide rewards for staff – whether that’s a virtual or hybrid social get-together.
Keep the initiatives going that have worked successfully throughout the pandemic which encourage team-bonding and could get employees back into the office too.
Make sure to evaluate and revaluate on a regular basis. Ask employees for feedback, make sure concerns are addressed and adjust the flexible working policy where necessary.
The most important aspect of approaching your return to work is how you engage your employees on the matter.
Involving and empowering them in the decision-making process will mean you’re more likely to see the rewards. Knowing an employer trusts them will lead to a higher likelihood of you retaining your employees.