The question is no longer should we or do we have a hybrid workforce in the legal profession in Queensland – it’s a resounding ‘yes’.
The better question is now how do we make hybrid work? How do we get everything done, stay connected, and most importantly best deliver for our clients?
The Queensland Law Society Innovation Committee was quick to realise that this is one of the biggest topics facing our profession at the moment, and we sought to look at how we can make it work for small and micro firms right through to large firms with dozens of support services.
We formed a subcommittee comprising the authors of this article and broke the issue down into topics, created checklists, peer checked those extensively, and ran a presentation to members of our findings. The checklists are available as resources.
The checklists look at making hybrid work from a number of different angles, including:
- Considerations for Clients
- Considerations for your physical office
- Culture and People – things to consider
- Considerations for getting the work done
- Considerations for IT Challenges
We understand the challenges of and the approach to hybrid work will be different for every firm, and so the checklists are intended to simply prompt thought about different aspects to consider. There is no right or wrong way to do this.
In this short series of articles we explore some of the major issues which came up in our work preparing the checklists.
First and foremost, considerations for clients
As lawyers our clients come to us with a problem to solve. In order for us to solve that problem it is necessary they trust us to solve their problem, and we build that trust, by creating rapport.
While this is often easier in person, face to face, than over the phone or a videocall, it is not impossible. It is about choosing what can be done in a new and different way, and what must still be done ‘old school’ – meeting and greeting, sitting down face to face and talking it through.
The main topics we came up with for consideration for clients in our checklist were building rapport, maintaining relationships and witnessing documents.
Taking a personal injury claim for example – it is important to put the client at the centre of it, it’s their claim, it’s their outcome. If they aren’t physically present for certain aspects of their claim, then it makes it more difficult to ensure there is that connection and understanding.
The key for hybrid work is to pick the critical times that the client must be present and ensure that those critical meetings are not conducted remotely. But on the flipside, there are many times there is no need to make the client make the trip into the office.
It is critical to get that balance right, and important to ensure that, as part of learning pathways and coaching for younger solicitors (especially those who may have only been practising ‘post COVID’), they know for your area of law what those critical face to face times with clients are.
The other critical consideration is the availability of lawyers in the office at any given time. Do you take walk-in clients or do clients expect to ‘see’ their lawyer if they drop in? With a hybrid workforce this requires more thought and some deliberate planning.
Considering your service level from a client’s perspective is an important task, but there’s a solution to every problem here with hybrid working – it’s just about determining what works best for you and your clients.
Perhaps there’s an iPad in your front reception area to call your staff if they are working remotely? Or a roster to have a solicitor present in your office at all times, but not necessarily every solicitor. What works best will be a product of how you set expectations and how you communicate with your clients.
Our checklist takes you through cybersecurity considerations, equipment inventory, network connections and outages, whether staff could be ‘always on’, communication and collaboration, and your overall IT strategy.
There is a lot to consider; for large firms there is usually an IT department or IT-support help desk, but for small firms, or sole practitioners, you are often ‘it’ and therefore you need to consider a number of things when working remotely without the assistance of a specialised department.
Collaboration can be the same through hybrid work as face to face, but it must be intentional and more deliberate. This can be achieved by setting catch-ups on matters and arranging regular team meetings for general discussion about workflow. This achieves the dual purpose of connection and also creates opportunities for the sharing of creative ideas that often arise in impromptu workplace meetings.
A further critical aspect of hybrid work collaboration is mindful delegation of tasks. Providing the full picture, breaking up big projects, clearly setting achievable and measurable expectations and encouraging a culture of feedback are key tools in engaging and empowering hybrid workers.
Some people have reservations about hybrid work because they feel trepidation about whether productivity will suffer and whether a loss of line of sight of an employee will translate into avoidance of work.
The experience in the pandemic seemed to be the reverse, many employees and employers reported increases in productivity, but also changes in the way employees were managed.
Hybrid work does require a more intentional approach to communication and key issues like supervision. A shift in focus to outcomes rather than activity, accompanied with regular check-ins, are very effective tools to drive productivity in hybrid work.
This approach requires setting clear expectations about the delivery of work and communication about progress. For less experienced team members this may mean greater levels of engagement and more comprehensive supervision, or breaking tasks down into more elemental units.
The final piece of ensuring hybrid working productivity is to continuously review whether things are working and refine how things are done. It’s too late to leave this to performance review or file review times – a few simple changes as you go could bring much greater productivity much sooner.
Considerations for your physical office
The move to some form of structured hybrid work raises very pertinent questions for your physical office. It starts by considering what do your people need to do in your office? Is it a place to meet clients, collaborate with your team, host events, do highly focused client work?
The traditional model of work said that all these things needed to be performed in the physical office, but there are sensible questions to be asked about whether the physical office is the best place to do all these things. The hosting of events, for example, is one where frequency may mean it is more effective to release office space and infrastructure to conduct events offsite.
If collaboration was the key element of working in the office, this may drive the need for multi-purpose and more supportive spaces, that is, meeting rooms with videoconferencing may be more important than offices or quiet working spaces.
This article appears courtesy of the Queensland Law Society Innovation Committee. Kim Trajer is the Chief Operating Officer of McCullough Robertson Lawyers and a member of the committee. Richard Gardiner is a Senior Litigation Solicitor and Deputy Chair of the committee. Sarah Grace is General Manager of Abuse Law Queensland for Shine Lawyers and a member of the committee.