Legal work is rapidly undergoing its greatest changes in decades
– but many of the consequences are
Hybrid work is quickly becoming the industry’s dominant work model. Research, including our law firm-specific studies, indicates that it holds great promise in terms of bringing together the best of both worlds (office based and remote work). When business lawyers are given a certain amount of autonomy in choosing where to work, they will opt for a personalized working arrangement that controls drawbacks and capitalizes on advantages. Hence, hybrid work is strongly correlated with higher levels of productivity, job satisfaction, work-life balance, well-being, and lower staff turnover and burnout.
However, the hybrid work model also comes with several new complex challenges, some of which may still be unknown. So, precisely what are the best practices in implementing it?
The second study in our multi-year research project on law firms under the pandemic will focus on the long-term effects of working remotely from home and hybrid work. We will, of course, take the pulse of the current situation, in which many regions are facing the possibility of a third wave of the Coronavirus.
It is clear that law firms will not opt for full-time permanent working from home for all. In our first study following the pandemic’s start, we studied the effects of working from home in lock-down mode. We then saw that productivity was intact, work-life improved, and burnout levels lowered substantially. These findings were, of course, at the group level, and there was a fair amount of individual variance – some were doing better, some were doing worse. We then flagged for the possible long-term effects of work intensification, i.e., the remote work phenomenon that reflects the tendency in ambitious individuals who work in organizations with high standards and demands to work harder, longer, and with fewer breaks when working from home. We are now receiving anecdotal evidence that work intensification is on the rise, with burnout following in its wake; and in our next survey, we will carefully assess this possible tendency.
To be able to proactively navigate different scenarios, leadership must have strategic split-vision; short term, lock-down, and long term, without heavy restrictions. In the latter scenario, it may be tempting for law firms to revert to full-time office work. But given employees have now gotten a taste of more flexible working arrangements, it may prove very difficult – perhaps practically impossible – to do this.