As more organizations grapple with differing modes of work styles, such as in-person and remote, it's critical that managers foster collaboration among all employees
The momentum of the human side of business has been building since early 2020. In fact, 94% of CEOs said their stated focus has shifted towards the social component of environmental, social & governance (ESG) programs in response to the pandemic, according to KPMG.
As businesses become more human-centered, approaches to collaboration in this time of mixed approaches to work — in-person, remote, or hybrid — are an ongoing question. While some organizations are strongly encouraging a specific number of days in the officer per week, others are still fully remote or leaving it up to the individual needs.
For example, members of the Thomson Reuters Equity, Diversity & Inclusion advisory board recently shared how they are navigating hybrid work, returning to the office desires, and balancing preferences in both in-person and remote work amid very diverse work styles and backgrounds among employees.
With the reality that the legal and tax & accounting industries operate on personal connections, which, generally speaking, are forged more efficiently in-person, two members of the advisory board outlined their firms’ current guidelines to hybrid work. First, they strongly encourage all lawyers to show up in the office on specific days of the week with flexibility in choosing a third day in the office. This has allowed people to maintain their desired flexibility with structure without diluting personal connections and cultural norms.
Second, they allow employees to work where they need to be, based on a descending order of priorities: i) working where the employee needs to in order to meet the client’s needs; ii) working where the business and the team want; and finally, iii) working where the employee wants. The benefit of this approach has helped employees pivot from self-first paradigm during the pandemic to more business need-led decision-making.
As legal and tax & accounting employers work through the right balance between working in the office and elsewhere, it has become evident that remote work does not necessarily mean less engagement, according to a three-year study of knowledge workers by Mike Tolliver, Product Management Director at Vyopta, and research partner Andrew Brodsky, a professor of management at McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. More specifically, insights from their research revealed that remote meetings appear to be becoming a lot more natural and effective, mostly because meeting length shrunk by 25% and had fewer attendees between 2020 and 2022, with the proportion of remote meetings that are one-on-one increasing from 17% to 42%. Also, remote meetings seem to be mirroring in-person interactions a whole lot more due to their spontaneity and size, the study found.
Getting the most out of meetings
While the approach to work ultimately will vary depending on the needs of the organization, there are key lessons to be learned from the remote work experience over the last three years. Tolliver and Brodsky shared how their clients using these insights, including:
- Being intentional about meeting culture — Tactics, such as setting agendas for meetings, create meeting norms among team members and ensure there are opportunities for people to speak up. These have become important elements of productive meeting culture.
- Analyzing technology fit — Be mindful about collaboration and make sure there is forethought in what technology is being used and for what task. Sometimes certain tasks are better done via e-mail rather than spending time in a meeting.
- Building trust — For a manager, building trust with your employees, especially among those who work remotely is critical. First and foremost, make work and promotion decisions based on work outcomes and impact, not presence in the office.
- Experimenting & using data — One of the best tactics organizations can utilize is constantly experimenting in order to try new approaches, whether it’s with employees or clients. During this process, organizations should collect data, adjust, iterate, and experiment again. The right solution won’t occur on the first try, of course, but by using data-driven qualitative and quantitative analysis, organizations can keep working to improve.
- Being mindful about how time in the office is used — This is particularly important for collaborative reasons. Having employees commute an hour each way, just to sit in the office and perform the exact same tasks that they would do at home is not ideal. Managers should schedule most team meetings on in-office days. For lawyers, this may be harder to control given the nature of client demands, but it is worth making the effort.
As the future of work shakes out, balancing between in-office work and remote work will compel organizations to lean intentionality toward collaboration and more inclusive meetings to better gain an edge in increasing employee satisfaction (and therefore, productivity and retention) going forward.