For Fish & Richardson, allowing employees to embrace hybrid work after the pandemic has made a difference in the firm's approach to employee engagement and retention
During the pandemic, our firm, Fish & Richardson, pivoted rather seamlessly to fully remote work. Like many in the industry, we were pleasantly surprised that our business did not suffer from this shift and remained strong. We quickly realized that the link between physical presence and productivity, engagement, and retention was not as simple or direct as we had once assumed. As many law firms mandated a return to offices three or four days a week, we embraced hybrid work. We believe that hybrid work is a powerful differentiator in employee engagement, retention of talent, and client service.
In our most recent firmwide engagement survey, 89% of our employees said they approve of the way we’re approaching hybrid work. From this feedback we learned there were several key concepts from our approach to work that resonated, including:
Prior to the pandemic, we had a relatively flexible culture as it related to remote work. Employees worked remotely periodically, but it wasn’t the norm to work remotely multiple days per week. Now, remote work is an expected modality. However, part of our success is that we continue to have high expectations for productivity and work quality regardless of where an employee physically works.
We recognize there are many benefits to remote work including reduced time spent commuting, opportunities to concentrate on work with minimal disruptions, and finding balance between priorities at work and at home. We also recognize that employee mentoring and professional development require working closely with management and peers. With that in mind, we’ve had to change some aspects of how we approach work.
Intentional in-person engagement
After extensive discussions about how we can support our people to do their best work, we believe that intentionality on what work gets done in person and what work gets done together as a team is critical. For determining what is best conducted in person, for example, I rely on the three Cs: collaboration, coaching, and celebration. Within that framework, each chief and director at Fish decides what hybrid work looks like for their department.
Some teams come into the office three days a month for collaborative work and training. Some teams come in one day a week – they may live near each other, and weekly in-person collaboration makes sense for them. Other teams are more dispersed geographically, so their leadership brings them together for specific events. The critical point is that information gets shared, learning and development occur, and our clients — whether internal or external — are served.
Prior to the pandemic, we had a relatively flexible culture as it related to remote work. Employees worked remotely periodically, but it wasn’t the norm to work remotely multiple days per week. Now, remote work is an expected modality.
There is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Because of the specialized nature of the work we do — Fish is an intellectual property law firm — we typically staff our legal teams based on expertise, not location. If a client needs deep expertise in biochemistry, we will staff the person with that Ph.D. rather than simply staffing the attorney that works down the hall. The right biochemistry expert might be on the other side of the country, so we have built knowledge management tools to help principals find colleagues with the expertise they need.
As the pandemic subsided, we knew that if we were going to fully adopt hybrid work, then we had to actively manage it to ensure its success. That means we make sure that everyone — not just legal staff — is included in our efforts to strengthen the firm’s culture.
When an affinity group hosts a guest speaker, the presentation is hosted on Zoom so that all employees can attend. We also doubled down on our internal communications. And every Friday, our CEO writes an office-wide email covering everything from trial victories to new hires and social gatherings.
In 2021, our president & CEO and I went on a road show to Fish offices across the US. We had the opportunity to celebrate the firm’s success during the pandemic crisis and received valuable insight and feedback.
I thought the road show would be a one-time occurrence. However, it was so beneficial that it’s become a yearly event, and we recently embarked on our third annual tour. It’s a significant investment of time and energy, but it’s a key part of ensuring that all employees hear from firm leadership and make everyone feel included.
Training & professional development
We’ve made a commitment to invest in in-person training. For example, our litigation case teams come together cross-office for critical points in the life cycle of a matter when it’s helpful for everyone to be in person. While the work is intense, there is also a social component. We continue to do this because participants tell us that it’s hugely valuable to developing team cohesion. We’ve also increased our cross-office, multiday training immersion courses that are focused on practical skill development.
There’s a lot more to making hybrid work productive than getting on airplanes. Training, for example, looks a little different. We’ve hired an internal writing coach, and attorneys can sign up for a virtual session to receive individualized coaching with him. We’ve also hired a professional development manager to help with coaching and mentoring. That’s especially helpful during on-boarding, to better aid new employees in learning the firm’s approach to professionalism.
Prior to the pandemic, it wasn’t the norm to work remotely multiple days per week. Now, it’s an expected modality.
Structure the unstructured
There are informal meetings — the so-called watercooler meetings — that we’ve begun to formalize. We launched a program called Colleague Connections that gives principals a stipend to take colleagues out for in-person interactions. We’ve seen our principals use the program intentionally to help strengthen connections and culture between people who might not naturally cross paths otherwise. From an administrative perspective, Colleague Connections is low-hanging fruit, and it makes a big impact.
Our office managing principals have taken several approaches to host creative local events that engage employees. We host traditional lunches and happy hours, and we’re adding new events that are focused on community service. To that end, we had a sandwich-making event recently in support of a local shelter — events like that provide a great reason to get employees together in the office.
Open to change and iteration
We’re still assessing and making improvements to our hybrid approach, and we want it to be a dynamic, iterative process. We know that what’s right for Fish won’t necessarily work for every law firm; but for us, hybrid work is an important tool to attract top talent, empower everyone to do their best work, and to make Fish an exceptional employer.
The article was written by Kristine McKinney, Chief Operating Officer of Fish & Richardson P.C.