Winning the Top Talent Tug of War
By Anthony Davies
This article originally appeared in Legal Management Magazine Here: here
The first step to winning the tug of war for top talent is admitting this very basic fact: Talent has the upper hand.
Case in point: Most law firms are now operating on a hybrid model. What was unthinkable a little over three years ago has today become the industry norm. Further proof of this resounding victory is highlighted in the battle for the return-to-office (RTO) and which tactics firms are using (or not using) to accomplish this.
According to a survey of the Am Law 100 this year, about 34% of firms are mandating three days a week in the office; 33% of firms are encouraging three days in the office — and 30% couldn’t answer the question. When it comes to mandates, Thomson Reuters’ 2022 State of the Legal Market report found — even at one day per week — firms that had them experienced double the turnover rate of firms that did not.
Here’s the problem with encouraging attendance: While talent leads the work-from-home battle, most firms believe the remote environment damages personal relationships at work, dilutes the “stickiness” of individual attorneys to the firm and to their peers, and may be a contributor to the ease with which lawyers are moving firms. So it’s a bit of a tightrope act for firm leadership to somehow get their professionals in the office with some kind of regularity — but without the perils of a misstep that may lead to increased attorney attrition.
WHAT MAKES RETURNING TO THE OFFICE SUCCESSFUL?
In a study cited by Thomson Reuters’ 2023 State of the Legal Market report, Microsoft surveyed 20,000 people and analyzed trillions of Microsoft 365 productivity signals to determine what factors are most important in getting employees to return to their offices. The survey disclosed, perhaps not surprisingly, that the real value of the office is not the place, but the people.
When asked what would motivate them to come into the office, the surveyed employees had a resounding answer — time with coworkers:
- 85% of employees would be motivated to go into the office to rebuild team bonds.
- 84% of employees would be motivated to go into the office if they could socialize with co-workers.
- 74% of employees would go to the office more frequently if they knew their “work friends” were there.
- 73% of employees would go to the office more frequently if they knew their direct team members would be there.
This research strongly suggests that firms should design strategies that entice professionals into the office to connect rather than enact mandates or other punitive measures. Some law firms have started to tie in-office attendance to job security and bonuses, a trend that could expand given the excess capacity that many firms currently have. However, the data suggests this may not be the best way to attract lawyers back.
ENTICING STAFF BACK TO THE OFFICE
The office must now provide benefits or an experience the lawyers and staff cannot get at home, including the redesign of the workspace to foster intentional connection and collaboration with colleagues and transforming the office into a destination or “workplace experience” that is better than working from home.
To achieve this, some firms are taking their amenities and benefits to another level by adding a layer of five-star hospitality services — literally creating concierge roles and staffing them with people who have background experience working in five-star hotels like the Ritz Carlton or Mandarin Oriental.
Here are a few more ways law firms are transforming the office to realign to what attorneys now want from their office experience.
Real Estate: While some firms have elected to reduce space, many have repurposed space, or even relocated their space to make it more attractive and accessible for its people. Floorplans have been redesigned to reflect the need for more connection and collaboration space. Many firms plan to relocate to locations better served by public transport, and some are even quitting leases early to do this.
Hoteling/Hot Desking: Paying for real estate that is not used is a waste but asking employees to come back to half-empty offices is arguably worse when the objective of office time is to be with people. Hot desk floors — also referred to as hoteling — are starting to appear in law firms, and a common theme is to make these the most desirable floors in the building. Added amenities, refreshments and events make these floors most attractive, and there is now a growing group of volunteers electing to give up their permanent desk.
Technology: When we speak of the intentionality of attorneys’ in-office time, this is something that is going to require technology. Coordinating reservable and shared space, locating colleagues, pre-ordering refreshments and reporting on office utilization lean heavily on the right technology. Room booking systems existed before COVID, but these technologies have evolved fast, giving employees increased control over their whole workplace experience.
Incentive Programs: It started with free meals and snacks, but incentive programs have now become much more sophisticated. There are examples of firms rewarding in-person work with benefits, including better parking spaces, leisure vouchers or even increased bonus payments. Attending social and networking events is an especially important part of creating firm culture.
Outsourcing: Implementing many of these initiatives requires expertise and resources that are not core to law firm activities. Accessing these resources through a flexible outsourcing provider with expertise in talent, hospitality and technology has enabled many firms to drive their hybrid schedule forward much faster. Outsourcing also gives the added benefit of “try before you buy” with certain initiatives.
The changes that attorneys are now driving to the industry are, quite frankly, for the better. Listening to what attorneys and legal professionals want is paramount to making hybrid successful. The modern workplace continues to play a crucially important role in collaborating and building culture and loyalty, and many firms have now found the right balance and experience to do this without driving employees away.