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In a Hybrid World, The Technology That Helps Attorneys Connect In the Office

By AshLea Allberry.

People Want to Be with People

Law firms are in a time of innovation. Prior to the pandemic, 35% of attorneys reported a preference for WFH; now that number is 86%--and 93% of firms are implementing some form of flexible seating in response.

This is what everyone is calling the shift to hybrid, and let’s just say it hasn’t been perfect—yet. In fact, many firms believe the remote environment has damaged personal relationships at work and the sense of belonging amongst many lawyers--and may be a contributor to the ease with which lawyers, from partners to associates, are moving firms.

Notwithstanding this view from leadership, most firms are challenged to get attorneys to comply with RTO policies. Thomson Reuters’ 2022 State of the Legal Market found that when firms mandated any kind of return to the office, even hybrid, those firms experienced double the turnover rate of firms that did not.

That’s why as of Q4 2022, getting hybrid right is cited as the number one challenge of 2023—and the number one opportunity is designing a return-to-office strategy that excites staff and supports culture, collaboration and connection.

Here’s the one thing businesses across all sectors are now realizing: when it comes to time in the office, people want to be with people. Period.

In a Microsoft survey of 20,000 professionals and 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; and

  • 73% of employees would go to the office more frequently if they knew their direct team members would be there.

But here’s the thing—law firms are lagging in the technology that can help their professionals do this—which, in turn, would provide support for their RTO policies.

In fact, according to ILTA’s most recent legal tech survey, the majority of firms (60%) have adopted no new technology to help support their hybrid environments including how to enable hybrid working attorneys connect and collaborate in the office, and about 13% are using Microsoft Outlook.

Can Microsoft Outlook help attorneys connect with their peers? Sure, usually through cumbersome email threads that are yet another drag on the administrative burden creep attorneys have been experiencing since the onset of the pandemic.

Where Are My Peers Working Today?

If we are to solve this problem with new technology that is purposely built to answer this question, then that technology should 1. reduce administrative burden on attorneys and staff while also 2. provide information that is enhanced and significantly more actionable than an Outlook email thread, and 3. help promote a vibrant in-office culture that fosters networking and collaboration.

The worst-case scenario for hybrid is when an attorney comes into the office – but the office is a ghost town. Nothing will demotivate RTO faster than just one ineffectual, lonely workday. Firms must figure out how to cluster attorney time to ensure that in-office culture and vibrancy.

And there is a solution for that we call “presence.” Presence is a new technology functionality delivered specifically to solve this issue in hybrid organizations. Presence delivers simple visibility into who is in the office and who is working remotely without the need to install any hardware devices or any work on the part of attorneys and, instead, just works in the background effortlessly: hence, reduced administrative burden.

With presence, attorneys “see” their peers. They can see their peers today, in what office, on what floor, in what city—and even better, they can see their intentions for tomorrow and make decisions about where they want to work. If I know I like to collaborate with Sally, all I need to do is view Sally’s intended presence and I can book a desk near her when I know she will be there.

It is deceptively simplistic. On the back end, attorneys and professionals need do nothing for presence to work. On the front end, presence delivers a simple visual experience--a green dot versus blue—indicating at a glance the precise location of their peers.

Presence delivers the ‘watercooler’ experience of the office back into the in the palms of attorneys hands, one where they can easily see where their peers are, understand how and when they can network, read a bulletin about a holiday office party, and make decisions about clustering their time in intentional ways.

Better Than Microsoft Outlook?

When we talk about “better”, however, what exactly are we talking about?

One of the key metrics for hybrid success must surely be optimizing attorney time in the office. Today, according to a survey of the Am Law 100 from Savills, the battleground is around increasing the number of days in the office – not around whether or not the firm will go hybrid or not—and how to get there: mandates versus strong encouragement.

According to this data, 67% of firms are encouraging or mandating 3 days a week in the office with some variance around ‘anchor days.’ Even here, whether strongly encouraged or mandated, compliance is an issue of which other studies show that across the board, about 94% of attorneys are not complying with RTO policies.

Another key metric for hybrid success must also be the experience of an efficient and productive hybrid environment. Attorneys and staff need to know that their in-office time is going to be optimized with no productivity loss due to information gaps, say, around AV or tech needs for hot desks that have been booked; no services interruption for catering or hospitality needs when conference rooms are booked with clients or prospects; that visiting attorneys can seamlessly be accommodated, and more.

But it’s the last metric for hybrid success that may be the most important, and that’s ensuring that attorneys can intentionally connect and collaborate when they are in the office—and this means, facilitating simple and effective ways for attorneys to “see” who is in the office (or going to be in the office) on what day so that individuals or groups can select the same days and locations to intentionally create the opportunity to connect. In fact, the business professionals in the office also need quick, effective access to this information to significantly improve the performance of their jobs as well.

It's a job for technology purposely built for the challenge – not Microsoft Outlook.

Bringing it All Together

In a hybrid world where the greatest attraction of the office is people, presence is a key feature to enable success. But the challenges of hybrid extend even beyond this and touch everything from making data-driven decisions about real estate optimization, space efficiency, and attorney productivity to easily routing catering to a conference room—and let’s just say without beating a dead horse too badly, Outlook is just not cut out for it. We simply can’t use old tools to solve new problems – and that’s the exciting part of the challenge on the road ahead.


About the Author

AshLea Allberry is the COO of Maptician, the end-to-end hybrid office technology solution built for law firms.


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