“The Great Resignation”. A trend that describes record numbers of people leaving their jobs after the COVID-19 pandemic ends (whenever that may be) and life returns to “normal” (whatever that may be).
As we start off 2022, still in the middle of an unpredictable pandemic, there is disruption in businesses everywhere, not least the Scottish legal profession. Desapite efforts to recruit and retain the best talent, anecdotal evidence from colleagues, peers and recruiters indicates that individuals continue to seek new opportunities. This ties in with research carried out by Microsoft in September 2021, that 41% of workers around the world are likely to consider leaving their current employer or changing their profession this year.
Although we are not yet at the stage of seeing what a post-pandemic workplace looks like, it is very clear things will never return to the way they were before. There will not be a grand reopening of office spaces – the hybrid workplace is here to stay. Most organisations have realised they must shed a “one size fits all” mindset, towards one of flexibility. Those businesses who haven’t and insist on maintaining expectations of a full return to the office, will find themselves in a losing battle with employers who have announced their employees do not have to come back to the office regularly again. Talent will undoubtedly be lost, as new job or career opportunities are almost limitless and people grasp the chance to work with those who are forward-thinking and refuse to let location limit their candidate pool.
Managing the hybrid model
While a shift to a hybrid working model might not be for everyone, the opportunity to embrace blended ways of working should be carefully considered. Many businesses appear to be implementing two or three days in the office and two or three days remote. While the number of days is defined at the top level, decisions around which days employees come into the office are being made by individual managers who are in the best position to understand their teams’ work and when they need to be together. Offering “structured flexibility” and a degree of autonomy is advantageous to help people connect and collaborate with others they know are likely to be in the office at the same time.
The degree of remote work will also depend on how well firms manage the challenges that come with it. Traditionally, for example, career progression has been linked to spending time with managers and colleagues in person and networking face-to-face. Hybrid working could arguably make it more difficult for trainees, NQs and new employees, as well as women (who remain more likely to opt for greater flexibility) to grow in their careers. Presence bias will need to be eliminated by ensuring our “hybrid leaders” receive relevant training and support to address such biases. Also, not all jobs can be done remotely, which may unintentionally lead to inequalities between staff members.
The need to connect
Linked to this is the general need for connection with others. Individuals usually feel more engaged with their employers when motivated by others in a professional and social context. The power of catching up with someone while making a cup of coffee in the staff canteen or over some lunch shouldn’t be underestimated in building trust, engagement and loyalty. It is important for our leaders to ensure that, going forward, offices are used as collaborative spaces where staff are encouraged to meet each other, clients are welcomed and interpersonal relationships can thrive. Work spaces might need to be redesigned to accommodate this. Employers will have to adapt, along with employees who will likely find themselves motivated to take on greater responsibility for their progression and transition in the workplace.
Experience also tells us that people usually share knowledge better and learn faster “in person”. In order to prevent knowledge and communication silos, firms must focus on building collective knowledge for all, not only at senior levels, through use of digital technology wherever possible. Failing to do so will result in a loss of the diversity of thoughts and ideas which is essential to the success of any business. Investment in team and leadership development has never been more crucial.
The change within the legal profession over the last two years is vast. As we continue in a state of flux and uncertainty, it is difficult to predict where things will end up. However, continuous change within the legal sector is inevitable, particularly in the way individuals view their relationship with their career and profession.
Successful hybrid workplaces must be proactive, innovative and transparent about decisions made to address such ongoing matters. Wellbeing and equity need to remain high on the list of priorities. Equitable workplaces tend to attract – and keep – the best, most diverse talent. Those who feel valued and looked after naturally perform well and help maintain business continuity. Good management and a healthy workplace culture are fundamental for any organisation – hybrid working or not.
Rupa Mooker is Director of People & Development with MacRoberts