How Many Days is Right? Setting Your Work-From-Home Policy

In 2022, the question isn’t whether hybrid law firms are viable, but how to find the right balance between in-office and at-home time. Just 11% of firms in Smokeball’s Law + The Great Resignation survey aren’t offering any sort of hybrid work model, so your firm likely has already gone hybrid.

But as you face down the potential of a long-term or permanent structure change, it’s time to clearly define your firm’s hybrid policy so everyone understands expectations — both in and out of the office.

Set in-office days

When it comes to choosing the days your staff works in the office, your employees may want to choose their days but that could prove troublesome. After all, everyone may want to work from home on Mondays and Fridays. But the reality is your client needs, court schedule and business processes should dictate what days your team is in-office.

For instance, if your firm routinely tries cases in court, your team likely needs to be in-office on Mondays to touch base and address any last-minute motions. (If you use legal practice management like Smokeball, your client files and court documents are already tied to the related matter, alleviating any last-minute scrambling.)

If your firm sets aside certain days of the week to meet with clients in person, those days could require staffers to be on hand to greet those clients, review pre-appointment documents in their Smokeball matter, and go over any subpoenas, affidavits or other court documents.

Decide on the number of remote days

Finding the right mix of hybrid days may take some trial and error. Smokeball’s recent Law + The Great Resignation survey found 38% of those who follow a hybrid model report employees working from home one to two days a week, followed by 31% whose employees working from home two to three days.

It’s up to you to decide what will work best for your firm. As such, don’t be afraid to start low and increase your WFH days based on your team’s preference and needs. But remember: In an economy of choice, employees are more loyal to firms that offer flexibility. More than one-third (34%) of firms in Smokeball’s survey say job candidates cited a desire for hybrid work as a reason for leaving their current job. And 25% moved to a permanent remote policy as a tactic for reducing turnover.

Determine what work can be handled remotely

Before sending your employees off to work at home, it’s important to decide what tasks can be completed from home — and make sure you have the right technology to support them. Tasks could include conducting legal research for briefs, transcribing dictation, making client appointments, talking with clients to gather information for court documents or in response to subpoenas, or sending invoices and collecting payments.

Outline at-home job responsibilities with each team member, and make sure they have the necessary support to complete their work at home. Nearly 90% of firms in Smokeball’s survey added at least one piece of technology in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

These new tools didn’t just keep the lights on while working from home — firms experienced real growth. Nearly half (48%) took on more clients, 31% increased their billable hours and 22% decreased overall hours worked thanks to new technology. If you’re introducing new technology, an all-in-one legal practice management software that integrates with technology you’re already using will decrease the learning curve and increase firm-wide adoption.

Outline specifics in your hybrid policy

Prior to implementing any hybrid days, you should have a hybrid law firm policy in place that all employees can review, understand and agree to follow. For instance, if you plan to require employees to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19, that should be outlined in the policy by defining what “fully vaccinated” means and when vaccines must be completed (for instance, if they must be fully vaccinated more than 14 days before working in the office). And, while it is legal for you to require in-person employees to get vaccinated, you also must have policies in place to accommodate employees with certain medical conditions or religious beliefs who cannot or will not get vaccinated.

If you do plan to mandate vaccines, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recommends educating employees on the benefits of vaccination, including sharing educational materials and resources so employees can research the topic and make their own decisions.

Other elements of your hybrid policy may include any limits on remote days, how long any trial period for hybrid days may last and what circumstances could lead to the end of remote days.

Set expectations for accountability

As part of your hybrid law firm policy, you also should be clear about your expectations for accountability when staffers are working at home. For instance, how many hours would they work? What tasks must be completed?

You may be surprised at what you see. Studies show 90% of employees say they’re as productive or more working remotely when compared to the office. And Smokeball’s automatic time tracking and Law Firm Insights put hard numbers behind purported productivity. Our legal practice management software tracks every minute spent working, from composing emails to filling out case documents. Not only does this enable more accurate, efficient billing, it creates a foolproof record of productivity by fee-earner or case in the form of Law Firm Insights.

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