Working Reimagined in 2021

Working Reimagined in 2021

By Kate Harry Shipham
August 19, 2021 | 7 minutes
Marketing Management and Leadership Management of Individual Personnel Firm Organizational Structure and Dynamics Department Management and Motivation Content Type Article Additional Options Content Level: Essential
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Return to office (RTO) for the legal marketing industry is quickly approaching. Many firms are loosely referring to “after Labor Day.” Others are currently experimenting with a hybrid structure that gives people a few days in the office each week, with the remaining days working from home.

Let’s level set — RTO is a misnomer. It implies that we are returning to a work situation that is familiar, and that, for many, is something that has been missed. However, a March 2021 Harvard Business School survey showed that 81% of employees did not want to come back to the office or would prefer a hybrid model.

Working — as many knew it pre-pandemic — is not familiar in 2021. Nor is it a routine that we can easily slip back into. For many, it is also not something that has been missed. Both legal marketing team leaders and team members must adopt new best practices for work. In doing so, they have a challenge and an opportunity to be pioneers for law firms.

Let us instead change the language to “working reimagined in 2021.”

Surveys conducted by our team at KHS People during the pandemic support the above Harvard Business School survey. In fact, one KHS People survey showed that an overwhelming number of respondents (96%) enjoyed working remotely in some form. Of that 96%, 73% of them would ideally have a hybrid model, which allowed them to have flexibility with office interactions alongside the ability to work remote.

The Ideal Situation for the Majority

From our research, experience and anecdotal evidence, most legal marketers would prefer the following working model in 2021:

  • Hybrid model: This is essentially the best of both worlds. It gives office and face time for enhancing and building relationships, which is important to legal marketers. It also acknowledges that flexibility often offers a healthier work/life balance. This model recognizes that alone time is, for many, essential to enhance productivity and creativity. A split between the office and home is what most would value in this new hybrid model — two or three days in the office with the remainder at home.
  • Establishing a “professional vulnerability” culture: This culture was developed out of necessity during the most intense of times of COVID-19. We previously referred to this concept during 2020, and know that when leaders are vulnerable, share and lead by example, team members feel empowered to share and talk about the moments or topics that are the most pressing for them in return. Life during COVID blurred the lines between work and life. For many, the ultimate outcome was welcomed, whether it be more time together as a family, less hours spent commuting, more time to cook, exercise and so on. Let us all call out and acknowledge that it is exceedingly rare these days to be able to separate work and life into two neat buckets that do not overflow, wobble around, or bang into each other.
  • Continuing with work/life overlap: In many ways, the phrase “work/life balance” has also been superseded, mostly because the word balance creates a misnomer that it was there to begin with. What we saw during COVID, and even more so this year, is the acceptance that work and life intercept and, more commonly, overlap. For team leaders and team members, this overlap is a positive and truthful place.
  • Idea creation sessions: Many will attest that coming together in-person as a team generates a flurry of ideas, activities and different ways of thinking. Studies have been done on this concept, noting that the energy, momentum and multiple brains working on an idea creates something more unique and special, and unattainable when alone. Team leaders and team members benefit from these times, and twice-monthly idea creation group time could well be the answer to creating such momentum.
  • Non-work time, within work hours: Reconnecting with everyone on the team is a must for many when returning to the office. My best advice is to create an opportunity to have this reconnection in a more social or light-hearted group setting, but without going into people’s personal time. After all, their personal time has already been depleted because of their hard work ethic during the global pandemic. An afternoon together outside of the office or a longer lunch are restorative to reconnect, knowing this time would already be spent with the team. These opportunities to relate and reconnect are bolstering the relationships between everyone, which is essential for good working practices.
Working — as many knew it pre-pandemic — is not familiar in 2021. Nor is it a routine that we can easily slip back into.

Working Reimagined for Team Leaders and Team Members

Below is a chart to help guide RTO. The column labeled “For team leaders” can be used by CMOs and directors. Individual marketers can use the “For team members” column to help guide their teams and set expectations; it can also be used for personal development.

For team leaders For team members

Attunement to your team

  • Note their morale, energy levels and capacity levels overall.

Concentrate on your role

  • You may have a newly defined focus and it will most likely have numerous new or different priorities.
  • Speak with each attorney you support and have conversations around these issues, as well as their practice and their business goals for Q3 and Q4.
  • Set priorities and expectations, and clearly defined outcomes to measure progress and success.

Attunement to individuals

  • Note who is still feeling the effects of COVID. (Are they burning out, or still grieving a lost family member?)
  • What conversations should you have about their career goals and trajectory?

Reconnect with your team

  • Physically visit your team members in the office and check in with them. Reconnecting gives you greater value from your work and makes the greater goals feel more relatable and personal.

Clear and consistent information

  • Hold an open session to talk about working in 2021. What is everyone’s role and what new or different ways of working does the team desire?
  • Provide clear information on who is still part of the team, defined roles and anyone coming back from a furlough. Explain layoffs (if any) and provide explanations as much as you are able.

Reconnect with the more periphery staff members who also provided guidance and assistance to you during 2020

  • Many business services functions are invisibly connecting behind the scenes to keep the wheels of the firm machine moving effortlessly. Pay each a visit and re-state their importance and role.

Share the (renewed) vision for the firm and team, allowing time to talk about difficult topics:

  • Lead them through both the higher-level strategy and finer details.
  • Provide explanations on new growth roles, refill roles and any gaps.
  • Share your learnings as a leader.
  • Provide information on how furloughed team members will be assimilated back into this new environment.
  • Talk about what each can expect by way of salary growth and bonus opportunities.
  • Acknowledge the need for discussions around mental health (including mental health days) and vacation taking initiatives.

Have an honest, in-depth conversation with your boss or team leader, setting the agenda as follows:

i. Your role and your focus in 2021

ii. Your personal overlaps

iii. Your ideas and unique contributions

iv. How you can personally contribute to the success of the greater team

v. How you can help your leader

vi. What expectations you have in your role; ensure alignment

vii. What feedback you would like to receive

viii. How you can be a team ambassador

Team Leaders, Re-Assess at the Start of Each Quarter

As 2021 continues to roll along, be mindful about resisting the urge to fall back into habits or behaviors that did not serve you or your team well in 2020 and prior to COVID-19.

Legal marketers of all seniority and roles will benefit from these “working reimagined” bullet points shared below. Lastly, add two-to-three of your own:

  • Keep the newly acquired positive behaviors that are serving you well in 2021, both in the office and in your own home
  • Celebrate in an in-person team meeting, setting the positive changes that people have made to their working practices that are better supporting their work output and their attorneys
  • Take time off and check out entirely, knowing your team has your back when you do
  • Share learnings, failings and difficult projects being overcome; these times are easier knowing there is an unwavering support from your team
  • My “working reimagined” ideas:

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Kate Harry Shipham
KHS People LLC

Kate Harry Shipham is the principal of KHS People LLC, an executive search firm with a niche in placing marketers and business developers in law firms. She is a former attorney, and leverages her background as an attorney to understand the individual needs of her clients and candidates. Both clients and candidates work with Shipham because of her deep understanding of the market, her ability to relate based on her attorney and search experience combined, her tailored market intelligence, and her professional and personable style.