Returning to the Office: Preparing for a Hybrid Work Environment
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations to adopt flexible working models, and the legal industry was no exception. However, with restrictions being lifted and vaccines becoming more widely distributed, many organizations are in the process of building and implementing their return-to-office strategies. While some are reverting to exclusively onsite work, just as it was before the pandemic, many firms are leaning towards a hybrid approach which gives their employees numerous options for collaboration and flexibility.
However, in a culture that was previously reliant on physical locations and paper, how can law firms best plan for this new normal while mitigating risk but maximizing employee flexibility?
Preparations to Consider
Before fully implementing a hybrid office approach, organizations need to properly prepare. For example, information handling policy changes must reflect the new way of working and employees need to understand changing protocols or responsibilities. Below are some key considerations for preparing your firm to succeed in a hybrid environment:
Refresh your information governance policy: There needs to be strong information governance policies around how employees conduct themselves when working remotely. Some crucial things to address include use of personal devices, authorized communication platforms, required trainings or progress meetings, and information security practices. Leaders need to clearly communicate expectations so everyone knows what protocol will look like going forward. Auditing workflows and checking that devices are secure should also be a part of this process. This provides confirmation that people understand the policies and are following them. It also can shed light on any security gaps that might threaten sensitive data and create an opportunity to remedy the issue.
Update protocol for paper documents: Working remotely and converting to digital storage cuts down on an office’s paper trail. However, any hard copy documents that an employee creates or stores needs to be trackable. Common examples include court documents, trial prep, and drafts of briefs printed at home. There needs to be policies for how to handle these documents, so they are not floating around in various places or being mismanaged. One major consideration is whether printing at home is allowed and if so, how it can be limited. Next, decide what employees should do with documents in their possession. Will everyone be issued a scanner and shredder to ensure all prints are digitized and then discarded? Do documents need to be sent to the physical office to be scanned or shredded and how should they be transported? Some options are FedEx pickups or requiring employees to go in once a month for a scan and shred day. While all of these options have potential for error and require an element of trust, weigh options to decide what will work best.
Digitize your mail: Determine who will receive the office mail and how it can be digitized so remote employees can have access. Digital mailrooms are a compelling way to cut down on costs and time that is otherwise spent on mail tasks. From receipt and logging of incoming pieces to scanning and routing of digitized content to an organization’s repository of record, this is end-to-end workflow solution can be conducted onsite or remotely. There needs to be sound policies for safeguarding digital mail containing sensitive client data.
Consider “smart storage”: When attorneys and other employees are in the office, personal storage needs to be addressed. Since they will likely be dealing with a hoteling or hot-desking office management setup in which workers can dynamically schedule their use of workspaces, creating ways to securely hold and store items is important. This applies to items like court documents, extra suits, and other personal affects. Some flexible options to explore that can help keep items safe include smart or digital lockers and rented carts for each employee. The policy element could also be that all personal items need to be taken home when not in the office.
As more firms and other legal organizations adopt hybrid approaches, preparation is key for a smooth transition. Being prepared will help your team navigate changes, remain competitive, increase efficiency, and prove advantageous for recruitment. This leads to better budget management, streamlined processes, and improved collaboration.
For more information regarding how to prepare your information governance policies in a hybrid work environment, please contact Scott Mahoney at Scott.Mahoney@epiqglobal.com. For technology questions, please contact Dan Lissek at firstname.lastname@example.org.