Four years ago the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the status quo of Law Firm workplaces and changed how Americans view their jobs and office culture—perhaps forever. As we’ve collectively transitioned into an endemic or “living with COVID” reality, law firms continue to navigate the future of their offices, employee relationships, hybrid and remote work, benefits, management, and work-life balance. How law firms and managers approach these topics will directly impact their ability to retain and attract IT and Litigation Support employees in the new normal.
Working from Home
We’ve written before about the divide between employers and employees when it comes to the desire to work from home or the office. While some IT jobs do require employees to work on-site full-time, most jobs can be done remotely at least part of the time. Law firms have learned that their employees can be productive—some even more productive—working at home, but leadership feel that there is a loss of teamwork, collaboration, and camaraderie that can only be created face-to-face. The long-term impact of the pandemic in this case: hybrid work arrangements are here to stay. Experts suggest that picking days for everyone to be in the office and everyone to be at home will make a hybrid arrangement most successful and fulfilling for everyone involved, but employees might balk at a policy that lacks flexibility. In a survey of law firm support staff, 55% of respondents said they would look for a new job if required to work more than three days in the office. Firms that listen to and accommodate their employees’ preferences about remote work are likely going to be more successful in retaining and attracting legal IT and support staff than firms that draw a hard line in the sand.
Employee Satisfaction and Engagement
While employees want remote work flexibility—seemingly as much as an employer is willing to give—a survey by the American Bar Association revealed that “almost half of respondents reported decreased quality of relationships with co-workers, with men more likely to experience that decrease.” The same survey revealed that work-life balance and a welcoming and collaborative culture were also important, especially for women and people of color. Since 2020, it has been a challenge to engage employees, particularly the younger generations, without having them in the office full-time. In the before times, employee engagement relied heavily on office perks like free lunches, team-building activities, and meetings. While these efforts can still work to some degree, by and large employees are looking for recognition, fair pay, and a sense that they are valued not just as employees, but also as human beings. They want their work—not the hours they put in—to speak for itself. They don’t want to be micromanaged but want to be entrusted to do their jobs well independently. Some may want to see a path to promotion or career advancement. Employers who prioritize showing that they value and respect their employees as people—on and off the clock—are likely to have an easier time retaining their IT talent. Employers might believe that bringing employees back to the office will automatically improve the quality of relationships between coworkers. But managers will be most successful in improving employee satisfaction and relationships if they are intentional about creating opportunities for teammates to bond and by showing respect, appreciation, and promotions—if possible—to hard-working IT employees.
Benefits and Pay
Health care and time off benefits are as important as ever for law firms looking to retain and attract top tech talent. During the first years of the pandemic, some employers created more generous and flexible sick leave policies in order to accommodate CDC isolation guidelines. While some have now reversed these policies, IT professionals looking for new job opportunities may be swayed by law firms that retain strong sick leave policies. As far as PTO, we’re currently seeing baseline expectations of 3-4 weeks, in addition to sick time. Employees value their time off more than ever before and don’t want to use vacation time when they or someone in their family inevitably gets sick. IT and Litigation Support talent are also unlikely to take a decrease in PTO when switching employers, especially when they know they can potentially find better benefits elsewhere.
Compensation always matters, but with the pressures of inflation, IT employees are especially looking to be paid fairly for their work and experience. With the pressures of inflation, high housing costs, and increased interest rates, the majority of employees still feel underpaid–and even a generous raise isn’t making the impact it used to. If they aren’t receiving a raise or bonus at their current employer, IT and litigation support talent may look elsewhere for a higher salary or bonus opportunity. It is important for employers to be aware of salary trends and fair market value for all levels of employment in order to retain and attract the best talent.
Our collective experience of the pandemic has changed workplace dynamics, certainly for the near future, and perhaps forever. Law firms and managers who want to return to the status quo of the before times are unlikely to get or keep the cream of the crop and will need to listen and adapt to workers’ requests when it comes to remote work flexibility, work-life balance, and benefits and pay.
This article was originally published in October 2022. It has been updated to reflect current insights and trends.