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May 01, 2021 The Management Issue

Managing a Hybrid Workforce

Clarity and structure are keys to creating a positive experience for both remote and in-office groups.

Matthew Driggs & Amber Southern
What worked when most of your group was in one location may be less efficient with a hybrid group.

What worked when most of your group was in one location may be less efficient with a hybrid group.

via / iStock / Getty Images

Telecommuting, remote employees and work from home were being used by some firms and individual attorneys, but became a way of life for many legal professionals in 2020. As we plan for a post-pandemic world, working from home will likely remain the norm in many indus­tries, including law. A flexible work location creates an increased talent pool for firms. However, it comes with challenges, especially for a business that also maintains employees in an office, creating a hybrid workforce. From equipment needs to communication, team building and employee engagement, everything must be viewed from multiple perspectives.

The general concepts and key points to effective leadership are fundamentally the same with a hybrid workforce. But determining how and when to apply those principles becomes more challenging.

Effective Technology

The first consideration with a hybrid workforce is ensuring that employees have effective technology. What worked when most of your group was in one location may be less efficient with a hybrid group. For example, as we reviewed our phones, most remote employees could not support our traditional setup without purchasing expensive power-over-Ethernet switches. By transitioning them to USB headsets, we found a higher-quality product for those in a remote setting and eliminated the need for two pieces of equipment. As an added benefit to this switch, we reduced our phone hardware expenses by two-thirds. This freed up our budget to invest in new videoconferencing technologies and make webcams standard for all employees, allowing them more effective means to connect with their co-workers, no matter the distance.

Standards and Expectations

As you create more ways for employees to connect, you also need to set in place standards and expectations for when and how they do so. Having personnel in a brick-and-mortar environment creates a physical start and stop to their day. When you split your workforce between in-office and remote employees, it becomes less clear, especially when team members are geographically spread out. While letting work bleed into personal time is not unique to remote employees, this group must make additional efforts to divide their workday from their home life. With their workspace just a few steps away, it is easy to join a late meeting or respond to a few messages, stretching the employee’s workday far past what they would have experienced when working in the office.

As leaders, we must create a culture of respecting employees’ schedules and personal time, while holding them accountable for the time they should be working. Create written expectations for communication beyond their estab­lished work hours, such as availability for meetings and responding to emails and other forms of digital communication. Encourage all employees to set up “do not disturb” hours for work communication, mark after hours as busy on their calen­dars and have redundancy plans in place to cover for days they are out sick or on vacation. By establishing these bound­aries firm-wide, it allows employees to embrace their personal time without feeling guilt or pressure.


Communication can be any company’s biggest challenge. Employees can feel as if they are not given information promptly, not given enough information or only receive it through back-channel gossip. These issues amplify when you have a hybrid group. Those working from home have the benefit of missing some of the distractions, the overly chatty co-worker or the office mate who spends all day complaining, but they may also feel like they are the last to know important information and miss the relationship building and socializing that comes from sharing a physical space.

Start by establishing systems and schedules for how you will communicate with your teams and firm-wide. When considering the frequency of team meet­ings, seek feedback from your employees regarding their desired frequency and style of meeting.

Meeting standards should be set. If meetings are via videoconference, is everyone expected to have their cameras on, or is it a personal choice? Have an agenda for your meetings to keep things on track. If the team has goals they are working toward, try integrating score­boards into your meetings, or send out weekly or monthly scoreboards via e-mail to show progress. On a larger scale, using quarterly firm-wide meetings to commu­nicate progress and remind everyone of the objectives and goals will help main­tain alignment and focus on the overall vision.

Be thoughtful when communicating major changes to staffing, responsibili­ties and processes. If the change could be misconstrued without tone and enough context, use videoconferencing to create an opportunity to connect, as well as open a line of communication so the entire team can feel heard.

A last note on meetings—take employee time into consideration. For items that don’t warrant a full meeting, consider sending a quick instant message. Overscheduling your employ­ees to the point that they don’t have time to take care of their responsibilities can lead them to work through meetings, undermining the goal of the gathering. This long-term split focus can impact an employee’s energy and stress level. Find the balance between keeping everyone connected and communicating while allowing employees time to focus on the task at hand, whether that is a meeting or their day-to-day responsibilities.


The fastest way to kill a great employ­ee’s engagement is by tolerating a bad employee. This may be an employee failing to do their work or even the per­ception that the employee is failing to fulfill their roles and responsibilities. As we transitioned from all our employees in the office to a hybrid workforce, we faced unexpected conflicts between the two groups.

When you have employees in similar roles but split between an office and remote setting, the responsibilities may differ slightly. Clear expectations and accountability processes based on quantifiable metrics establish a healthy system for both groups. This may require a separate set of standards for each role. If so, be transparent and consistent in how you apply the standards. We have written position agreements for all our roles. They lay out the critical responsibilities and standards that must be met for an employee to be successful, regardless of whether they are in the office or not.

We use regularly scheduled employee development meetings (EDM) to not only connect with our employees but also to review how well they are ful­filling their position agreement. These meetings create an environment where the employee is supported and coached through struggles they may be having as well as given positive feedback. Within the meeting, the employee also has an opportunity to share personal and pro­fessional goals they would like to achieve, set up a plan and get a commitment from their leaders to support them.

This process benefits employees who are struggling as well as those who are excelling. For remote employees, holding these meetings via videoconfer­ence is ideal. They will see your expres­sions, excitement for progress and even a friendly smile. This will further strengthen your communication by bringing in some of the nonverbal ele­ments that are lost with a phone call. Regular coaching conversations help contribute to a healthy work environ­ment for everyone by opening lines of communication for employees both in and out of the office and providing feed­back equally to all team members, no matter their work location.

Through your EDMs, you will monitor how employees are doing, but also pay attention to other cues. For remote employ­ees, don’t let the subtle signs pass you by. Are they quieter in meetings? Are they no longer reaching out to team members? Has their productivity inexplicably dropped? Staying aware of how your employees are doing will help curb long-term issues. Take the steps to check in on employees, give them a call, say a quick hello.

While this takes thought and planning for those working from home, rather than if you happened to walk past them in the hall, the impact is also amplified. Where before it may have been consid­ered polite, it now has the potential to mean more because of the effort. You did it because you care, not because it’s convenient. When reaching out to either group of employees, remember to be empathetic to the different challenges that each group faces and always take the opportunity to ask what you and the firm can do to help with any roadblocks they may face. Feeling heard and knowing they make an impact will benefit both the employee and the firm.

Stay Connected

The feeling of belonging and connection is frequently listed as a key engagement factor for employees. This may be the most com­promised factor when considering a hybrid workforce. Those who worked in an office and relocated to remote work will likely maintain their relationships with little help needed from leadership. We suggest that you remain proactive in helping maintain those existing connections.

However, with limited resources, your focus must be skewed toward new employees. Consider those who are split by location and never had the ability to create a strong connection to their team, co-workers and leadership in person. How can we create a culture where all teammates can grow, bond and thrive together? Look for tools to connect your groups and build their relationships.

When feasible, allow employees in the same region the opportunity to gather for annual firm parties. For example, we have many offices within driving dis­tance of Yellowstone and plan to hold a summer party, inviting everyone to join. Establish an open-door policy encourag­ing employees to stop by other offices if they are in the area for any reason. We share a bimonthly newsletter that covers upcoming events, announcements, and highlights of different teams and offices, as well as showcases of individual employees. Setting up instant messag­ing channels to announce birthday cel­ebrations, additions to the family, wed­dings and other events provides a fun and casual way for employees to show support and celebration.

Create ways for your employees to connect over common activities and find ways for them to have fun together. We have held game tournaments, had well­ness challenges, set up competitions and established instant messaging channels to share everything from the important to the silly. We recently held a game tourna­ment via video and allowed employees to watch the finalists compete. Mix up how you have employees interact for these fun events. Having a place for casual com­munication can bring together the group and help them find connections on a per­sonal level. Make sure leaders join in to show their support, sending the message that participation is not just allowed but encouraged. All of these have proven effective strategies to help people bond and build a culture of trust.


Another significant factor is our unified vision. As a firm, we have three foun­dational documents that unify us in purpose: our Brand Promise, Strategic Objective and Core Values. Our Brand Promise is to care and advocate for our clients.

When our employees are driven by the idea of the client first, the group is further unified. By sharing our Strategic Objective to become a Northwest regional law firm, we prepare our employees for growth and the associated opportunities and chal­lenges. Lastly, we have our Core Values that define who we are and how we inter­act with each other. Having everyone base decisions and goals on these same factors further builds the connection. No matter where we work, we are all working toward the same vision.

In the end, clarity and structure are key. Establishing clear expectations, systems for communication, accountability and methods for giving recognition creates a positive experience for both remote and in-office groups, and a common goal and objective will bring everyone together to build the success of the firm. 

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Matthew Driggs

Founder & Chief Operating Partner

Matthew Driggs is the founder and chief operating partner of The Advocates per­sonal injury law firm. Matthew and The Advocates have helped thousands of accident victims recover just compensation for their injuries and losses. The Advocates have offices in Utah, Washington state, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Nebraska. [email protected]

Amber Southern


Amber Southern is the director of human resources and finance, as well as a member of The Advocates injury law firm executive team. Amber works closely with the founder to develop strategies and policies for the firm. Under her lead­ership the workforce has grown tenfold, and The Advocates have expanded to locations in six states, with 14 offices and dozens of employees who work remotely. [email protected]