As the dust has settled on hybrid working, it is crucial for law firms to overhaul their training and development programmes both to ensure the success and retention of young talent and maintain staffing levels. In our recent survey of Gen-Z lawyers, 49% said that mentorship was affected by the pandemic. While we have started to see some firms tying compensation and bonuses to in-office time, training and development is still a thorny issue, and much needs to be done to perfect the development and retention of employees.
A key challenge of the hybrid model is delivering effective training and development opportunities for newer employees. Providing the necessary onboarding and skills development can be a hurdle in the virtual world. Younger employees, particularly millennials and Gen-Z, greatly value personal development. In our survey, 31% ranked formal mentorship and training as the key factor in selecting an employer, which was the joint motivator alongside compensation.
It falls upon employers to manage development from the start, ensuring that training programmes are engaging and aligned with company culture. Likewise, existing staff should not be overlooked – many have reduced commute times and found a better balance between home and work life. New roles and promotion opportunities could exist for people dedicated to delivering this new way of training.
The format of formal training is another important consideration. The pandemic has created a skills gap that needs to be addressed, while also catering to the demands of the new working world. Firms may face the challenge of having to prioritise training over revenue-generating activities. Taking a long-term view and investing in employee development will contribute to increased retention. The stakes are high to prevent attrition, and investing in employee growth and skill-building is essential for the longevity of firms.
The concept of mentorship is also being reconsidered. There is likely to be an increase in mentoring-up, where junior members of a team mentor their more senior counterparts. This can be a great programme that I have seen well received by associates seeking to bridge a knowledge gap from their seniors, particularly in frustrating situations.
One associate complained previously about a partner who did most of their work on a tablet device, expecting everyone else to work around that process and screaming when things went wrong. As the technological landscape evolves and new ways of working and thinking become mainstream, leveraging strategic use of office time will be critical for effective mentorship, which is a two-way street.
It is also essential to bridge the gap between remote and in-office team members. Leveraging messaging apps can help facilitate communication, but it is crucial to strike a balance between different communication preferences and generational differences. Encouraging a blend of communication methods, including email and more real-time messaging can ensure effective collaboration, as well as structured meetings that can be around sharing food or learning to help foster culture. This is not without issues though. While some firms and associates have experimented with this way of communicating, there has been much uncertainty and worry across generations about how messages are received or communicated. Partners find younger associates too informal in messaging and blasé about work, while associates are more focused on efficiency of communications and reject ideas of grandeur just for the sake of tenure. There are potential HR consequences at play here.
To combat these generational divides, senior lawyers must also prioritise informal ways of connecting with their teams, such as coffee chats, walks and lunches, to foster trust and generate new ideas. However, the time-poor nature of the hybrid working model makes these interactions challenging. Maximising in-person time, minimising computer time, and equalising external meetings with internal interactions should be a priority. Office time is much more social than it used to be – people tend to get their ‘desk work’ done at home, and their meetings, briefings and team planning done onsite. In fact, I have heard many complaints from lawyers about how difficult it is to get any work done in the office now.
Firms must recognise the importance of long-term investments in their people. Striking a balance between the demands of the hybrid working model and fostering a culture of trust, creativity, and relationship-building will lead to overall success in retention. Mentorship programmes, flexible training methods, and a focus on personal development will help firms adapt and thrive in the hybrid working world.