What a stressful, scary, “who knows what is the right thing to do” time to be considering a return to the office. They say COVID-19 is abating. They say the Delta variant is more dangerous. They say you are to return to the office in September. They say you could consider a hybrid work arrangement.
If you were anxious in 2020, you are probably terrified in 2021. Today, the health-inducing anxieties continue as work options become real. If you were hired or hope to be hired during this pandemic-influenced time period, your decisions today could influence your career for decades to come. This is especially true if your firm goes hybrid and you decide to work remotely some or all of the time.
Let’s look at some of the issues you could face and some actions you may want to consider.
Flexibility Is a Requirement
The details of back to work decisions are especially important for the “Born Digital” generations, Millennials [ages 25 to 40] and Gen Z [ages 9-24]. According to a report from Citrix Systems, 90 percent of them do not want to return to full-time, in-office work. The 90 percent break down into
- 51% want to work from home all or most of the time,
- 21% would like to split their time evenly between home and office, and
- 18% want to split their time with more time in the office.
The survey found a sizable disconnect between what leaders thought these workers want and what they said they want. For example, among the Born Digital respondents, 87 percent “are focused primarily on career stability, security and a healthy work-life balance. … Nearly 60 percent of business leaders thought that younger workers want to spend ‘most or all’ of their time at an office.”
Leaders have to make decisions with far-flung consequences in an ever-evolving situation that seems to have no end. “The decisions business leaders make in the coming months to enable flexible work will impact everything from culture and innovation to how organizations attract and retain top talent.” Nowhere are decisions more important than in regard to Born Digital workers.
Advantages of Working in the Office
Microsoft 365 CVP Jared Spataro sees in-office encounters as an important way for leaders to connect with employees to assess their frame of mind. “Those impromptu encounters at the office help keep leaders honest. With remote work, there are fewer chances to ask employees, ‘Hey, how are you?’ and then pick up on important cues as they respond.”
The Citrix survey found that most young workers want engagement with colleagues and bosses. Many of them have been very lonely during lockdown. According to Donna Kimmel, Citrix executive VP, while younger workers want the flexibility of a hybrid schedule, they also “understand the need for in-person interaction, and companies need to provide opportunities for employees to come together both physically in offices and virtually from home to keep them connected, engaged and prepared for the future of work.”
Disadvantages of Working from Home
“Being the lone remote member of a mostly in-office team isn’t just a recipe for FOMO─that is, fear of missing out. It can also be an obstacle to your productivity and professional advancement, not to mention the pleasure you get from work.”
In-office colleagues have the chance to rub shoulders with their boss, hit the proverbial water cooler for time with friendly colleagues, and make themselves visible, effective members of the team. “When they work apart, younger employees lose chances to network, develop mentors and gain valuable experience by watching colleagues close-up, veteran managers say.”
How “Born Digital” Generation Lawyers Can Level the Playing Field
Begin by reviewing your goals for the next few years. Then make a list of people you need to get to know and create a plan to incorporate coffee-chats, breakfast meetings, shared beers and lunch with someone three-four days a week.
- If you like your firm but not your practice area, identify people you want to get to know in other practice areas as a way of learning more about what they do.
- If you like your current work, list colleagues in your age cohort and older whom you want to get to know better, as well as your boss and other partners you would like to work with.
- Look to become friends with your “class” of new lawyers as well as others in your age cohort. As you move through your career these people will be not only your friends, but also key referral and knowledge resources.
- Prioritize time with your mentor because they can help you understand the culture of the firm and your practice area. Explain your career ideas to them and ask them to point out approved behaviors and routes to personal success.
If your firm has not set up rules designed to make meetings inclusive for those joining remotely, research the options and then make suggestions. In the meantime, try to find a “meeting buddy,” someone who will cue you in to in-person meeting currents you might miss, and make sure you are included in the conversation.
“It is especially important to connect with colleagues you may not know well, or have lost touch with during the pandemic. Reach out on social media, in addition to setting up a rotation of one-on-one sessions to ask questions about what is going on at the office or to offer your concrete assistance on projects.”
Encourage your colleagues to use a mixture of online chat options and in-person meetings. On the days you do go into the office make a point of exchanging greetings with as many people as possible. Leave time in your schedule for in-person informal, ad hoc or planned, get-togethers. Think ahead about topics you want to discuss, issues you want to know more about, training you need. By planning these conversation points ahead of time, you will be more likely to find opportunities to insert them into conversations, and express your pre-planned points more coherently.
Millennials and Gen Zers are the workforce of the future. As such you have leverage in creating a new way of thinking about work. Use it to help traditional work-only firms begin to include flexibility and work-life balance issues into their culture. For yourself, create a one-on-one visibility program to make sure your physical absence doesn’t preclude an effective team presence.
 Rachel Tillman, “How do Gen Z, Millennials feel about returning to full-time work?” https://spectrumlocal.com/nys/centrail-ny/news/2021/06/16/ millennial-gen-z-work-force-pandemic-office–
 Jonathan Greig, “90% of millennials and Gen-Z do not want to return to full-time office work post-pandemic,” May 25, 2021, https://www.zdnet.com/article/90-of-millennials-and-Gen-Z-do-not-want-to-return-to-full-time-office-work-post-pandemic-report/
 Microsoft 2021 Work Trend Index: Annual Report, p. 4.
 Microsoft 2021 Work Trend Index, page 6.
 Rachel Tillman, “How do Gen Z, Millennials feel about returning to full-time work?”
 Alexandra Samuel, “Everybody Has Gone Back to The Office. Except You,” The Wall Street Journal, August 2, 2021, page R1.
 Nelson Schwartz and Coral Murphy Marcos, “Return to Office Faces a Hurdle: Young Resisters,” The New York Times, July 27, 2021.
 Alexandra Samuel, “Everybody Has Gone Back to The Office. Except You,” The Wall Street Journal, August 2, 2021, page R6.