Managing support staff in the hybrid working era

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For many law firms, training, development and broader management has historically been focused on fee earning rather than support functions. With so many other issues to deal with currently – as management teams steer their firms into the next stage of the new normal and the new hybrid working environment created by the pandemic – where do support staff training and performance management sit in a lengthy list of priorities?

A LACK OF SUPPORT STAFF TRAINING INCREASES RISK

According to Harvard Business Review, 80% of CEOs believe the need for new skills is their biggest business challenge. For employees, opportunities for development has become the second most important factor in workplace happiness (after the nature of the work itself).

Learning and development is important. Every law firm has someone responsible for L&D, running and/or buying in training for their people. It is pretty much a given. So why do 70% of employees report that they don’t have mastery of the skills needed to do their jobs (Gartner)?

Take support staff in law firms. Alison Bilgin, COO at Intelligent Office says, “It is commonplace when we take over a law firm’s secretarial and administrative support functions, that the teams – whether document production, print and mailroom, guest services, or even PAs – might not have received sustained training for a long time.”

Even where staff excel in the technical aspects of their job, there could be learning gaps around softer skills or attitudes, for example the drive and desire to solve problems or provide a proactive service.

OVERCOMING TRAINING CHALLENGES

PwC’s annual law firm survey revealed that in 2019, the UK’s top 51-100 law firms spent 2.3% of turnover on training and HR, down from 2.5% in 2018. With belts set to tighten as a result of reduced demand during the pandemic, L&D budgets are likely to reduce further still.

In the midst of a global pandemic, with law firms increasingly adopting a hybrid home/office working model, are law firm leaders confident that they are giving their fee earners the best support possible?

“I’d argue that just as an army marches on its stomach, a law firm performs when its fee earners are confident that essential administrative tasks are in hand,” says Rachel McCorry, CEO at Intelligent Office.

“Getting fee earner support right may not seem like the main challenge facing law firms, but if you want to emerge from this global crisis intact and able to focus on the future, now is the time to consider a fresh approach to secretarial and administrative support.”

In the legal market, size matters. For bigger firms, investing in IT, marketing or L&D involves a smaller percentage of revenue than for a small or mid-sized firm. Charge-out rates are higher, they recover more of those fees, and their scale means that are able to drive more gross profit per chargeable hour. The gap between those firms at the top and everyone else is widening.

“We think it is time to level the playing field. Firms with smaller budgets can have big firm support. It is simply a case of thinking differently and spending smarter,” says Rachel McCorry.

IMPLEMENTING BEST PRACTICE

For law firms looking to upskill their support staff, there are two options: attempt to implement a programme of training and broader management disciplines in-house; or benefit from the ‘big firm approach’ via Intelligent Office.

“We invest in training, development and continuous improvement so that our people are always at the top of their game. Fee earners receive a service they can trust and our people benefit from opportunities not often open to them as law firm employees,” says Sam Nicholls, Head of Business Development at Intelligent Office.

Intelligent Office has the L&D infrastructure in place to deliver best practice in technical and softer skills. Operational toolkits, daily briefings and regular bite-sized training updates put learning at the heart of Intelligent Office’s service.

This commitment to on-the-job learning and professional development is one of the reasons Intelligent Office has achieved Investors in People Platinum status, one of only 100 UK organisations to have done so.

Employees know which processes to follow and how to find out the answer if they are unsure. An added bonus to standardising processes is that cross-training team members becomes far more achievable. More people being able to deliver a service consistently well, means that there is capacity to meet demand, manage peaks, and deliver an improved return on investment.

As Briefing magazine said this month, “No well-run business can be without the massive amount of support provided by those in secretarial and office admin roles.”

An Intelligent Office team offers that support plus an ability to challenge the status quo, solve problems and improve processes in the longer term. Focused and proactive administrative support teams can offer greater value to a law firm.

Investing 20 minutes in a conversation with Intelligent Office now could save you time and money in the future. If you are interested in L&D, a more efficient and effective way of supporting fee earners, or what is going on in the legal market, then please contact Sam Nicholls on +44 (0)7984 252 150 or at sam.nicholls@intelligentofficeuk.com.