Skip to main content

The recent COVID-19 pandemic forced companies globally to transition to remote working. Now, while certain firms are welcoming employees back into their offices, many have adopted hybrid or remote working arrangements permanently. Such flexible arrangements can offer myriad benefits, but they can also bring with them new challenges. Recently, we sat down with high-profile medical malpractice attorney Robert McKenna III, founding partner of the law firm of Kjar, McKenna & Stockalper LLP of Huntington Beach, California, and discussed his advice for managing hybrid office environments and how thinking proactively and being predictive helped his firm to succeed during the pandemic.

COVID Strikes

When people first began to grasp the extended implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, they quickly realized “business as usual” wasn’t an option. Time counted down as people scrambled, trying to make sense of the quickly spreading disease and apply effective responses. The coronavirus led to a sea change in almost every aspect of people’s interactions, both at a professional and a personal level.

While the catastrophic consequences of the pandemic might one day be quantifiable from statistics and figures, there isn’t a way to really qualify how it impacted society. For people like Robert McKenna — those who had enough foresight to be able to see the coming storm as it was on the horizon and were able to mitigate some of its destructive power — there’s been a trace of a silver lining in this ominous cloud.

McKenna suspected that COVID had the potential to be a much larger issue than most people thought. In February 2020, when the first cases of COVID began to be reported in the United States, a conversation McKenna had with a friend who worked at an international venture capital and trading firm left him with the impression that an ocean of trouble was swirling.

Paying Attention to an Early Warning

Crucially, McKenna got ahold of intel from the company’s immunologists and virologists that implied that the coronavirus might indeed be a major threat. McKenna’s intuition caused him to believe that this warning needed to be taken seriously. Whether he was overreacting was less important; McKenna thought it was “better to be safe than sorry.” He let his partners and office manager know that the possibility existed of closing their offices for a number of weeks, and they would require backup plans “just in case.”

Initially, people were skeptical of McKenna’s ideas, but he demanded that his company come up with a minimum of one bare-bones framework that would let it function even if the pandemic made it impossible, or at the very least difficult, for workers to come to the firm’s offices. After reviewing his firm’s office procedures, McKenna realized that except for a few minor hands-on tasks (which could be done by a few workers within a limited time each day), it would be possible for much of the company’s daily work to be done offsite.

In mid-March 2020 — just as his company was getting ready to attempt a dry run of a limited workforce exercise in the smaller of the firm’s two offices — COVID was declared a national emergency. Fortunately, thanks to McKenna’s resolve and foresight, transitioning from an onsite working model to a distributed/hybrid one was painless. McKenna recalls that despite the process happening much more rapidly than he expected, he was still glad that he’d formulated advance plans.

Hybrid Offices

Hybrid office arrangements combine remote and in-person working. In these arrangements, employees come to a firm’s offices for part of the week and telecommute for the remainder. Potentially, this can be a best-of-two-worlds solution but managing distributed teams of workers can still be challenging. Fortunately, McKenna has highlighted several tactics for success that can ensure that a hybrid office setup will be successful.

Why Hybrid? Robert Mckenna Explains

When the pandemic raged, managers like McKenna quickly realized that remote work might not only be possible but could also prove to be highly effective for employees. “It became clear that most people can get their job done remotely, and that there’s not a decline in productivity or work product,” discerned McKenna. “People can manage their time and their work.”

Companies also saw benefits in remote work arrangements, such as improved work-life balance, reduced operational costs, and time and money that could be saved on commuting expenses. Still, communications and team building occasionally suffered, and there were staff members who found they preferred working in the office.

In reflection, McKenna observed that “There were some people that voluntarily came into the office. For some folks, their apartment or home was not really conducive to trying to work for eight hours a day.”

When returning to their offices became a possibility, McKenna’s team made clear their preference was a hybrid working model. “We decided that experienced administrative staff would only come in two days a week because there are still some things that work better with having somebody in the office,” he explains. “They get to pick what two days they come in. It’s been a very collaborative, cooperative effort to make sure there’s at least a skeleton crew every day, so not everybody’s working from home on Mondays and so on. We’ve been doing that since May, and it’s been working well.”

Hybrid Working Pros and Cons

Both remote and in-office working have their advantages, and hybrid working captures the best of both arrangements. Workers can enjoy increased flexibility, save time and money on commuting, and still come into the office for their location-based tasks and collaborative work when needed. While some workers believe they can be more productive at home, others think their productivity is boosted in the office. Hybrid working can create a balance that caters to a range of inclinations and work styles.

McKenna states that both hybrid and remote working models allow for easier scheduling. “Trying to get five people from across the country to meet in Chicago on a Thursday or a Friday was almost impossible,” he says, “and now you could probably line that meeting up within a week. You could just find a slot of time for everybody to get on a Zoom call.”

Still, he says, alternating between remote and in-person work arrangements can be emotionally exhausting. Potential concerns regarding remote working, such as possibilities of reduced collaboration or employee loyalty, can also be valid for hybrid working. Firms need to work to avoid barriers between remote and in-office workers, and they must ensure that all their employees have the proper tools and equipment for their jobs.

Given the proper processes and policies, companies should be able to succeed using a hybrid work model.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

This Is How Robert McKenna Manages His Hybrid Office

While effecting the transition to a hybrid work arrangement, McKenna was able to learn which strategies work and which do not. The keys to his formula include setting healthy boundaries, creating productive workspaces, providing necessary supplies, and inventorying processes.

Setting Healthy Boundaries

Employees can struggle in setting healthy boundaries while working from home. One of the reasons is that there’s often no clear boundary between someone’s “home” and their “office.” Some employees are thus tempted to toil for longer hours, increasing a risk of burnout. You should urge your employees to have healthy boundaries, and you can lead by example in this case by having healthy boundaries yourself, regardless of your location on workdays.

McKenna states that as remote working is becoming more popular, he’s starting to see greater expectations for near-constant communication. “People say, ‘I know you’re on vacation, but we have a virtual conference. Can you do that? You have internet.’ And the turnaround time people expect on text messages and emails has dramatically shrunk. People want instantaneous reassurance that you’re available to respond at any time.”

Over time, expectations of near-constant communication and longer working hours can lead to exhaustion and decreased productivity. It’s crucial to encourage healthy practices, including logging off the computer after a set time and not responding to emails immediately.

If you’re on vacation time, let people know you aren’t available for work-related meetings or communication, and extend this expectation team-wide as far as vacations are concerned. “You have to avoid the temptation to say, ‘yes’ too much during that timeframe,” warns McKenna.

Creating Productive Workspaces

For a hybrid working model to succeed, it’s critical that you create a productive workspace in your home. For workers, you should supply all necessary resources and supplies and follow up by asking if anything additional is needed for their home workspaces.

As for yourself, it’s recommended that you designate a space in your home where you can be productive. Pick a quiet area that will permit you to focus and have a productive mindset. For instance, McKenna recommends that you don’t use a bedroom. Separate spaces should “feel” like workspaces, which will increase your motivation and productivity.

In addition, it helps if you can get into a working-from-home routine that transitions you into a proper mindset for work. McKenna advises, “Whatever you do on the weekend, don’t do [that] during the week while you’re working. Create a separate routine, even if it’s putting on a different kind of shirt or just showering and shaving when you wake up.”

Providing Necessary Supplies

If your employees are spending at least some part of their workweeks at home, it’s crucial that they have the necessary equipment and supplies. Are their internet connections stable? Will they have access to the files and apps they’ll need to work? What other items will your workers need to do their jobs?

“People needed a good chair. Some people didn’t have laptops. So, we got them a laptop. We’re cloud-based, so people can be anywhere and sign in any time,” asserts McKenna.

Inventorying Processes

If you’re considering moving to a hybrid work arrangement, start by inventorying your firm’s business processes. Think carefully about which tasks must expressly be done in your offices. Which ones could successfully be done at home? Does your whole team need to spend exactly the same days in the office?

McKenna sees it this way: “I spent two or three weeks looking at the business to determine what needs to be done in person. I realized all we needed was one person in each office to pick up the mail, scan it, and send it off to whoever needs it. We also needed the same person or a different person to come back in the afternoon to print, address, and send outgoing mail for that day.”

McKenna chose two days in his firm’s offices for each of his administrative workers to be present for and collaborated with his remaining team members to clarify who would be in the offices for each day of the workweek.

A hybrid work model will probably look different at your company, depending on your firm’s needs and processes. While some hybrid arrangements may mandate that people come in three days every week (all on the same days or on a staggered set of days), other offices may let employees come and go but may need everyone to come in for special meetings and events. You should organize an inventory of your workplaces to determine what can be best for your firm.

Making Hybrid Office Arrangements Work

It may take time for your team to adjust to a hybrid work arrangement, but using the principles McKenna has laid out, you should be able to create a solid foundation for your company. Take your time, and examine your firm’s processes, and ascertain which type of hybrid work arrangement can function best for your team. Formulate plans, goals, and processes, so your team members know what’s expected of them.

sponsored postr 200

Ensure that your team has all it needs to succeed, and make sure to organize a productive workspace at home for yourself. Urge your team to establish boundaries to avoid burning out. And maintain similar boundaries yourself; try to lead by example.

Once this foundation is set, you can create a hybrid office framework that’s productive, successful, and balanced for you and your staff.