Seemingly everyone has become aware of Zoom over the past two years and the pandemic has made video calls and remote work into a vocational mainstay for many.
Yet, some are trying to turn their social distance crisis measures into a proactive solution for the future. When Husch Blackwell sent 1,500 employees to a work-from-home environment in a matter of days, the shift encouraged the development of preexisting concepts that the firm was already examining.
“We discovered that we could incorporate technology and change the way we work to really increase the connectivity and increase collaboration,” said partner J.Y. Miller.
Miller would go on to be named managing partner of the Link, Husch’s initiative to create a virtual office environment. The Link, which has now grown to include 284 people firmwide and has its own budget and leadership, involves individuals giving up traditional concepts of permanent, dedicated office space and simply coming into a physical location when necessary.
“It’s what we call purposeful presence,” Miller said. “I’m not going to be there just because I’m told that’s where I need to be that day whether it makes sense or not.”
The Link, which uses a Microsoft Teams environment, is much more interactive than a traditional conference call as people are able to connect through video and share materials with each other nationwide. Participants receive training, a technology package and access to a consultant for support. There are also physical collaboration rooms available for those who have a need to visit the office for one purpose or another.
“I was getting feedback from associates who were not in St. Louis in particular saying ‘Wow. I’ve never felt more connected to the team. I’ve never had this much face time with a partner’,” he said.
Miller feels the Link has really allowed the firm to create a strong ethos among its people.
“If you want to have people feel connected, if you want to build culture, it really takes intention and it takes effort,” he noted. “In a physical office, I think it is easy to take those things for granted because people run into each other in the hallways, see each other before meeting in a conference room.”
It is also allowing for better work-life balance, a component that helps the organization as much as it does its staff.
“That alone is a game changer,” he said. “When you are making your people happier, they’re going to be more productive. You are going to retain them.”
The result has been a flexible “hybrid model” for work that is innovating the way a firm’s people can get the job done. It is also still a learning experience.
“This is new to all of us,” Miller said. “We continue to figure things out. We don’t pretend we’ve got it all figured out yet but it is the fabric that you start to build, the connections between one another.”