Health, Wellness, and Organization in a Hybrid Environment

Published: Dec 19, 2022

 Law       Workplace Issues       


Salma Shitia is an associate in Linklaters’ Dispute Resolution group in Washington, D.C. Chris Smith is an associate in Linklaters’ Capital Markets practice in New York.

How do you manage your time when you are working in a hybrid environment, and what tips or insights can you share?

Chris:

I think there are both positive and negative sides to hybrid work. The upside is that you get more time in your day because you don’t have a commute. If you’re living in, for example, DC or New York, you may save an hour or two of your day not commuting to and from the office. However, the downside is that you may feel like you’re always available to work because you’re always by your desk. You may feel you don’t have an excuse to not pick up the phone during non-work hours, or to not respond to an email. But it’s important to protect yourself from overworking when you’re working remotely. If you’re ready to sit at your desk and begin your workday at 7:30AM, it’s fine not to log on until the time you’d normally be logging on if you were in the office, and to take advantage of the extra morning time however you see fit – whether it’s going to the gym, reading the news, or spending time with loved ones.

Salma:

Time management is definitely an art, not a science. I like to assess my assignments’ deadlines and think about where it would be more efficient to work on them. For me, I focus a lot better at home than in the office. In the office, I get a lot of distractions, whether it’s people coming to chat and ask questions, or other interruptions. My home is a quiet and non-distracting environment. If I have a task – for example, a document review – that doesn’t have an immediate deadline and is non-pressing work, I decide to work on it when I’m in the office. Similarly, if I have a task that has a pressing deadline, I decide to work on it at home where I have fewer distractions. Structuring my workload this way helps me with meeting deadlines. As a final piece of insight, it’s worth remembering that sometimes in Biglaw, things just happen. You may have thought your day or week was going to be really efficient, but it wasn’t. Don’t beat yourself up about it—that’s just the way the job works.

How do you maintain your physical and mental health during the workday?

Salma:

I’ve always been somebody who really enjoys running, walking, and physical exercise in general. I think it’s very important to take time – to the extent that you can and are comfortable – to leave your workspace. This doesn’t necessarily mean going outdoors, but rather just leaving your immediate workspace and separating yourself from that space physically and mentally. Because working from home means you’re in the same physical space when relaxing as when you were working, it’s hard to mentally divide yourself from work. Trying to take the time to leave your workspace and be alone with your thoughts is important for your well-being. If you can fit in some kind of exercise, be it running or walking, that’s great. If you do feel uncomfortable leaving the workspace, or can’t leave for any other reason, consider getting a set of dumbbells. I sometimes lift while reviewing documents, which helps me feel less sedentary and more focused.

Chris:

You can take advantage of not having the morning commute on the days you’re working from home. Instead of, say, a half-hour commute, you can do a half-hour at the gym. But even if your day is packed, you should find the time to step away from the computer and take a break. I like turning my phone on mute and taking a stroll around the block for 10 minutes. It’s a lot better than waking up in the apartment, working all day in the apartment, and then sleeping in that same apartment day after day after day.

How do you organize your schedule and your workplace in a hybrid environment, and what tips can you share?

Chris:

I think it’s important to try to keep the desk that you’re working at somewhat uncluttered, as I find that at a certain point the clutter can add anxiety and stress. To the extent that you can, keep everything clean around your desk. It helps me to mimic my office environment in my designated home office space. I’ve also found it helpful to dress like I’m working in the office, at home, to maintain organization and focus. This means I’ll put on slacks, a collared shirt, and maybe even shoes, before logging in to work from home. When it comes to staying on top of all your tasks, there are a lot of methods you can employ. I know a lot of people use sticky notes on their laptop, others use note-style apps on their computers. I like to send myself emails at the end of every day before I log off, listing all the various projects and tasks I’m working on. I use this email as my to-do list for the following day. At the end of the following day, when I send myself an email again, I delete everything I completed that day and add in any new tasks. I’ll highlight or bold something if it needs to be prioritized. In Biglaw, it’s typical to have many projects going on at once with varying deadlines, and tasks can slip through the cracks more easily than one might expect. I find it’s important to keep a running record of what you need to accomplish.

Salma:

I like to send myself messages on Microsoft Teams to remember important information. Like Chris mentioned, mimicking your office space can be very helpful. I also try to keep the space around me clean and tidy, as it can be overwhelming and stressful when I notice unfinished chores and household tasks during my workday. At the beginning of the day, before I start work, I make sure that the space around me in my apartment is clean.

How do you stay proactive and motivated when you and/or your coworkers aren’t physically in the office?

Salma:

I started working in Linklaters’ DC office amidst the Omicron wave. There would be two or three people in the office, myself included, with none of my fellow first-year associates. I knew how important it was to network and build a name for oneself, and I had to make do with there being so few people physically around me. So, throughout my first year, I made the effort to schedule regular video calls with others at the firm. I didn’t just limit myself to connecting with other lawyers, but also connected with paralegals, legal secretaries, members of the HR team, and others. I find it’s important to connect with a variety of coworkers, as they can help you with your workload and other functions of your job, like training, marketing, etc., as well as request your help on projects and tasks they may have. It was daunting keeping up with this, but I found that because I was still at the beginning of my career, I had the time in my day to dedicate towards networking. I’m thankful I did, because I formed so many connections that I otherwise wouldn’t have made.

Chris:

Keeping your video on is a good practice. When someone’s on a call and their video is off, you have no way of knowing if they’re paying attention, or working on another task or even just reading the news or scrolling through Instagram. When you can see others and be seen, it helps you pay attention to what’s being discussed and stay connected with your coworkers. At a firm, there is also a responsibility on the more senior employees to create a space to foster connections. For example, when I started working at Linklaters in Fall 2020, many of the groups had regular, casual check-up calls, wherein there would be lighthearted conversation and no discussion of work. Because this is a matter of firm culture, I think it’s worth asking in interviews what actions the firm is taking to maintain connections in a hybrid environment.

***