For Biglaw firms trying to figure out how to entice associates back to the office, have you ever considered moving the whole firm to an amazing locale for a few weeks? Because one firm spent the summer in Lisbon, Portugal.
Texas-based boutique Vela Wood previously established a “Desk Independence” program, allowing employees to take a month to work from anywhere. Fueled by the success of that program, the firm took it up a notch this summer with the VW Abroad program, offering the opportunity for the team to decamp to Portugal from July 10, 2022 to August 6, 2022. Folks could head to over for two to four weeks and the firm offered a stipend to defray the costs for employees and their families.
This is very much in line with the Vela Wood philosophy of travel, summed up by managing partner Kevin Vela, “We believe that travel helps people become better global citizens. And we think with that comes understand, comes awareness, and comes self actualization.” This commitment to travel formed the basis of this video highlighting the firm as a Clio customer (and obviously highlighting Clio’s ability to facilitate this model).
So bringing folks together abroad was a logical move. And the firm got a great response per a memo sent earlier in the summer:
So far, over 20 employees are participating – approximately 50% of the firm’s employees. Many are bringing their spouses, partners, parents, and kids of all ages to bring the total number to more than 50 individuals. The firm has also invited clients to meet the team in Lisbon this summer. Vela Wood plans to host weekly events with members of the local startup community as it seeks to foster entrepreneurship around the world.
And it doubled as an opportunity to build business. Perfect all around trip.
Unsurprisingly, Vela Wood sees this as the first of many VW Abroad programs.
Not every firm is going to be able to do something like this, but whenever a firm complains about lawyers not showing up to the office, the justification is usually some song and dance about “building firm culture.” If that’s the purpose, consider sending a team or department to some cool, new location for a week or two. They’ll come out the other side more united from working in unfamiliar surroundings than their entrenched offices.
Not for nothing, a firm is much more likely to get people to come in on a random Wednesday when they know they’re going to see the folks they bonded with for two weeks in Prague or whatever.
Unless all that big firm talk about “office culture” is just a pretense to cover deep insecurities over feeling a loss of control… but I’m sure it’s not that.