How many of us have considered what we miss about our old professional lives, the ones before Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown? Is it the cup of coffee from our favourite shop (I’m looking at you La Bottega), the commute, our colleagues, the office? For many of us it feels like a lifetime ago since we had to adapt to the new way of working but now that we’re gearing up to return to shared working spaces it seems that remote working may be a large part of the future for many businesses.
It’s no great secret that the legal profession has sometimes been slow to adapt to change over the years. Now we’ve been forced to change, how have we reacted? Some firms were already geared up for their teams to work almost entirely remotely with some small changes to be made such as providing staff with desks to help them work from home. For some firms who operated a more “traditional” way of working, lockdown presented more of a challenge, an overhaul of attitudes to working from home with some firms frantically ordering IT equipment and “piloting” people working from home up until the final curtain was called. With all this in mind we must remember that the capacity for remote working has only become possible with certain IT capabilities coupled with increased reporting capabilities. The capability is old, the willingness to facilitate or encourage high number of remote workers has come about because of Covid-19.
There’s been talk about what we miss by not being in the office, not just a pleasant visual working environment but our colleagues, our herd. Are people enjoying their new herd more? The opportunity to have meals together as a family, exercise, enjoy nature, eat and generally live better. Will people want to give that up?
The arguments and counter arguments for being office based or remote are complex and each have their own benefits and drawbacks, the applicability of any reasoning can vary with level and personal situation of each employee e.g. a trainee solicitor or NQ might require the benefit of being situated in an office based team environment where they can ask for guidance on matters. It could be argued that remote training and mentoring can only go so far for people in this particular situation.
The desirability of being remote or office based varies by individual… those with family commitments perhaps value being at home… those looking for social interaction probably want to be present in the office. It should be more fluid and probably will be in future, to have briefer and less frequent attendance at the offices for specific purposes. Since the Covid-19 pandemic it has already been reported that a number of large businesses have given up prestigious office spaces and have indicated that they will be working either completely virtually or adapting to a hybrid model going forwards.
It is going to take much longer than this initial “at home” period to measure, to assess, and for legal employers to decide on the long term evidence how their practices and lessons learned from Covid-19 will impact their model going forwards.
Overall I think legal talent is going to flow to whoever and wherever offers the greatest flexibility and genuinely works with their employees to get the best out of them. I don’t think office spaces are dead, just that potentially more flexibility around work location and working hours will be the new normal. Careers complimenting lives, rather than competing with them.
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