TLDR; prepare now for a hybrid workforce
Like businesses in many sectors, law firms around the world are starting to consider how and when to bring fee earners and staff back to their offices. After well over a year working from home, there will undoubtedly be some friction between what management see as ideal, and what employees have come to expect.
In a recent study by global staffing firm, Robert Half, more than a third (34%) of professionals currently working from home due to COVID-19 responded that they would quit if required to return to an office full-time. Unsurprisingly, almost half (49%) of the survey’s participants indicated that they would prefer a hybrid work environment that would allow them to work from home and a more formal office location.
One of the primary reasons for this change is convenience. It’s the convenience of not having to spend time and money commuting. It’s also the convenience of flexible working hours outside the traditional ‘9 – 5.’
Employee demands have changed
A Bloomberg article by Lucy Meakin helps to shed additional light on the importance of flexibility for many workers as they look towards a re-opening economy. In part, she states:
“A CIPD analysis of U.K. labour force data suggests that 9.3% of U.K. workers — equivalent to 3 million people — would be willing to work fewer hours in exchange for a cut in pay, and in a report published last month, the organization found unmet employee demand across a range of flexible working options.
“Yet the CIPD also found that while 63% of employers expect to implement hybrid work policies in 2021, fewer than half (48%) plan to expand “flexitime,” the single most popular flexible-work option.”
Flexibility is paramount
Mapping out a successful Return to Work policy for employees is a genuinely daunting challenge facing many organizations. Even large companies like Apple have encountered very public push-back and even criticism to their plans, possibly making other companies nervous that they will announce too much, too soon, especially if it could mean losing a competitive advantage.
One thing is clear: employees want more flexibility. They’ve proven that they can be productive working from home in sometimes less-than-ideal conditions, so as a result it will be very difficult for their employers to coax them back to the office full time.
Back to the future
HBR contributor Daniel Davis spoke with business leaders and strategists in Australia, which may be a bellwether for businesses in other countries. He found that each company’s approach fell into one of five ‘buckets,’ which included:
- As it was: Employees return to the office and resume a regular nine-to-five routine. The office might be a bit more hygienic and flexible, but mostly this is the centralized office as it was before the pandemic.
- Clubhouse: A hybrid model where employees visit the office when they need to collaborate and return home to do their focused work. The office serves as a social hub — the place people go to meet, socialize, and work together.
- Activity-based working: Employees work from an office but don’t have an assigned desk. Instead, they spend their day moving between a variety of workspaces, such as meeting rooms, phone booths, hot desks, and lounges. Prior to the pandemic, most Australian activity-based offices had approximately eight desks for every 10 people (since people often worked elsewhere in the office). After the pandemic, firms are looking to shrink this as low as five desks between 10 people, anticipating that many of their employees will be out of the office, working from home a couple of days per week.
- Hub and spoke: Rather than traveling to a large office in the central business district, employees work from smaller satellite offices in the suburbs and neighborhoods closer to where they live. This saves them the commute to a central office while still providing the benefits of face-to-face interaction with colleagues.
- Fully virtual: Employees work from home — or anywhere else they like — allowing companies to ditch expensive leases and build on what they started during the pandemic.
What about the legal sector?
It’s important to note that while the legal sector is large, it tends to be risk averse, and typically not at the cutting edge of technology adoption or trends. However, the sector has proven surprisingly agile in terms of its shift to an IT strategy focused on security, flexibility, and collaboration in an effort to support its workforce.
That became abundantly clear in a NetMotion survey, “Digital transformation in the modern law firm” which found that legal sector technology professionals overwhelmingly ranked improving the end user experience, accelerating cloud migration, and adopting zero trust security tools and architecture, as the most urgent technological advancements needed to support a post COVID-19 hybrid workforce.
Dawn Dutton, Senior project manager, Clyde & Co., has a similarly broad view of the return to work movement.
“I certainly think for the last few years that there has been a real move towards innovation and technology. With the advent of the pandemic and the lockdown, it was one of the situations which forces change. Possibly the only good thing that’s come out of all of this, is it has forced a dramatic change, and it’s great to see the innovation.”Dawn Dutton, Senior Program Manager, Clyde & Co.
Dawn points out that law firms moved quickly to adopt collaboration and communication tools such as Microsoft Teams, but one of the biggest shifts came from employees.
Employee preferences have changed
“People want this kind of agile way of working, with a couple of days in the office and the rest of the time from home. To be able to do your job when you need to do it has definitely changed people’s mindset. Now that they’ve got that, it’s very hard to give up. On the security front, that needs to be a top priority because while people are at home and on the home network, we need to make sure that their security is exactly the same as it would be working from the office.”
To watch the short video, click on the play button below.