The concept of working in an office only started after the industrial revolution in the 1700s where the 9 to 5 workday was born. This culture has since become embedded into society as an expectation, with a stigma about working from home with some fairly negative connotations attached.
We have heard it all before…
“Being in the office is imperative for productivity”.
“Face-to-face meetings are the most effective”.
“Teamwork is only established properly in person.”
However, since the rise of social distancing restrictions, what was once considered a perk has become a requirement by many organisations throughout the world and professionals were quickly forced to deviate from this traditional attitude to evolve into equally-as-productive work-from-home professionals.
This is a big transition for lots of workforces, particularly in the legal industry. Paperless systems, cloud-based information sharing, and video conferencing software platforms such as Zoom and Skype became an instantaneous requirement. Companies that had held onto the traditional forms of conducting business were immediately forced to convert to electronic measures and cloud-based time keeping. A lot of businesses held off from paperless conversion because they didn’t see the need investing time, training, and of course money into such projects. The rise of this Global Pandemic could possibly have been the very catalyst needed to prove that working remotely is just as effective. It's possible this could be the turning point so many of you have been longing for.
Trust is key to any relationship and it is more important than ever in our employee and employer relationships with these new practices. Trust was one of the major elements that held back managers from considering their employees could work from home and deliver the same results. However, Partners who have now successfully worked 100% remotely themselves are now more likely to endorse it for others. With the development of cloud-based practice management platforms such as LEAP, Action Step and Smokeball it is easy now for management to review and track the progress of each individual any time they like throughout the day.
Another prior concern of allowing remote working was distraction. Whether it be the family pet, children, TV or friendly fridge, these were all seen to potentially disrupt our days. However, as studies suggest, it could be the ‘quiet’ of home compared to the hustle and bustle of the workplace and chatty colleagues, coffee breaks, constant phone calls and interruptions which may actually allow us to be more productive than was originally foreseen.
Lawyers around the world have now proven that billable targets can still be met while home-schooling children and sitting next to their partner who may also be working from home. Lawyers can therefore certainly manage a day or two from home (if not full-time) when life returns to normal.
The concept of presenteeism is one that many find as a constant cloud over the legal work force. Lawyers feel the expectation and pressure to be seen to appear hardworking and many of us have been guilty of staying back just to portray this. But this change has quickly shown the need to be seen to be productive, is no longer the case.
A Canadian study found that 48% of employees working from home, completed more hours than when in the office. Among other findings, US Global State of Remote Work report conducted in 2019 found that the ability to work remotely makes employees happier, increases productivity and workers are more inclined to be loyal to their employer. In Australia, a 2020 McCrindle study reiterated these positive findings with 55% of Australians reporting being significantly more productive working from home than in an office environment.
This does however have its dangers. Pre-pandemic, we were all in the habit of commuting to work, getting our morning coffee and conducting our usual workday. The traditional work environment built appropriate break times to facilitate our ability to work at an optimum level. We are creatures of habit and need to adhere to our own home office strict schedule including short break times to be sure we can again work most productively.
Employees who work from home often have a greater appreciation for their role and higher overall job satisfaction compared to those who cannot. There is no longer the stress of the commute every day or the additional costs associated. The opportunity of not having to commute to work every day will increase health of both the individual working remotely and our planet by reducing our carbon footprint. Reciprocally, a law firm’s commercial footprint could reduce in size and associated overheads reduced proportionately. Chartered Accountancy practices have been successfully managing this for more than a decade, given that a sizable portion of their staff work from client offices.
Every law firm will agree that staff retention saves countless hours on interviewing replacements, as well as onboarding and training new employees, which in turn leads to a larger capacity for fee earners and overall a happier work environment.
If we remain focused on the silver-lining from this global health crisis, at the very least we are now more open to change and have a higher understanding of the connection between health and the economy. We are also more tech-savvy and productive than ever, and possibly, we all own a few more tracksuits than we did before.
Author: Bianca Calder LL.B. (Hons) Associate - Client Advisor Law Staff
Editor: Kirra Gaskell - Client Advisor Law Staff