Agile working - the new normal
Agile work has been carried out thanks to technology and globalization that has contributed to both mental and physical wellbeing
The legal profession has been seeking to adapt to more agile working for a number of years now. The profession historically has been known for its focus on presenteeism and a culture of long hours in the office. This way of working has been challenged by the growing numbers of new entrants to the profession who are looking for more agility in the way in which they work to enable them to better balance life at work with life outside.
Technology and globalisation have also meant that the lines between work and home have become more blurred. All lawyers will have taken a very early or very late conference call from home to meet the demands of the job, or of colleagues and clients in different time zones. It has been important to give some flexibility in return and enabling remote working has been a key part of that. This has been equally important for non-lawyers in the business who face the same challenges.
When designing an agile working approach, the keys concepts that underpin it are trust and control: trusting employees to organise their work and giving them the control to do so in a way which allows them to balance work and life outside work. One of the big stumbling blocks, however, has been the willingness of partners and leaders to be prepared to embrace change, to adapt and to role model agile working themselves. Interestingly, one thing that the current crisis has done is to force all employees, lawyers and non-lawyers, to embrace that change; we are all part of the biggest trial of new ways of working and the key challenge for firms is whether we can identify the best practices from this experiment and retain them once the current crisis is over.
There are without doubt some challenges posed by full-time remote working, particularly in relation to litigation and transactional management, but lawyers are finding that with good technology, many can be overcome. Most of those challenges can certainly be overcome where employees are working only 1 or 2 days a week remotely. There are also real advantages to be gained. Regular remote workers will save certain tasks for their days working from home, such as drafting agreements or witness statements, which can benefit from fewer interruptions and distractions than when in the office, and they often report being more productive as a result. There is also an important contribution to both mental and physical wellbeing for many people who find their days avoiding the daily commute bring a welcome break during a busy working week, allowing them to spend more time on family, sport or hobbies.
One thing is certain - communication is key to ensure team dynamics are supported, that work is allocated fairly and that junior lawyers are supervised. Video calls can really help and people are already focussing less on being "camera ready" before joining a call as we all get used to the new normal. How the tables have turned as people are starting to miss the daily commute and look forward to getting back to the office. But hopefully this will mean that all firms can retain more of their agile working practices even when our offices open again.