Who could have predicted that during the first half of 2020 the entire New Zealand legal profession would become familiar with working from home? As working from home became the new normal we have all been forced to change the way we think about work. Suddenly we have had to think about work in a completely different way, discovering opportunities for flexibility and changing our ideas about the relationship between our office, clients and home. We have been thrown out of our usual daily routine.
When I first started working from home, I found it difficult – particularly around the guilt of leaving my screen for more than a minute. I worried that when a new email arrived and did not immediately reply, because I was outside for example, then clients would think I wasn’t doing my job. These feelings were quite natural of course, and I have had to learn how to let these go and not put that kind of pressure on myself.
With the arrival of lock-down both partners and employees have had to become more focused on output and productivity, rather than hours worked and work location. All the firms I have spoken to since the lockdown have had to come face to face with the realities and challenges of employees working from home. They have also had to think about what the impact may be, particularly regarding client relationships, when no face to face contact is possible for an extended period.
Could allowing staff to work remotely benefit a law practice? Despite many practitioners concerns around security, providing a work from home option can be highly beneficial for both the firm and the employee. Today cloud-based IT services enable remote working without the loss of close-knit client and office relationships and functionality – while continuing to provide secure access to information. They provide the ability to have a conversation about a matter as and when feels right – whether that’s via an email, text, video conference or a traditional phone call. Working from home does not need to mean a firm’s employees constantly feel isolated, provided that the right IT solution is in place.
In addition to boosting productivity working from home can also bring cost savings for both firms and employees. One significant benefit when employees work from home, for some or all of the week, is the reduction in office space required. When employees work from home hot desking a physical office is possible, resulting in reduced need for office space. Firms, dependent on practice area, are still likely to have a need to meet some clients face to face – in addition to those meetings held through technology such as video conferencing. Many employees I have spoken to have told me how they regard the time saved in commuting a definite bonus.
Of course, not all employees will favour working from home. They may find it isolating having no colleagues nearby to discuss a matter with and no handy IT support person for when their computer screen goes blank. Some may also feel that home is where you go to be at home, not work. While I don’t imagine that all lawyers will be working from home in the future, I do believe the recent health crisis could fast track thoughts on flexible working and start to change current working models. In the future firms may need to start to focus more on employee output and productivity rather than the location of work.