The latest in Mobliciti’s series of wine tastings was around transitioning back to the office and how the different firms were approaching this. In addition to the 12 Legal CIO’s & Directors in attendance, for this event, 2 C-Suite Executives from a large Accountancy Firm and a Finance house joined the discussion to give their views from outside of Legal.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has turbocharged an absolute change in culture – firms are now taking the approach that dynamic working is the way to go, with a focus on output rather than the number of hours worked. How are the firms who joined us for Legal After Lockdown tackling this?
Location, Location, Location?
News is starting to emerge around Law firms and how they plan on approaching office work once lockdown ends. This is something all our attendees were in consideration stages for, although many have yet to finalise a plan. One attendee said that their firm had finally agreed on a global statement that they would be returning to the office at a minimum of 50% of the time.
It has been a year since that initial lockdown, with employees generally having been productive in working from home and firms have thrived. Part of the reason productivity is up, is because people are putting in longer hours due to now being home-based. However, there are worries around staff fatigue and the best way to combat this when a return to the office is unlikely until June. As one attendee said, “burning our cultural capital over the last year”, this simply cannot continue long term.
For those firms working at a global level, home office working space may be available in Europe, but this becomes more challenging in Asia as home space is limited.
In reality, there’s very much a variety of opinions when it comes to employees wanting to return to the office and this was consistent across attendees. Senior staff are setup effectively at home and so are happy there, alongside more mature staff who also would like to continue working from home, compared with younger staff who are desperate to go back to the office as they feel they are missing out.
For those who do want to return, most firms are expecting 2-3 months of hyperactivity within cities and office locations but for this to mostly dissipate as the novelty wears off and the weather changes.
There is also the consideration of commuting costs, as rail tickets in the UK are considered to be one of the highest in Europe, therefore people who have been saving thousands of pounds over the past year are unlikely to want to return purely due to financial impacts.
This is already having a knock-on effect when it comes to recruitment as the first question asked is now typically, “What is your home working policy?” Looking forward, firms are now believing that to attract talent, flexibility must be key.
Some firms are also revisiting pay structures to reflect people working from home, but others are using it to simply spread the net wider and recruit from further afield rather than cut salaries.
Firms are taking on a new approach to work and less about presenteeism, “location is all about what you’re doing and the work you do.”
Technology is leading the way
Technology has played a major role in keeping firms connected with customers and staff, particularly collaboration platforms. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was very little unification when it came to the type of platforms in use across firms, with some firms using three or four different sets of software. Since then, two solutions have established themselves as dominate; these are Microsoft Teams and Zoom.
There is no doubt that many businesses are struggling to keep employees connected with one another and to keep that sense of community alive. In order to try and do just this, one firm has created virtual rooms on Microsoft to create ‘water cooler’ moments that would naturally occur in the office.
This will also have an impact on staff when returning to the office, as there will still be that greater reliance on video and audio technology. As a result, firms are providing noise-cancelling headphones to everyone, thus allowing them to continue working effectively in the office whilst still embracing collaboration technology whilst not disturbing or being disturbed by anyone.
Another area of technology that has been impacted is phone software, with firms now encouraging the use of soft telephony which can be integrated with both Teams and Zoom. This would allow staff to carry their office number wherever they are and so their working location would become irrelevant.
Preparing the Office
Throughout the last year, technology has played a massive role, and the technology that firms have embraced is playing a role in the actual design of office space. Firms are now considering the best way to design and enhance the space they use in order to prepare for a return in the summer.
One firm said that when they moved to new office space, they spent a fortune on designing it, however, the acoustics were not suitable for the increase in the use of video and voice technology and so this had to be retrospectively resolved.
Another firm is utilising this change in the way employees work, designing their meeting space to ensure they are video and audio first as their capabilities are now a critical consideration.
Some firms had to put their plans to enhance the office on hold due to COVID and because of the uncertainty in dates for lockdown easing, many have had to change their initial plans. One firm was planning a major refurbishment to their office but now they are only in the position to do minor changes before everyone returns.
There is also the concern that home kit is better than the office and the cost of kitting out said homes were negligible compared to property costs.
One thought that is constant across all the firms is that they want to create an environment in the office that encourages people to return and enables them to have a consistent user experience, whether in the office or at home.
With a clear path to the end of lockdown now laid out by the government, thoughts now turn to how Legal can keep this pace of change and further enhance working environments for the return to the office.