Could allowing your staff to work remotely benefit your law firm?

December 06, 2019

YouGov Omnibus research conducted last year for Redcentric suggested that 54 per cent of UK office workers are allowed to work remotely (ie away from the traditional office setting, often at home). Almost a third believes they’re more productive as a consequence.

Almost three-quarters thought it was important that businesses allow their employees to work remotely. However, almost half of employers still don’t allow their staff to work remotely, with 23 per cent against the idea, citing such reasons as concerns about data privacy and productivity loss, while 12 per cent didn’t think their business IT systems facilitate remote working.

Win-win situation

Are employers that don’t allow remote working missing a trick? Trade union federation, the TUC, believes so. Last year it estimated that 4.2m people now regularly work from home in the UK (a 800,000-plus increase since 2005), while a further 1.8m UK would if they could.

Phil Flaxton, chief executive of Work Wise (which campaigns for smarter working practices), commented: “Clearly more needs to be done to convince some employers that implementing new working practices can result in a win-win situation.

“Thanks to modern technology, introducing efficient flexible working processes can be done quickly and easily, but trust in transition remains a major issue. Work is something you do – not somewhere you go – and adopting a flexible culture has been proven to reduce wasted time and cost. Trust and perceived impact on culture, are, however, the main barriers to change, not technology.”

2020 vision

Some still believe that many more of us (legal professionals and others) will be working remotely in the future. Reporting for on a survey of business leaders at the Global Leadership Summit in London in 2014, author and writer Laura Vanderkam said a quarter believed that 75 per cent of their full-time staff would not work in a traditional office come 2020, with more than half of us working remotely by then.

Perhaps that leap isn’t as far as you imagine. Vanderkam quotes Sara Sutton Fell of FlexJobs, who observed: “In most white-collar jobs, 99 per cent of people are already working remotely, in that they take work home.” And it seems “Millennials” (ie those who reached young adulthood around the turn of the twenty-first century) have a more flexible attitude to work place and hours, and they’re determining the work culture of the present and future.

Legal sector

Working remotely doesn’t suit everyone, of course. Reporting for The Law Society Gazette (How to: work from home), Jonathan Rayner writes of a solicitor with 15 years’ experience who would rather “poke sharp sticks in her eyes” than work from home, because it would make her feel isolated, with “no colleagues to discuss a case with or share a rant. There would be no handy IT guru, either, for when the computer screen goes blank. And anyway, home is where she goes to be at home, not at work,” he says.

However, good reasons he cites for wanting to work remotely include escaping the commute, better work-life balance, more choice over when and where you work and “escaping the shackles of partnerships, billable targets, key performance indicators and the firm’s gruesome Christmas parties”, while still remaining fully connected via modern technology, with access to the same resources.

Cost savings

Rayner also reports a full-service law firm employing 150 lawyers who work remotely (often from their home or clients’ offices), which uses “modern working practices and state-of-the-art technology to facilitate flexible and mobile working”. Remote working can bring great cost savings too, of course, while boosting productivity by saving time.

For various reasons, many more legal professionals are now choosing to work remotely. Magic Circle members Clifford Chance and Slaughters are just two large law firms who have recently introduced remote working schemes. Although there are risks to consider, if your law firm doesn’t currently allow remote working – maybe it should.

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