Flexible working to way forward as we return to the office
After a year and half of homeworking, the shift in guidance on 19 July 2021 recommending a return to the office has left many members of the legal profession facing a dilemma. While some will be overjoyed at the prospect of meeting colleagues and clients face-to-face, others will have misgivings.
Reservations might be rooted in health concerns, the cost and hassle of commuting, or the reluctance to abandon the newfound joys of homeworking, such as enhanced flexibility. Without the distractions and restrictions of office life, it has been possible to use time more creatively, adjusting your diary to maximise productivity while preserving your own wellbeing.
When I founded LSL Family Law in 2017, enhancing my quality of life and focusing on the needs of my clients (rather than attending countless meetings) were my top priorities. I invested in technology to create a user-friendly, efficient, and cost-effective experience for my clients, and an agile and liberating way of working for me. While many firms struggled to adapt to homeworking during the first lockdown, we were fortunate to have a remote, paperless model of business already in place to deliver an uninterrupted service to our clients.
The pandemic has prompted the long-overdue technological modernisation of the legal profession and the HMCTs. Now that we can work effectively from home, do we really need to wind back the clock to March 2020? Without a doubt, this a personal decision and firms may need consider a variety of working options for employees, including the mixed, or hybrid model. Employers are under no obligation to approve flexible working requests, but there has never been a better time to ask. Employees who have been continuously employed for a minimum of 26 weeks have a statutory right to request a flexible working pattern and should contact senior managers to discuss their requirements.
If your request is refused, applying to a different firm is the obvious solution – there are many organisations who are pro-flexible working. Seasoned lawyers who have appreciated homeworking might consider setting up as a sole trader or launching their own company. For those who feel that branching out on their own is a little extreme, working as a consultant could be the answer: defining your own hours and concentrating on your clients rather than juggling additional marketing, management, and accounting responsibilities.
Firms who do embrace flexible working will certainly face new challenges. How do you ensure that homeworking, hybrid working, and full-time office lawyers all continue to feel part of the same team rather than disparate subsets? Regular and effective communication via email, phone or Zoom is essential, helping to keep staff motivated and maintain a sense of camaraderie. And, with restrictions lifted and the sun (more or less) shining, outdoor in-person social events are a great way to boost morale.
Linda Lamb is a Solicitor and Director at LSL Family Law