Should they stay or go remote? by Emma Sell, BDBF

Emma Sell By Emma Sell
from Brahams Dutt Badrick French

This article was originally featured as a column in the June issue of LPM. To read the issue in full, download LPM.

According to Trades Union Congress figures, the number of people regularly working from home has increased by a fifth over the past decade, to nearly 19% – that’s roughly 4 million people. Government research also shows that there are around 4 million more workers who would like to work from home but aren’t given the opportunity. What was inconceivable a few years ago is fast becoming the norm. But why the huge increase? Do staff like it? Can it help employers?

It may appeal to businesses from a financial perspective. With the cost of office space rising, particularly in London, along with business rates, the ‘hotdesking’ model adopted by some law firms is one way of reducing overheads. It’s also felt that firms which offer remote or agile working have better motivation levels and increased retention.

Allowing staff and making it easy for them to work remotely removes stress for both employer and employee if staff are faced with unexpected circumstances – such as a rail strike or last-minute childcare issues. An already stressful situation is then negated by the certainty that the employee will still be able to work and their employment record won’t suffer. Employers are also satisfied that the day isn’t wasted.

The option to routinely work from home may also appeal to staff. Less commuting could create a better work-life balance, and fewer interruptions from telephones and colleagues could help employees accomplish more than they would in the office.

Opponents of routine remote working would say this is the very reason they don’t like it – there is no escape from the office after a bad day, and no home to go to. Employees can feel isolated with no one to discuss work with or just rant at.

Routine remote working isn’t for everyone, but the common thinking is that it’s what millennials want – or certainly a key driver for them when choosing an employer. And, more often than not, millennials are now the employees that law firms are attempting to recruit.

Research shows that while Generation X is financially motivated, millennials care more about growth opportunities, good management and work-life balance. They want to be judged by output, rather than hours spent in the office, are not so keen on creative and fun office environments, and they want flexibility.

All law firms are different, and the types of work they carry out will determine the viability of remote working. But removing the red tape and being open to flexible working arrangements can work for both parties.

While my firm hasn’t adopted a formal written remote working policy, all staff have the option to work from home when they need to – because of dreaded train strikes or simply to get their head down on something tricky. Flexibility may work best when a common sense approach is adopted and staff are reminded about issues surrounding confidentiality. Our IT system means that the need to remove client files from the office is obfuscated, and we have a BYOD policy to avoid client data being stored on personal hard drives.

Routine remote working may well be the future – but as we foster a collegiate and collaborative environment, a full-time virtual office may be a bridge too far

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