Where’s the Remote Control?

For better or worse, the age of remote work has arrived and is here to stay

Where’s the Remote Control?

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered into the world a number of irreversible changes: the normalization of mask wearing, the formerly foreign concept of social distancing, the unprecedented use of the word “unprecedented” outside of legal circles, and the ability of individuals (who are able) to work remotely or from home.

Remote work pre-pandemic

Pre-pandemic, although remote work was possible, it appeared to be the exception to the general rule that a worker ought to be in the office and at their desk during regular business hours. Within the legal industry, this held true for not only lawyers, but paralegals and office staff as well, with the notion of being physically present in the office for work simply serving as an unquestioned expectation. This all changed with the advent of the pandemic in early 2020, which produced a radical shift away from this assumption and necessitated that firms establish technological infrastructure to allow individuals to work from home in order to ensure that office operations could continue and that the health and safety of workers could be protected.

Remote work post- pandemic and firm accommodations

Although many pandemic related restrictions have since attenuated, remote working or working from home has endured as a common practice for many lawyers, either in a full-time or part-time capacity. Different firms will have their own policies on working from home, but anecdotally, it appears that most firms have continued to recognize the value in permitting lawyers and other workers the flexibility to work remotely. In the result, it is now common for firms to offer creative accommodations that not only benefit individual workers but the business of the firm as well. Some examples of these accommodations include:

  • Office sharing arrangements in which two or more lawyers share a space and co-ordinate a schedule regarding who works remotely and who attends in-office on each day of the week, which allows flexibility in the form of a partial remote work week while ensuring that the use of physical office space is maximized.
  • The creation of hoteling offices, which are neutral and flexible workstations equipped with the amenities of a regular office but capable of being used by anyone. These spaces can also function as a remote/office share worker’s dedicated space in the event that they are preparing for a hearing or trial.
  • The firm-wide adoption and use of technology, like firm laptops and videoconferencing software to further reduce barriers to working from home and encouraging greater networking and collaboration.
  • Incentivizing workers to attend in-office by providing perks such as parking or transit reimbursements, hosting catered lunch-and-learns/seminars, or promoting participation in team building or practice group activities.
  • Offsetting concerns regarding a deterioration in workplace culture and morale by requiring workers to attend in-office for a minimum number of days per week.

Remote work is here to stay

All technological advances bring with them both benefits and drawbacks, and the ability to work remotely is no different. Within the legal industry, there are proponents of remote work who champion it as the long overdue solution to achieving greater work/life balance by allowing for the substitution of commutes and water cooler talk for more time spent with family or friends; however, there are also others who correlate the rise in remote working with a decline in workplace productivity and culture.

Regardless of where you find yourself in this ongoing debate, it is clear that the genie is out of the bottle and some form of remote working is here to stay. Therefore, the challenge for firms and employers is attempting to strike an appropriate balance between accommodating its lawyers and workers while, at the same time, ensuring that meaningful connection and firm culture are preserved.

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