Should law firms rethink their agile working strategy?

2021 dawned with positive news for a change.

With vaccination programs up and running in many parts of the country, there is a sense of optimism in the air, even as we continue to endure this latest lockdown. Most of us have gotten used to working from home by now – the ‘office at home’ environment is nearly a year old, after all. Legal firms are no different, with the majority of fee earners having to deal with clients via the various wonders that technology has been able to offer us – unified communications, video conferencing platforms and remote access technology, amongst others. But it’s time to look beyond what we have now and make some decisions that will lay the groundwork for the future.

Here’s the point. Once the lockdown has ended and a larger percentage of the population has been vaccinated, how are law firms going to adapt their agile working strategy for remote employees who are more mobile and not simply working from home?

Perhaps one of COVID’s enduring legacies will be the impact it has had on the way that people work – that is to say, the consequences for the very many of us who regularly commuted to an office. The various lockdowns, and subsequent Governmental advice to work from home where possible, have forced businesses to explore their approach to agile and remote working.

In the UK, the current level of lockdown is set to continue into Spring. By then, the various vaccination programs will have been underway for a few months, which all lead to the likelihood of work environments changing again. The question is, what might start to happen once more of the workforce are vaccinated? They may not all return to the traditional office environment immediately, but we will certainly see people emerging from a completely static home office, into a more agile way of working. A mixture of being out and about, along with time spent in a non-traditional office setting, whether that’s at home, hot-desking, office sharing or even working from a café, train, hotel or airport lounge. Many clients are telling us that the majority of their workforce will eventually be mobile in some way. And it’s not just lawyers – legal secretaries will have more flexibility to work from home, combined with their role at the office and working on the hoof.

Everything’s okay now, simply because effectively everyone is working from home – they are all static. For IT managers, home-based teams can be managed very effectively. However, this could be the eye of the storm. We will approach a point within the next six months or so when people start becoming more mobile. Teams will go back to the office, so they may need to work on a train, or while they grab a coffee somewhere. That’s where they might start seeing an impact to their remote working experience.

Firms in the legal sector are no different. The new working conditions forced many legal firms to pivot with respect to the traditional ‘workplace’ and embrace true agile working. And, by and large, firms and lawyers adapted, technology was leant upon in an attempt to make the transition as fast and as seamless as possible. However, the landscape is now evolving again, and law firms are starting to consider how technology and operations need to align to future strategies.

It remains to be seen if some of the more conventional remote access technologies will struggle to handle this change, or to service a remote-but-agile workforce. Let’s not forget that IT departments have been extremely busy since March 2020 with a flood of helpdesk issues. A lot of fantastic work has been done behind the scenes to keep workers connected, secure and productive. But the landscape looks set to change yet again, requiring a rethink.

How many firms right now are weighing up cost and spend, versus strategy? Do they stick to what they’ve rolled out technology-wise, keep costs down and avoid risk? But then again, there is always a risk that this newly agile-but-remote workforce (lawyers and back-office staff alike) find the technologies that they are using to be neither effective nor efficient for their roles.

The work environment has been radically transformed over the past year, but we are really only halfway through this transformation. In a post-COVID, vaccinated world, the successful law firm will boast an agile workforce empowered by smart remote access technologies that enable a truly seamless transition for what’s to come.

Today's Conveyancer