Ben Deverson, Founder & Director, Lawganised.
COVID-19 caused us all to adapt quickly, and for many to adopt solutions and ways of working on the run. After a few hiccups, most businesses got there in the end and developed their “new norm.”
The legacy of the COVID-19 environment will be, ultimately, a new life for business. It has created an array of new business buzz words and phrases like: ‘unprecedented’, ‘pivot’ and, (yes, guilty, Your Honour…) ‘the new norm’, but putting aside the new vernacular, business leaders, and in particular legal practices, are now re-considering their entire operating environments.
If COVID-19 has taught professional services firms anything, it’s that a physical presence for staff in an office environment is not vital. What was once considered a luxury for the ‘chosen few’ that through years of service or some other badge of honour were ‘entitled’ to work from home, technology has proven to us that one can be just as, if not more, productive than in the office, teams can collaborate well and efficiencies can be gained when working remotely.
But of the levers that make or break a business, what else have we learned? Two immediate thoughts come to mind: tenancy and talent.
Managing Partners of legal practices are often greeted with a big fat number for tenancy costs when looking at their latest P&L statement; for rent is usually a firm’s second largest operational expense (behind wages and salaries). So as their chins are scratched considering the learnings of COVID-19, many a Managing Partner is pondering the question: “Do we need all this space?” If our recent work environment has taught us anything, save the unfortunate decrease in economic activity for most businesses, a firm can exist and service their clients as well as before, and maintain a healthy workplace culture, with staff operating remotely. New ways of considering a firm’s physical tenancy footprint is therefore likely, if not mandatory, considering the cost savings that could be delivered should a firm adopt practices such as ‘hot desking’ or virtual workforces with staggered office attendance.
The same argument can be extended to the talent pool. Extending the physical presence argument further, all firms can augment their talent pool with a borderless approach. Why limit your talent search to the immediate vicinity of your office when domestic and, experience/qualifications permitting, international recruits could be available? Should a firm be able to secure remote talent and develop a remote working strategy that ensures clients receive the same quality service, why the need to relocate them? Perhaps some traditional ways of thinking need some critical analysis in this debate, in addition to considerations on workplace culture. However, the adoption of such an approach will certainly open the talent gates to a far greater audience. Just think about it: An Australian qualified solicitor living in London and working for a Sydney based firm, full-time.
Whatever happens moving forward with tenancies and talent, many firms have proven over the last three months that remote workforces can be done, the question remains, can we pivot our thinking about these unprecedented times to one of permanent adoption of them as our ‘new norm’?