Ann Harrison looks at the benefits and challenges of new ways of working

Ann Harrison

I had hoped to be writing now about the position in a post-coronavirus (COVID-19) world, but alas that is not to be.

It looks like this virus will impact on our firms, and the whole world, for some time to come. So instead, here are some thoughts arising from the changes imposed upon us by the virus and changing economic climate.

The world doesn’t end if we aren’t all in the office. My own firm was in the process of rolling out an agile working policy before the virus hit. We thought it would take two years to make the scheme effective and gain the trust of all our managers and partners. In the event, the whole scheme was put into place for everyone, immediately, in March 2020 – and it has worked very well. I’m sure many firms have had a similar experience.

The importance of a “working from home” policy (agile or mobile working), adhered to by all staff, is clear to all. A clear and detailed set of rules makes this easier for people to follow, and protects the firm in the event of a problem.

Working from home can be good for work-life balance. People can be trusted to get on with their work when not under the eagle eye of their manager. Working from home can also be good for profitability – planning can mean reduced office space and equipment, as well as reduced travel costs, as client meetings are held online. And home working largely means paperless working, which is good for the environment. Staff should be encouraged to be disciplined in filing documents in a virtual environment, just as much as they would be in a paper-based system. Good case management systems which link with Outlook can assist hugely here.

We still have to comply with our obligations – with clients and with our regulator. The Solicitors Regulation Authority has issued guidance on what it expects from firms during the pandemic. Consider also how money laundering requirements can be met in the new environment.

Online meetings can be extremely effective, but also very tiring. People have started to talk about “Zoom fatigue”! An online meeting requires much more focus. Beware of back-to-back meetings leaving no room for downtime and consideration.

Finally, I would add that, as always, the legal profession has shown itself to be quick and able to adapt to change, with innovation taking place at all levels and at impressive speed. To quote Albert Einstein: “Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.” Adversity really is the mother of invention!

The Law Management Section and the Law Society have put together many online resources which you may find of assistance in operating in this brave new world.