With the percentage of the population who’s been vaccinated growing by the day, everyone’s looking forward to the world reopening.
And along with questions about when we can plan extensive visits with friends again, many law firms are wondering when and how they should transition back to the office—or if they should at all.
Pros: Benefits to working from home
Everyone’s feeling a little stir-crazy at this point. So at first, it’s easy to think, ‘Why the heck would I choose to keep living like this?’
But think back to your pre-pandemic life and how you would have felt about the possibility of working remotely then. Because it turns out that when the rest of the world is open, working from home can be pretty pleasant.
A few advantages are:
- Increased flexibility in your personal schedule
- Increased efficiency
- Less personal time lost to commuting
- Lower overhead costs required to run a firm
- Less stress
Previously, one of the hurdles to working from home was having the right technology to make it possible. But after a year of quarantine, many law firms have embraced cloud-based innovations—such as client portals for secure document sharing, remote communication tools, and practice management systems with timekeeping and billing software.
Cons: Why you might miss the office
However, as anyone who’s worked from home for the last year can attest, there are drawbacks to working remotely, too.
Most of the disadvantages to fully remote working revolve around human interaction:
- Needing an appropriate space to meet with clients if you aren’t going to do so over a video conference
- Needing to be more conscious about keeping up professional relationships
- Guiding folks who aren’t as tech-savvy through the process
Additionally, as anyone who spent the last year working from home with a small child knows, your living situation significantly impacts your ability to enjoy your home office.
What are your employees looking for?
One significant consideration for any firm looking to continue working remotely or thinking about returning to the office is: which option would your employees prefer?
How your staff feels about remote or office-bound work will likely depend on a myriad of personal and professional details that vary by the person. But reading the temperature to gauge the collective enthusiasm for either choice can be helpful.
In addition to asking which scenario they prefer, you may also want to ask:
- Which environment has been more productive for them individually, and
- If one environment or the other has been significantly better for fostering a sense of team collaboration.
While it’s certainly possible you’ll get to hear about a vehement aversion to one form of working or the other, most employees will probably tell you they’d like to see a mix—specifically, that they’d like to work from home most of the time but still have that in-person connection a couple of times per week.
What do clients want?
Your clients represent the other key ingredient in keeping the firm running. So check in with them, too.
A brief client satisfaction survey should already be part of your practice. For the next couple of months, consider adding in an additional question, asking clients if they would prefer working with the firm in-person at an office—or remotely with video conferencing or meeting at non-traditional venues, such as a park or an eatery.
Again, expect answers to vary. But unless the client lives or works near your office—or unless the legal work you do for them involves extremely sensitive information that they don’t feel comfortable discussing from home—they will likely prefer to work with the firm remotely.
The reason? Convenience.
Next steps: Make a plan
Each law firm has a host of individual factors that need to be considered when making a decision about returning to the office or transitioning to remote work for good. For instance, the logistics of working remotely are very different for solos and small firms than large firms with extensive staff.
And the third option of a mixed approach is available to some firms, especially if you can get creative with a smaller office, ways to get staff together in person, or even just renting desk space two days a week.
But don’t be surprised if you find clients, in particular, expressing a preference for working with a firm that has the tools to accommodate remote meetings, secure document portals based in the cloud, and online billing and payment options.