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Could Coronavirus change the way we work forever?

People are the most important part of most (if not all) organisations. There’s no doubt that something as uncertain as the Coronavirus puts us all at risk and forces us to reconsider ways of working effectively. So could our new temporary way of working become our new normal?

Recently, organisations have changed their working practices to accommodate an increased level of flexible working. Quite often, organisations will account for a certain percentage of their workforce being flexible i.e. with no fixed desk space. It is rare that an organisation accounts for 100% of their workforce having a fixed desk space. Offices are now being designed to look and feel good rather than just provide a desk and some chairs. Employers are beginning to think about the health benefits (both physical and mental) of designing spaces differently.

These developments came before we were hit with the Coronavirus pandemic. Now, we have received government guidance to work from home where possible. This means more organisations are closing their doors and encouraging their employees to stay at home. Adjustments are being made to give everyone the option of flexible working, especially with the juggle of working at home while caring for dependants when the schools shut, meaning employees are being trusted to flex their hours through the day (and maybe the evening and weekend) in order to deliver the same output.

At Shoosmiths, we already have an agile working culture which makes the transition to working from home a straightforward process. With laptops and automatic connections to servers, we can access everything we would be able to access in the office, from the comfort of our homes.

With investments in software like Jabber (landline phones on our laptops – think Skype) and WebEx (online web conference calls), virtual team meetings are becoming the norm. Teams are having virtual coffee mornings to check in with one another. It’s likely that now, teams are making a more conscious effort to communicate than ever before – it was taken for granted before that we could easily catch up in the kitchen while making a tea in the office, but now we’re having to plan the social interaction into our diaries.

For legal advisors in private practice, working from home comes with a history of caution. Often, you hear murmurs: “Are they really working from home?” suggesting that there is a lack of trust and transparency. We forget that legal advisors are held accountable by their time recording and billing, and by audits on files.

The willingness to embrace the working from home guidance from the government goes to show that there can be trust in the working from home concept. It shows that your employer really is willing to put your wellbeing first.

Throughout the past few weeks, communications from Shoosmiths have very much encouraged all employees to exercise their own discretion and to work from home as much or as little as employees are comfortable with, while being mindful of the government advice. It’s comforting to know your employer really does trust you to do what is best for you, your colleagues and the company.

So now, we have a newfound working from home culture. We have officially changed the way we are working, and with that change comes increased communication, greater transparency and a heightened concern for wellbeing.

Will it really stay like this forever? It would be naïve to say that we will all be working from home all the time for the rest of our lives. There are also a lot of people who just wouldn’t suit that way of working permanently. Many may find it difficult to manage their own time and prioritise tasks, and we’ll all need to remember to include time away from our screens and time for fresh air. However, it is certainly true that this working from home phase will change attitudes towards and perceptions of working from home. The most recent communication from Shoosmiths’ CEO Simon Boss included the following:

“We have to accept it is no longer business as usual and it never will be again. But that’s not a bad thing. The new behaviours and ways of working we’ve all quickly adopted are not only good for businesses around the world, but they are great for the environment.

Not only do we embrace agile working and agile systems but wherever we work, we are people with agile minds, willing and able to adapt to the speed of change in these unprecedented times.”

Having the option to be in our own homes to work means that we can accommodate our lives outside work a lot more. For those who commute in to work by train or even by car, it means less travel time, fewer early starts and money saved on travel. In the evenings, there’s more time at home with your family as you no longer need to factor in the travel time home. You can have the option of lunch with the people you live with, or a lunchtime yoga class in front of your TV, without missing those vital work hours. All these things contribute to a positive state of wellbeing and in turn, are likely to increase productivity and output of employees.

This phase of working from home will really test how effectively, efficiently and smartly we can all work while being at home. While it is a strange time with clients likely to be closing offices and work likely to be slowing down, it will still give us all an opportunity to test and reflect on our own ways of working. As individuals, we will identify our strengths and weaknesses and we will be able to test the real benefits we do (or do not) get from working from home vs. working in the office.

We’ll find new ways to work and explore new ways to keep in touch with our colleagues. While this may be a scary and uncertain time for many, it is also an exciting time to be part of what will be a revolution in working practices across the globe. Let’s embrace the changes and encourage our colleagues to do the same!

Some simple tips for keeping in touch with colleagues, and keeping spirits high, while you’re working from home:

Catch-up over your morning coffee by setting aside 15 minutes one morning each week for the team to talk about their weekend or the week ahead via WebEX

  • Have a virtual lunch call to keep in touch via WebEx
  • Set up a regular 15 minute web call for a quick game of charades, a couple of people take it in turn each week via WebEx
  • Set up a Strava running group or Fitbit challenge, where colleagues can compete on lunchtime walks or runs
  • A guess the home desk competition (just the desk or table area), ask everyone to send their photos into a designated person, and then circulate them on an email for a little competition, maybe raise a little for a local charity, by asking everyone for a donation to enter
  • Team WhatsApp chat groups
  • Private groups on Facebook, for sharing information in a less formal way, and encouraging interaction and engagement between wider groups

For those working in the legal sector or any other service sector: don’t forget about your clients. Reach out to them, listen to what they are saying about the challenges they are facing, ask how you can help and offer solutions. Point them to links that highlight issues businesses need to consider and recommended actions to try and mitigate the potential impact on trading.

These are just a few of my ideas, do you have any creative ideas for staying in touch with your colleagues and keeping spirits high?

The rapid global spread of the Coronavirus presents unprecedented legal, regulatory and commercial challenges for businesses. Shoosmiths is committed to supporting our clients through the challenges the pandemic presents and will be publishing regular insights on a hub which can be found here.

To gain further advice about looking after your mental health, read Amy’s blog “Thriving or Surviving: Mental Health in the Workplace”

If you have any questions about Shoosmiths application process, or managing your working from home, you can email us at [email protected] or have a look at some frequently asked questions here.

Disclaimer

This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.

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