Arguably one of the greatest strengths of the human race is our ability to adapt. Few people in our lifetime will have experienced a situation like lockdown. It came as a shock and has been a varied challenge for us all, but one which we think on the whole as a society we have risen to. It has been both a personal and professional learning curve. Easing of lockdown will herald changes in society. Many businesses have been forced in difficult circumstances to review their operations while many will take the opportunity to do so anyway.
Lockdown experiences have varied. However, what unites us all has perhaps been the desire to remain connected, or reconnect with those important to us. Technology has had a large part to play in doing this effectively (even if it causes exasperation and hilarity in equal measure along the way).
As an international law firm we can operate on an entirely remote basis, testament to the resilience of our staff and systems, but for how long this can be sustained remains a question. It is clear that we as individuals need human interaction. The desire to speak to people has been very real. In time we will inevitably need to meet in person.
Home working was old-hat for some – or so they thought – but doing it on an extended basis was new to most. Arrangements have varied according to personal preference, which is understandable and a good thing. We all work at our best in different ways and working from home allows us the flexibility (the ability to "break free" from office constraints) to do so.
The basics are well versed – a separate working space and good connectivity and perhaps (at least part of) a suit. A more subtle challenge has been finding work-life balance whilst working from home– for many, home schooling has been a particularly acute challenge. It's about knowing where to draw the lines. Working from home can be more productive than "presenteeism" and we wonder if the office environment can create an illusion of productivity. Do we need to align our working day with traditional office hours of 9-5? It is as good a basis as any to ensure a broadly consistent approach for staff, but could come with greater flexibility.
However, a "successful" day at work may need to be redefined, to be more objective in terms of what needs to be achieved – deliverables – and how that is measured and reported. We need to be clear about when to draw a close to the working day, and where to pause and take a break, whether that be outdoors or not. It has perhaps become clear now that it is neither necessary nor sufficient to be present in the office. We humans are creatures of habit, but query whether routines are only part of the answer.
Do we still need an office? We think it has become clear that we do, but to a lesser extent. We all need to see our colleagues regularly for our collective professional and social development, but perhaps not for 40 hours per week. Elite sports teams might meet up only 3 times a week, for a few hours of high-performance activity. Avante garde, perhaps, but the office of the future may look more like a clubhouse. As a professional services firm, we already operate in multiple locations, but as individuals we can be guilty of not speaking to some of our overseas colleagues and clients quite as often as we should. The catch-up calls that have become a feature of lockdown we hope will endure.
Regardless of the shape and size of the future office, we need to use the phone more and stop kicking catch-ups into the long grass. We ought to take that approach with our families and friends too. It has been great to stay connected and share success with colleagues during lockdown and even better to reconnect with those with whom we have lost touch. Whichever shape our working environment takes, one hopes that recent challenges have proven our resilience and we that we are ready for challenging times ahead, using a mix of technology to support our human interactions.
First published by Business Brief, July 2020
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