Flexible working has become increasingly popular over the last couple of decades, driven by a trifecta of technological advances, cultural shifts and legislative changes. According to recent analysis, around half the working population of the UK wants flexibility in their working hours or location. Although the media often portrays the flexible worker as a tech-savvy entrepreneur conducting business on their laptop from their local coffee bar, the reality of flexible working has a far wider scope which already permeates the fabric of most forward-thinking law firms.
Legislation responding to social changes
Legislation introduced in June 2014 has furnished employees (with at least 26 weeks employment service) with the right to request flexible. Although it’s easy for employers to reject most requests, this legislative move has indicated a paradigm shift away from a 9 to 5 working culture towards a more flexible inclusive attitude. Aside from the “stick” of flexible working legislation, there is also a “carrot” for employers who adapt work patterns to suit the lives of their employees, in the form of greater staff retention and a more loyal workforce.
Home or remote working has been made possible by IT. The steady integration of technology into law firms has seen various changes to working practices, such as the rise of the “always-on” culture. Although there are many arguments against this pervading workplace creep into home and leisure time, the ability to work remotely can bring many advantages, both for employees and the law firm itself. With the rising cost of office space, notably in London where annual rents push £1,500 per square metre, it’s making less commercial sense to maintain large expensive offices, especially when many lawyers would actually prefer to work from home. Increasing competition also means that clients expect more “bang for their buck” and some can even be put off by swanky offices as they know that this represents a proportion of their fees. The announcement by Clifford Chance that it will be adopting an “agile working” philosophy and leasing 400,000 square-feet of its 1 million square-foot office to Deutsche Bank, is perhaps a litmus test of broader trends in the legal industry.
Attracting new talent and staff retention
Tech-savvy lawyers, particularly younger generations who have grown up in a socially progressive culture and who see the advantages technology can bring in optimising work-life balance, have increasingly come to expect a degree of flexibility from their employer. A decent salary is no longer enough to attract the best new talent; firms must also consider offering perks such as flexible working and demonstrate a forward-thinking attitude. For example, one survey indicated that 44% of job seekers view an organisation more positively if it has a Bring your own Device (BYOD) policy which allows staff to use their own laptops and smartphones for work.
So, ensuring that your firm embraces new ways of working and projects an innovative ethos and pioneering spirit can help to entice the cream of the crop as well as retain your top fee earners. Investing in technology which facilitates remote working, as well as drawing up flexible working and BYOD policies, will ensure that you are ahead of the curve and well prepared for any further social or legislative changes in this area.