Practicalities of working from home for law firms

Practicalities of working from home for law firms

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Stephen Cates, employment specialist and partner at Laytons Solicitors LLP, explores whether working from home is beneficial to law firms and their employees.

Is having employees work from home a practical suggestion for law firms?

Having employees work from home is certainly a practical suggestion. Lawyers or indeed other staff do not necessarily need to be in the office to have access to legal resources or client files which can be accessed remotely. If employees need to have a meeting with colleagues or clients a conference call/video call can easily be arranged. Similarly, if colleagues only come into the office for meetings or on an ad hoc basis a ‘hot-desk’ policy could be introduced and firms could potentially save money by leasing smaller offices. However, some lawyers and their clients clearly prefer to have face to face meetings so it is still important to retain an office as a ‘base.’

What are the benefits of allowing employees to work from home?

There are many benefits of allowing employees to work from home, including:

  • employees save money on commuting costs, possibly on child care costs etc
  • employees can set their own schedule which could enable them to fit other things into their day which they may not have been able to do if working in the office—for example, taking/picking up children from school or going to the gym
  • potentially less sick days—for example, an employee who may not come into work due to fear of spreading a bad cold or not feeling 100% may still be able to work from home
  • less or no commuting and avoiding the rush hour could reduce ‘burnout’:
    • no stressful commute into work
    • time saved by not having to commute means employees could spend this time undertaking hobbies, going to the gym, spending more time with their families or unwinding
  • a more motivated and empowered workforce may mean increased staff retention

What are the potential issues employees or the firm may face when they have staff that are working from home?

There are issues that an employer must consider when they have staff working from home. Employees must clearly have self-discipline as it may be easier to get distracted by, for example, young children, the television, personal emails, social networking sites etc.

Employees may also feel isolated and not part of a team. Working from home can blur the line between work and home life, not having a clear separation of workplace and home space may mean it is difficult to switch off from work.

Other employees who do not work from home could also perceive those who do work from home as not being as committed, not working as productively and not being as much a part of the team. Similarly, some employees may require their supervisors/colleagues to be present to work effectively and productively.

Supervision could therefore clearly be an issue, as could learning and development and this is obviously a clear regulatory issue too.

Another factor to consider could be that employees own ‘schedule’ may not be as in sync with their clients’ or colleagues’ requirements or schedules. Working from home could also mean that communication and team work could be affected. It is not as quick and easy to ‘bounce ideas’ around with your colleagues if you all work from home.

Law firms have fierce competition so marketing is key. Face to face contact with clients and potential clients could possibly suffer if lawyers are working from home and only arrange calls or send emails although that may not be the case depending on the individual and their motivation.

And finally, of course, firms would need to ensure the health and safety of employees working at home and other related issues such as data protection and confidentiality.

Interviewed by Elizabeth Shanahan

The views expressed by our Legal Analysis interviewees are not necessarily those of the proprietor.

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