The move to working from home—Could this change the way we think about working? Q&A with Sophie Gould, F-Lex

The move to working from home—Could this change the way we think about working? Q&A with Sophie Gould, F-Lex

 

“I really hope this will encourage people to think about working in a completely different way, revealing opportunities for flexibility and helping to breakdown the 9-5 working model—focusing more on output and productivity, rather than hours.”

Who would have predicted that the biggest trend for the new 2020 decade would be ‘working from home’?

As the government ramps up measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19, throughout the UK and across the globe working from home has fast become the new normal.

In an interview with Sophie Gould, head of learning and development at F-lex Legal, former head of In-House for LexisNexis and regular home worker, we asked what the realities and challenges are when working from home; and what the impact may be for lawyers—particularly client relationships, if no face to face contact can be had for a considerable amount of time.

 

Working from home—the reality

 

Gould is very experienced when it comes to working from home, spending the last 20 years working in this way. Following the birth of her first child she shifted to a mixture of office and home working, spending around 2/3 days in the office and then working from home on the remaining days.

 

Did you find it difficult transitioning from fully office based to regularly working from home for the majority of the week?

 

I actually found it really beneficial, particularly as I got to axe my commute time and could set aside any work which required getting my head down for while I was at home in an undisturbed environment.

Though I really enjoyed not having to commute, I wouldn’t want to work from home all the time as I very much prefer the mix of the two.

The things I most miss about the office when at home are the environment, socialising and the in person communication.

 

What would you say has changed most over the years?

 

The most notable changes are technological advances and attitude towards working from home.

Previously there was often an attitude that working from home meant ‘slacking’—which just isn’t the case. You would hear people saying ‘I wish I could work from home and not have to wake up till 11am’. This attitude was quite frustrating.

Thankfully, with flexible working and work life balance coming into the forefront these attitudes are changing—or at least beginning to

 

With the UK following ‘lockdown’ style measures, everyone who can is now working from home. What would you say are the main challenges for legal professionals during this time?

 

I personally don’t think that lawyers are facing any unique challenges that aren’t being experienced by anyone else in other industries.

Realistically I think the main challenges are creating a good working from home process and knowing how you are going to communicate with those you’re working with—for example, your colleagues and clients.

However, the challenges you face when communicating with clients most likely are not that different to when you’re in the office It is really about knowing your client’s needs and what form of communication they would find most useful.

One challenge I do think all industries will be experiencing is that everyone is now working from home—people who have never previously done so are now having to do this for the first time, which may cause difficulties, whether that be technology or getting used to a new way of working and managing relationships.

 

Speaking of communicating with your colleagues, what have you found to be the best tools?

 

I think it is all about utilising the technology we have today to be able to put our relationships back into some normality. Technology has meant our methods of doing so have changed dramatically over the years.

When I first started out the only devices we had were email and being able to make a phone call—that was it!

Now we are almost spoilt for choice when it comes to communication tech. There are so many collaborative tools such as online communication apps, Slack, Zoom, Google Hangout and general video conferencing to name a few.

I’ve also found that being able to use things like Slack to send a simple message makes a huge difference—particularly if you are unsure of someone’s whereabouts, it can be much easier and simpler to drop them a quick message.

 

And if you could create the perfect work from home tools package, what would be included?

 

The ideal package would include tools that allows you to:

  • video conference
  • hold something that is as close to a conversation as possible
  • text if people are away from their desk space

Though tools are important, I believe that having a clear structure around how meetings and communications are run between home and office workers should be the main focus. When this is done correctly everything runs smoothly and works really well.

Before tools such as video conferencing one of the biggest struggles of working from home was dialling into a large scale face to face meeting. The meeting would often be held in a room where you would be dialled into a central phone. This proved to have many problems, for example:

  • without being able to see the other attendees it was quite hard to know who was speaking
  • judging where you could interject into a discussion was almost impossible
  • often it was hard to hear people who were not sitting directly in front of the conference call device
  • you cannot read peoples facial expressions, so knowing the vibe of the room was near impossible

Compare that with today, things are very different.

The perfect meeting enables you to see and talk with everyone, no matter if they are at home or together in the office. These meetings ensure everyone is dialled into the meeting from their own device—even if they are together in the same meeting room—that way you are all using the same platform and it’s a lot easier to communicate.

Gould also stressed that having a clear agenda and chair to a meeting is a key component. LexisPSL In-house Advisor and Practice Compliance modules have some handy practice notes on team meetings and team performance. Following these can make sure your meetings are better set up for home and office workers.

 

Being at home throws us completely out of our usual daily routine. Do you have any tips on how to structure your day to be more efficient?

 

When I first started working from home I did find it quite difficult, particularly around the guilt of leaving my laptop for more than a second. If I received an email and did not immediately reply because I was busy making a cup of tea for example, then I would worry they would think I wasn’t doing my work.

Though a natural response, when working from home I’ve found that you have to try and let these feelings go and not put that kind of pressure on yourself.

I have the mindset that if I was in the office, I would still be doing these same activities—such as popping out to buy a cup of tea, or discussing the latest work updates with a colleague in the hall.

If I were to sum it up into a few top tips, they would be:

  • Outlining a plan for your day with s start and end time and list of tasks and meetings —keeping to a time schedule is often imperative
  • making a point to take breaks and walk around—one tip is to set an alarm that goes off every hour, otherwise I can find I have been sitting for 4 hours solid without standing up
  • not scheduling back to back calls—this may seem like a good idea at the time, however it doesn’t give you any leeway between meetings for them to run over or for you to quickly pop out the room without missing your next call
  • having regular touch points—knowing that you have regular catch ups and touch points with those on your projects helps you plan your day

 

Do you think our current work from home position could become a new reality for the legal profession, or impact the current way of legal working?

 

I don’t necessarily think that all lawyers will be working from home in the future, but I do believe this could fast track thoughts on flexible working and breaking down the stringent 9-5 working model.

I hope that firms will start to focus more on employee output and productivity rather than the number of hours they work.

It may also raise discussions around cutting rent prices, office space and employing people who don’t always work permanently at a London based desk.

Equally though, there will be a push back for those who are living in different places, for example if you’re working from your bedroom and don’t have much space.

I do hope that one positive to derive from this pandemic is that it will push for people to think about working in a completely different way.

 

F-lex is an online platform to connect law firms and general counsel to lawyers and law students for a flexible, on demand service: Flex.legal

 

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About the author:

Hannah is one of the Future of Law blog’s digital and technical editors. She graduated from Northumbria University with a degree in History and Politics and previously freelanced for News UK, before working as a senior news editor for LexisNexis.