The evolution of work and the Covid-19 slingshot

The evolution of work and the Covid-19 slingshot


Given the circumstances we find ourselves in, there is much discussion about what the future of work looks like for lawyers (and broader business communities).

Before Covid-19, there were already a range of forces at play that were moving us towards different ways of working such as technology; globalisation; workforce activism; and customer requirements for efficiency and productivity. At Herbert Smith Freehills, I was fortunate to be involved in some horizon scanning to look at how these forces might affect our business.


The slingshot


Covid-19 has acted as a slingshot. We have gone from "retailing" to "e-tailing", from ponderous, governance-heavy decision-making to more agile and innovative leadership. From working in the office to working at home, at holiday homes; with relatives and parents and so forth.

Many are wondering how much (and how quickly) people will snap back to the old ways of doing things when the current crisis abates. My hope is that we are able to harvest the best of the Covid slingshot and use it to build upon the pre-Covid forces that were already pushing us towards different ways of working.


Five thoughts


I have the following observations – noting that I’m still learning as we go, so these are my best hunches rather than guarantees of the future.

  1. New name – "The Future of Work" needs a new name. It is not a defined future place as the phrase suggests. A better term is “The Evolution of Work“ (with thanks to Mike Priddis of Faethm). This better reflects what is going on.
  1. Talent Plus – The Evolution of Work is more than revised talent strategies. However, people have a core role in both the process and the outcomes. Even with a heavy technology quotient, people issues and talent strategies will play a central role in how work practices and workplaces evolve. Adopting technology to automate and augment tasks is not a sufficient strategy. Having said that, the Evolution of Work will require collaboration across a range of disciplines – think technology, learning and development, HR and knowledge, with a healthy dose of leadership required to be successful.
  1. Autonomy plus Outcomes – Autonomy and flexibility are critical. The Covid slingshot has shown that many of us prize a greater degree of control or autonomy over our work and life more generally, but not at the cost of being productive and contributing. To enhance autonomy is to provide greater flexibility in how work is done and where it is done. Greater autonomy looks to be a critical part of the Evolution of Work and making sure that this more autonomous-heavy operating model still meets an organisation's needs (for things like productivity and client satisfaction) is the challenge. Work could be done in an office for many who like it that way and could be done in different places in different ways for those who require that. The key is greater autonomy and a focus on outcomes.
  1. Technology and data – These will play starring roles in the Evolution of Work. It is not technology by itself. Data enables more insightful judgements to be made to better serve clients and better run the business. The Evolution of Work will require an ability to harness and utilise data along these two dimensions and to make grounded decisions which leverage technology to create a better way of doing at work.
  1. Capability – The Evolution of Work will be part of an overall business strategy and that will require a capacity to evolve how we work and where we work as an ongoing process. This is not a 10-year 'set and forget' target. Organisational capability, including within law firms and legal departments, must allow the Evolution Of Work within the firm to be managed and developed. Development of work practices will be always alive and there’s never any end point. It is not like CapEx – spend and then convert. It is like endless OpEx. I think it will require us to be thinking along the lines of continuous flow, ongoing investment and continuous improvement. A growth mind-set will come in handy.


The lessons from the Covid experience, especially the slingshot effect, could help as many across the legal sector step into this uncertain future. Of course, no one knows exactly what is going to happen – but I hope these observations are at least food for thought, even if they do not eventuate in their entirety.

Understand how LexisNexis practice notes, precedents, legal research and guidance can help you through new challenges brought by Covid-19.



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About the author:

Mark Rigotti is a Partner and Senior Adviser at Herbert Smith Freehills and sits on the Boards of the European Australian Business Council and the Australasian Korean Business Council. He recently completed his second term as Global CEO.

As CEO, he was Chair of the firm’s Global Executive, Chair of the Global Diversity & Inclusion Group and a Member of the HSF Global Partnership Council.

Mark developed and drove the firm's vision to be “a world class professional services business bringing together the best people to achieve the best results”. He spearheaded the launch of the “Beyond 2020” global strategy, focused on five key areas: clients, sectors and products; people, performance and leadership; service delivery; innovation and technology; and platform.