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With a second round of lockdown now complete, and the Christmas break on the horizon, the practice of working from home (WFH) has been bolstered across many industries, including the legal sector. But the transition from an office environment to one’s kitchen table is not always straightforward, so what can lawyers do to minimise any negative impact on both their professional and personal lives?
Although we have referenced the proverbial kitchen table, lawyers need to ensure they have a comfortable work space, including a suitable desk and office chair, along with any necessary ergonomic accessories such as monitor stands. This is crucial not only for their personal comfort but also to prevent any health issues which can arise from poor posture.
Ideally lawyers should have a dedicated room which serves as an office and is free of distractions, both from the perspective of being able to psychologically separate home and work areas, but also for purposes of client confidentiality (if they do not live alone). However, many fee earners will not have a spare room and may be living in house shares where they will need to work from their bedrooms. Companies and firms should bear this in mind and provide suitable office space for their employees where appropriate.
If the internet goes down, often work will grind to a halt. So anyone working from home should ensure they have a reliable internet connection which is fast enough to cope with videoconferencing (even if other members of their household are using it at the same time). Many broadband plans come with data limits which can get quickly eaten up by Zoom or Skype calls, so make sure that there are no restrictions.
It is a good idea to have a backup in case the primary internet connection fails. Most mobile phone plans come with 4G, so ensure that the reception is strong enough in your area to provide a fallback option. And make sure you know how to create a hotspot or tether your laptop.
Although many older lawyers with families may be quite happy working from home, for younger entrants to the legal profession the traditional office environment can be extremely important, both for their career progression and social life. Trainee lawyers in particular may find working from home hinders their ability to receive on the job mentoring from experienced partners, and the lack of a home routine can leave them feeling isolated and potentially harm their mental health.
Where possible, firms and legal teams should continue to maintain an office presence and encourage all their staff to attend at least once or twice a week. Otherwise, regular catch up calls (either by phone or videoconference) should be scheduled, especially for more junior staff to be able to connect with their more senior colleagues. Outside of lockdown, social gatherings should be encouraged to maintain a sense of camaraderie and reduce social isolation.
The annihilation of the daily commute is often hailed as one of the main benefits of WFH. However, since the working lives of most lawyers is relatively sedentary, cutting out the commute can lead to some not leaving the house all day, possibly even for several days at a time. The lack of exercise is not only very unhealthy physically, but staying inside can also compound any mental health issues.
Make sure you go out for a walk or some other form of exercise every day if possible. Dividing up the working day with a morning and afternoon perambulation can ensure a healthy working routine is maintained. Leaving the house every day also preserves other important routines such as personal grooming and simply getting dressed!
Contrary to popular opinion, many people will find that putting on some music will help them to concentrate on work. This is especially the case where there are distractions at home such as noisy neighbours. An alternative is to purchase a pair of noise cancelling headphones.
But although music can help with focus, TV (or any visual media such as YouTube) should be avoided throughout the working day, as this can lead to procrastination and hinder productivity.
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