After three days alone at home, seeing colleagues irl was...kind of appealing?
Clifford Chance is embracing permanent hybrid working, and it’s getting the open plan hot desking to prove it.
In sharp contrast to some US firms hankering to get their staff back to the Old Ways, the Magic Circle giant is designing its new office around an assumption that fee-earners will never again work five (or six, or seven) days in the office.
“It has been made categorically clear to me from leadership and to everyone at the firm that at our firm, hybrid working is here to stay”, said a source close to management at Clifford Chance, who told ROF it had been noted that certain competitors were steering in the opposite direction.
Instead, CC envisages that its lawyers will be doing much of their ‘head down’ work at home, and coming into the office when they need to collaborate.
That’s contributed to its decision to tear up the traditional floor plan featuring PAs in the middle, lawyers in offices around the walls, and big fish in the corners.
Instead, CC’s new premises at 2 Aldermanbury Square will feature a mix of spaces across its 12 floors including group working areas, open plan areas, and private areas for confidential undertakings. Although a spokesperson said that if everyone did decide to come in on the same day, there would be room for all of them.
The plan has met with some opposition from solicitors wedded to the idea of having their own office, but open plan appears increasingly to be the compromise lawyers will have to accept if they want to also enjoy the flexible benefits of hybrid working.
“If you’re looking at hybrid working and coming in to spend time with your team, it needs to reflect that”, said the source.
CC is also banking on lawyers being less averse to open plan than they once were - and perhaps even happier to have some company - when they’re able to spend part of the week at home on their own.
Michael Bates, Clifford Chance’s UK Managing Partner, told RollOnFriday, “On sharing these plans there has been significant support, recognising the great potential for us to foster greater collaboration and enhanced culture".
The firm now has until its 2027 move-in date to solve the annoying issues with hot desking as noted by lawyers whose firms have already adopted it, like “having to spend 5-10 mins each day, grabbing your stuff, re-adjusting the monitor, desk and chair... Yes, first world problems but it’s really annoying”.
Sustainability and technology were the other two principles driving the new office's design, said a spokesperson for Clifford Chance. Open plan requires less cooling, less heating, less equipment and less lighting, which was an important step towards getting the new office over the line to net zero, they said.
Bates commented, ''We have always maintained that our values and commitments on sustainability, as well as our commitment to providing premises which support our people to excel, are at the core of our future aspirations”.
“Our decision to transition to a more energy efficient, technology-led open plan workspace in our new London office is testament to this promise”, he added. Translation: probably no more swimming pool.