Over 50% of lawyers and business services staff want to permanently work from home for most of the week once the pandemic has ended, RollOnFriday's survey of changing attitudes to office life has found. Our poll of over 2,500 lawyers and law firm staff found there has been a huge shift in preferences towards long-term WFH.
Before the pandemic, over 50% of respondents said their preference was to work in the office every day, and only 2% wanted to work from home all week.
Those attitudes have undergone a radical reversal following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. 75% of respondents said that in the short term once the pandemic has ended they want to work from home for at least three days a week. Almost 40% said they would not want to step foot in the office at all. Just 7% of respondents wanted to return to the office full-time.
Those preferences will be encouraging for firms seeking to make their offices safe by imposing measures which require limited numbers of staff on the premises, including strict attendance rotas and social distancing requirements.
However, the survey indicates that a three month forced absence from the office has permanently broken many people's tether to the office. As one respondent put it, "Offices seem so 20th century now".
44% of respondents said that even in the long-term, they now only want to work in the office for one or two days a week. Another 10% said they didn't want to go back to the office at all. Only 10% said their preference was to eventually return full-time. The results suggest that firms should start modelling for a sustainable form of remote working that can endure even after the danger of COVID-19 recedes.
"WFH had its challenges initially but now I am happy with the balance", said an in-house lawyer. He used to prefer being in the office every day of the working week, but no longer. "I am fitter, I eat better and I work for less time but in more intense bursts. I have saved nearly £800 (and counting) from not buying diesel for my car. I have also seen my wife and children more in the last 3 months than I did in the 9 months prior to lockdown".
Several respondents highlighted improvements in their efficiency. "I've gone from working 50 hours and travelling 10 hours to working 35 hours and my productivity is up 25%", said a solicitor.
Some lawyers said they would seek to move firms if their current employer failed to embrace ultra-WFH flexibility. "I am sceptical that the dinosaurs at my firm will want to change anything, so I'll try and find a firm which is more amenable to WFH", said a senior solicitor.
Respondents with offices in London cited the glorious absence of the commute. "My heart will sink when I have to get on the Central Line again at 7.30am again", said one.
Although for some living in the capital, the office represented a sanctuary which provided respite from thieving housemates and thin walls. "I can barely afford a room let alone a private home office", said a junior solicitor at a national firm. "My days are spent battling noise, bad internet connection, people stealing my coffee and my neighbours having sex. It is not fun". Others were harsher. "I hate my family and miss the office romances as an escape", said a partner.
For most of those who commented that they wanted to get into the office again, the impetus was a desire to touch base with colleagues - but that only required a day or two a week. "I desperately miss my colleagues and want to return to the office at least part-time for in-person conversations", said a lawyer.
However, not everyone felt the need for physical meetings. "Would be quite happy never seeing my colleagues in the flesh ever again", said a partner at a major firm. "They're all nice, but video calls work just fine and people can use their break times for something they genuinely want when WFH. Like doing Yoga with Adriene or having banana bread in the garden, rather than miserably bolting down quinoa and kombucha over a keyboard. We see our families. We're all happier. Except for the old guard who have a cushy pad with an easy commute and no idea what Ctlr+Alt+Del does. But then they are not the future".
"I save 3hrs a day and £4,800 a year in losing my commute", said a senior solicitor at a national firm. "That's not worth reintroducing into my life just to have a few chats with colleagues".
"I'm sure there will come a time when I miss sitting opposite my boss - a weathered, slack-jawed pensioner who attacks her touchscreen laptop like it's a scratchpost, and who reliably screeches 'BINGO' when she gets her printer to work", said a junior solicitor", - but that day is not today".
Given the huge response to last week's poll, there seems to be an appetite among readers to get the message to bosses about what you want to happen next. To that end, we've put together a little follow-up poll digging into what exactly you're not looking forward to about returning to work. Give it a whirl and let's see what we're scared of.
Working in the office only 1 or 2 days per week lends itself to hot desking but that seems to be contrary to the guidance for working safely with coronavirus. Firms aren't going to want to pay massive rents for desks that are only occupied 1 or 2 days per week.
I find I now work much longer hours than before as my laptop and screen are 'always on'.
I also find people's expectations about availability have changed - I'd go for a coffee or have a break when working in the office. Now I get passive aggressive messages asking where I am if I don't answer Zoom within 1 ring.
Also, once some people go back and start putting in the face time, anyone with any ambition will do exactly the same. I predict that 6 months from now (presuming we survive the second wave), most of us will be back to the old routine - in the office 4 days a week and working from home for the other 3.
Nice bit of casual ageism there from the 'junior solicitor'. One day you will also be a slack-jawed weathered pensioner
Face time is how you self-promote so people who care about that will be going in more. For those of us who just do a job, it's really good as it's actually more evident who is producing.
Downsides - can end up working long days when busy because it's so easy. Also not as easy to leave work at work for your family's sake.
Paul - the low-rent provincial firms like IM, Shoosmiths etc. have really f*cked themselves over by going full hot-desking. All that invesment for something which overnight has become unfit for purpose. I am now in-house but my old firm did the same thing (partly why I left). They now don't have room to go back to fixed desks and the hot-desks have been made so close you cannot socially distance anyway. And they called me a dinosaur for objecting...ha, who's staring at the glowing ball in the sky now, boys?
I hate the face-time culture and the chatterers in my office - I'm a bit of an introvert and live out of town, so WFH and social distancing suits me fine.
The one size fits all is the problem. If firms went to a fully flexible policy there would naturally be a balance with the people that want to be in the office 100% of the time, those that want to break up the week, and the introverts who would prefer to not come into the office at all. Then make it compulsory to be in the office for important team meetings etc... It is doable, it’s time for the profession to change. Employees having supported their firms from home (with dependents and no childcare- getting up early and working late etc..) it would be an outrage to deny flexible policies now.
Only five out of ten? The story here is how thoroughly that result subverts the agenda-ridden “new normal” narrative
Wfh is much worse than being in the office for work life balance. The expectation is that you are at your desk solidly from about 9am to when you go to bed with no real break. If you don't answer the phone, where are you etc? I am far less healthy now due to a lack of activity. On the other hand, if working very late at least there is no commute home.
I’m not sure the argument for socialising with your colleagues at work is credible in the short-term at least with with all these anti-rona measures in place. For example, my firm is implementing a strict one person per room and no moving between floors measure. It’s not as though anyone will be able to have any meaningful contact with their colleagues - it’ll just be like remote-working but with a (potentially deadly) commute!
I'm very glad I don't have to keep slogging across to London once or sometimes twice per week. It's a 6 hour round trip from where I am. My usual commute on other days is a round trip of about 1.5 hours.
Those must be all the introverts, because I can say with complete honesty that if this keeps up for much longer I am at risk of being taken away in a straight jacket. I've never had mental health issues before, so I will try to see this as a good experience to gain more empathy, but I am certainly experiencing them now. I went into lockdown upbeat and determined not to let it get me down, but the lack of human interaction beyond one's immediate family (as lovely and engaging as they are) has worn me down completely and is now unbearable. It is a horrible feeling that life has become completely pointless and all the joy has gone out of even the few things you are still able to do. Zoom calls are by no means a replacement, even leaving aside the fact that you waste half the call trying to sort out connectivity issues. Flexibility for a couple of days WFH a week is great, but if our offices cease to exist I'm leaving the profession, not just my firm.
Firms who figure out the right level of flexibility post Covid-19, will be the ones who retain their talent. This presents a pivot-point in the legal market where firm's can embark upon cultural change, or revert to old habits. 5 days of commuting suits some, but not most, and providing productivity isn't impacted negatively, we predict there will be a shift to a 3-day commuting week for a lot of firms.
A 25+% reduction in desk space will improve law firm profits over the next 36 months and bump the PEP (which Managing Partners will largely attribute to improved client service rather than the real culprit), and whilst the negotiation of leases will be good for commercial and corporate real estate Partners in the short term, the long term impact will be a reduction in fees from large clients, and a more diversified client portfolio (including smaller companies moving in to buildings they previously could not afford). With demand for floor space being reduced, rent should drop accordingly.
With all the theatre that comes from having a large impressive corporate office in a fancy part of London, it will be challenging for Partners to continue hiking their fees year on year. Justifying charging $1000 an hour whilst sat at home in your jim-jams not incurring any travel or work expenses will be difficult.
The shift in flexible working expectations to a 3 day week will also boost female Partnership statistics, as it will help with child care responsibilities and free up more time to allow female lawyers to generate business which is the main requirement for Partnership and indeed hitting the challenging targets for equity. It will also advantage Lawyers living outside of inner London, who tend to be more junior and hence, less wealthy. This should - along with covid - put a long freeze on the wage war that US firms have been inciting for over a decade.
I for one am totally fed up of being expected whilst WFH to be at my desk 24/7 even when I am only being paid to be at it at 80% salary.
I'm literally the same as you, lockdown has been increasingly depression-inducing for me, and the vision of a future where we all go 100% WFH plus less opportunity to travel and socialise is something akin to Dante's Inferno.
WFH will get old, take it from someone who knows from a former life. You will be giving up space in your home to your employer, and you will never be able to leave work. Yes, horrendous commutes and toxic offices will not be missed, but we need something in the middle.
Personally I’ve loved the shift to WFH.
Prior to lockdown I had a 1.5 hour commute (each way) and spent c. £100 p/w on travel. As great as my team is (I genuinely don’t have a bad word to say about any of them) the greater work-life balance afforded by not having to commute has been a real eye opener.
On two occasions since lockdown I’ve had to work 8am - 12am. Those hours would have been required even if I had been in the office. The only differences being that it would have then taken another hour and a half to get home afterwards and I wouldn’t have had the respite of being able to eat dinner with my partner.
Surely it has to every firm’s goal to cater for a flexible approach allowing individuals to decide if they need / want to be in the office (provided there are no productivity issues WFH). Only those who demonstrate that they cannot be trusted to work from home i.e. through a lack of productivity, should be compelled to come into the office and face the necessary disciplinary procedures.
I can’t imagine too many female solicitors shout bingo when the printer works, junior solicitor. Didn’t think that one through did we.
Eggery - It's fine. Apart from the fact I switched out the real (yet equally annoying) phrase with BINGO, she thinks the internet is a fax machine with colour.
I have zero respect for the elderly. For the most part, they're awful.
And when I grow old and become awful, which I will, I'll do the decent thing and retire.
Ending any sentence with "did we" makes you sound like a prick. Everyone knows this.
The threats to leave because of the lack of ability to WFH are going to ring pretty hollow for the next few years- the recession was coming anyway and now it's got bells on. Firms aren't going to have to worry about changing to accommodate the talent for a long time. Buckle up roffers, it's going to be grim.
Admittedly the biggest adjustment has been responding to emails on handed whilst vigorously masturbating.
Re Anon: June 12: 1117. 'Low rent provincial firms?' Apart from the obvious & pointless snobbery, the hot desking solution is still valid. People will just have to book a desk which can be cleaned regularly. Welcome to the 21st Century. Or based on your views, possibly just the 20th. Time for law to move into the real world. It's not before time. And those 'low rent' firms you look down on may well be better-suited. Imagine eh...?
17June 11:29 - yeah maybe, but from where I'm sitting, the open-plan, hot-desking culture crept into London from the provincial cost-cutting Aldis and Lidls of the legal world (whose staff don't value the need to concentrate or do brain work because they do churn personal injury, debt recovery and uncontested property management work which a trained school-leaver could do). It is *utterly shit* for anyone who wants to do real legal work. Sure, have break-out areas to socialise and let those who want to work that way do so, but why do we all need to play musical chairs in an airport lounge?
Anon 17 June 11:29 - the hot-desks at IM are so close you couldn't partition them if you tried, so you have to use only one-in-two or one-in-three. If you need to hygienically clean each one before you use it, several times a day, what impact does that have on your productivity?
It's already poor at IM: commute, find locker, get plastic box of stuff, find clean desk near colleagues, set up desk, adjust seat, monitor, plug everything in...then work. Just getting to log-in feels like a massive achievement - then reverse all that at the end of the day AND clean the desk and peripherals down as well?
Knackers to that: WFH wins hands down - sit, log-in, work.
IM is great compared to S&G it was rubbish!
So that would be one in two then?
Am I alone in being confused about how compressing 50 chargeable hours into 35 is a benefit for either law firm or individual lawyer?
When lockdown began my firm sent out an HR info sheet telling us all to work more efficiently and in shorter bursts. I almost emailed back asking if they understood how chargeable hours targets work.