Dave's imaginary office colleagues are going to have to make way for some real ones.
Freshfields is changing its agile working policy to require staff to spend the majority of their working week in the office.
Last year, the Magic Circle firm announced that it would allow its employees to work remotely for up to 50% of the time. However, an insider told RollOnFriday that the firm will now “force fee-earners back into the office for a minimum of three days per week" from September. The source said the firm's decision was "on the basis there is not enough ‘buzz’ about the office” as many staff “continue to mainly choose to WFH”.
Freshfields is amending its policy to state that partners, associates, and trainees (in London and Manchester) will be expected to work at least three days in the office, a week. The guidelines for business services will vary by team, depending on work needs. RollOnFriday understands that the remote policy is interim, so it could change again at some point in the future.
As a comparison with other Magic Circle firms, Linklaters and Clifford Chance allow a 50/50 split between the home and office. Whereas Freshfields' new approach will mirror the 40% remote working offered by Allen & Overy and Slaughter and May.
The thorny issue of pandemic work practices, has seen many lawyers' eyes open to the time-saving pleasures of commuting to their study, but has created a rift with others who believe that supervision, training and communication is better in person.
Earlier this year, Stephenson Harwood prompted fierce reactions when it offered staff to work from home 100% of the time for a 20% pay cut. One lawyer, typing from their study in pyjamas, said: "SH is out of touch. My billable hours have increased while working at home and saving time on a very long commute. I can balance commitments as a parent and often log on in the evening to get the work done".
A subsequent RollOnFriday poll of over 4,500 lawyers and law firm staff revealed that there was a huge preference towards WFH entirely, or for the majority of the week.
43.7% of respondents said their preference was to work from home every day, while 26.9% said they wanted to work from home for four days a week. The remainder voted as follows: 13.6% respondents wanted to work remotely for three days; 9.9% for two days; 3.8% for one day; while only 2% said they didn't want any remote working.
And early results in the RollOnFriday In-House Survey indicated that clients were happy for their lawyers to work from home, when it suited them.
"It works for me, and it should work for them", said a senior in-house lawyer in the banking sector. "I totally agree that successful businesses require some face-to-face with your colleagues, to build relationships, learn", and carry out business development. "But I would also rather know my work was being done by a lawyer who is supported to work in a way that suits them and me. I won't always be in my office and I wouldn't expect any lawyer working for me to be forced to be in theirs".
However, a General Counsel for a real estate business still valued the importance of seeing their lawyers. "Working from home is fine on a limited basis but it does impact when we're trying to convene an urgent call - it always gives the impression of encroachment upon outside life," said the GC. "Also we like meeting our lawyers and talking things through face to face. It’s infinitely more productive."
And another downside to homeworking is that some lawyers believe it has led to longer and unpredictable hours, with "no off switch."
"Working from home has resulted in clients and other lawyers deciding that the working day is every hour of every day", said one City lawyer. "We're not doing more work, but we're constantly on call and I can't leave my laptop." Another solicitor said that a knock-on effect of WFH was "a creeping expectation" to "respond to emails on your annual leave".