Linda is in the office. Linda is getting promoted.
Practice leaders at Pinsent Masons have been given authority to set the limits of hybrid working, with the result that at least one has already told his team to attend the office at least three days a week or risk their pay and promotions.
The mandated attendance level was communicated to Pinsent Masons' Risk Advisory Services lawyers this week in an exercise likely to be repeated across private practice as firms grope their way to a home/office mix they deem sustainable. Several US firms such as Sidley have already moved to a compulsory four day office week.
“We all know the value of regular office working”, wrote the practice's Group Head, although he provided a reminder for the benefit of team members who might have forgotten in the fog of homeworking bliss.
“It leads to and drives effective client service, innovative business development, stronger professional and personal development and better interactions and collaboration, which allows us to nurture our culture and deliver on our strategy."
“This all depends on strong connections, which is ultimately underpinned by regular in-person interaction", he explained.
Too few of his lawyers appear to have reached that conclusion, however. “Whilst I see many of you attending the office, we need to ensure that attendance levels are regular and consistent”, said the partner, who has required his lawyers to work from home “for no more than 40% of our working time”.
The solicitors didn’t have to read between the lines to understand the other benefit of coming in to the office at least three days a week: “As with any required expectation, this will be a factor in considering your overall performance level and when making decisions around promotion and reward”.
One lawyer's ideal hybrid working mix is another's nightmare, with preferences differing between colleagues in the same team and at the same level. It means there is no easy dividing line between juniors and seniors, and factors such as 'the view from my country house' mean plenty of partners are also happy to stay away.
The latter issue is perhaps why Pinsent Masons' head of risk specified that a minimum 60% office attendance “is not just an expectation of team members – I am expecting the same from partners”.
Sources claimed that Pinsents was imposing three days a week "by stealth", but a spokesperson for the firm explained that was not the case, and that it was not implementing firmwide mandatory office attendance.
“Our support for remote working pre-dates the pandemic and we believe that our people and clients benefit from a combination of office and home-based working", said the spokesperson.
"As we all continue to find our way to balance the advantages and challenges of hybrid working, we have encouraged our teams to develop an approach that is good for the business, our teams and our people, recognising that different teams operate in different ways”, they said.