City firms are getting ready to welcome staff back to their offices, but it will be a strange new world of temperature testing, one way routes and skeleton crews.
This month representatives from 14 firms including the Magic Circle, Herbert Smith Freehills, Eversheds Sutherland, CMS, Norton Rose Fulbright and Pinsent Masons convened on a Law Society coronavirus committee to share tips on how to safely return to work in the office.
Fieldfisher set out its plans to initially allow only 10% of staff to return to the office, with staffing levels increasing over time to a maximum of just 25%. It will also impose a one-way system along corridors and in stairwells, along with temperature testing and staggered arrival and departure times to avoid rush hour crowds. Helpfully, its China office has sent face masks to the London HQ, reported the Law Gazette.
Hogan Lovells, which is not on the Law Society committee, will also be dishing out masks. But its will be ‘3-ply’ after the firm decided to donate its reserves of N95 masks to healthcare providers.
The age of the introvert.
Hogan Lovells said it was likely to require staff to wear masks in common areas, and to impose social distancing in meeting rooms. It also intends to reduce the number of people in the office by implementing a rota system “so you only come in certain days of the week”.
HogLove said it would also be “providing significant quantities of hand sanitiser”, which not too long ago would have been a strange promise to hear from a law firm.
The current conditions in Wuhan offer a glimpse into the dystopian future awaiting UK office workers. In the Chinese city, track and trace apps and frequent temperature checks bring the possibility of isolation requirements at any time, and a green ‘all clear’ status is coveted. At work, silent and swift eating in partitioned canteens is expected.
Meanwhile, in the UK, firms continue to seek to reduce their wage bills. Watson Farley & Williams has asked lawyers in its London office to sign up to a four day week with a commensurate reduction in hours, and has proposed extended leave on 30% pay, sources told RollOnFriday.
In a statement the shipping specialist said, "We have asked fee earners in London to sign up to a reduced hours scheme with a commensurate reduction in salary, for an initial period of three months. The firm has also offered a voluntary leave scheme. These are precautionary measures which will only be implemented following due consultation and depending on activity levels in individual practice areas/groups".
Guess who's driving.
The measures are in line with those implemented by some other firms, as are the steps being taken by Bird & Bird. It confirmed this week that it was placing salary reviews and promotions "on hold", and will only be paying out 50% of each bonus due in May.
A spokesperson for 2Birds said promotions and salary reviews "will be looked at in coming months as we are committed to ensuring our people reach their full potential, despite the current environment". She said the second half of the bonuses would be paid "at a later date".