Return to work: How has it changed?

With remote working being one of the most significant changes implemented by firms globally due to the Covid-19 pandemic, return to work strategies are a hot topic due to the conflict of opinions from Partner through to Associate levels across the UK and US.

Although most firms globally were forced to adopt a 100% remote working model, it seems that despite impressive productivity levels and performance, this has not been enough to implement permanent flexible working policies, although a minority have. Firms are making more money globally as well as billable hours increasing due to less commuting time eating into individuals’ working days.

From our own experience in the market, it looks as though UK firms are embracing said flexibility with less resistance, whereas the consensus in the US is that the majority would like employees back in the office, although there are still a small portion of firms offering flexibility.

Will there ever be a true work-life balance for junior employees?

An article published by Business Insider highlighted the dangers of a 100% remote model, stating “Junior lawyers at the London office of a major US firm worked more than 14 hours a day on average during lockdown in early 2021” which demonstrates the dangers around extreme flexible working policies that do not allow for employees to find a happy medium in their work life.

Naturally, firms can support junior employees by creating hybrid models as well as educating employees on how to structure their days more effectively. However, even the most robust return to work schemes can be difficult to implement, especially due to the surge in work as the UK and US legal market returns to a “new normal”.

Training and development must also be considered when looking at return to work policies. Firms have to ensure that regardless of what flexible working agreements they have in place, junior employees are receiving adequate training and development to progress their careers.

What is happening in the UK?

Generally, UK firms are approaching remote working with an open mind, and have used Covid-19 as an opportunity to see what ratio of remote and in-office work. A great example published by Legal Cheek is law firm HFW, which revised its salary and bonus structure for employees as well as introducing a new agile working policy. It gives employees up to 40% of their week to work from home, with variations of this being implemented in their other locations.

The model, which was only introduced in the summer of 2021 was devised to ensure that client needs are still prioritised, whilst also taking into account what employees, particularly juniors, are looking for in the workplace.

What is happening in the US?

The US has taken a similar approach to remote working, with a minority asking for everybody in full-time, but a majority are still in a transitionary period. This should not, however, be viewed negatively, particularly as each firm has to find a way of working that doesn’t just serve employees, but also the firm’s goals. However, some US firms are looking at flexible working, a great example being Shearman & Sterling.

Legal Cheek reported that the firm allows for Monday’s and Friday’s to work remotely across the whole group, and instead implementing set days in the office to focus on deep work and also ensure that productivity doesn’t fall by the wayside.

How does this affect Talent Acquisition?

From our experience in the market, candidates are becoming increasingly more interested in what law firms have to offer in terms of their flexible working policies. Due to Covid-19, a lot of junior candidates have suffered from remote working, so although it is now becoming a requirement, there also needs to be reassurance from firms that junior associates will be supported and trained.

There is also a lot more movement within the market as the UK and US market returns to normal. We are working with our clients to provide them with valuable competitor insight so they can attract and retain the best talent in the market, whilst also staying up to date with the latest remote working trends.