Remote Working Will Leave a Hole in People’s Lives’ based on comments from Lord Sumption

22 October 2020

This article first appeared in the October 20th 2020 issue of Law.com International.

Whist I agree with Lord Sumption that just as there are many jobs that can’t be carried out remotely, for practical reasons, there are also certain personality types that are not suited to remote working.

However, in my view and experience where a job can be physically carried out remotely, by example those in a service industry, many workers actually prefer to work in this manner.

My view has been supported by the recent actions of numerous companies, in a wide array of professions and industry sectors, throughout the pandemic. Even the banks have stated that certain back office roles can and will be provided by home workers. The pandemic has enabled many companies to see the benefits that can be derived by both the business and by employees, by working from home,  and are actively stating that they will encourage remote working even after the pandemic.

Additionally, not only can remote working bring benefits to a business and its employees, but it can also potentially bring significant benefits to the customers of that business, if the business decides to pass savings made on overhead reductions to its customers, as opposed to deriving greater profits for its shareholders.

My personal experience puts me in good stead to comment on the benefits of remote working both from a personal and business stance.

Prior to becoming self-employed some ten years ago I worked in industry which required me to commute to work by train. So, in addition to my regular eight-hour day, which being in the legal profession often ended up being a 12 – 16-hour day, a further two hours would be added by a costly and cramped train journey.  This resulted in me only really seeing my growing family for “quality time” at weekends, and even then sometimes that was disturbed by the constant bleeping of my phone from incoming emails  – less than satisfactory for a well-balanced life.

However, some 10 years ago I became self-employed, working remotely as a lawyer and for the last six years contributing to building a global law firm that utilises some 250 (and growing) lawyers working remotely in over 65 countries. Until the pandemic hit, we had a small number of back office staff administrating the lawyers’ workload, but even those staff have since very effectively worked from home.  When we recruit our lawyers, many of which have worked remotely for years, we always ask why they want to work in this manner and the answer that comes back in the majority of cases is the same, as it was with me some ten years ago: “they want to get control back over their lives”. In short, they want a more flexible and better work life balance.

And have we seen a drop in productivity? Absolutely not, if anything productivity has increased. In our case, although staff such as administrators tend to work normal working hours so as to ensure that workload reaches our lawyers, the lawyers themselves may choose to work completely different hours so that they get quality time with family or take the odd hour or two off. As long as the work is completed in time and the customer demands are met, we are more than happy that our lawyers and support staff are enjoying their lifestyle.

We deliberately set up our organisation at the start for  remote working using cloud- based technology. We realised that if we operated from a low overhead base, in our case less than 10% of global turnover,  we could pass those savings back to our customers, without reducing the earnings of our lawyers This made us both competitive in the market and still able to attract highly qualified lawyers by paying competitive rates. As a result of the pandemic many companies, and their customers, are realising that having a prestigious office block in the centre of a major city along with the usual trappings that accompany such buildings are in most instances a burden and definitely not a benefit.

However, much of the success of remote working, as with any job, depends on the facilities that are made available to the remote workers to aid them, not only to carry out their relevant jobs, but also to allow them to interact with their colleagues. In our case, we provide a great set of cloud-based tools so they can do their jobs, but also communication aids to allow them to freely communicate by use of technology such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom.

But don’t get me wrong, we do not want to create a world where everyone stays at home as we know that social interaction is a great thing, and we will encourage a return to face to face meetings with clients and colleagues when the pandemic is over. Likewise, we will arrange regional meets with colleagues every quarter so that there is interaction. But what every one of our remote workers does benefit from right now and will continue to benefit from well after the pandemic, is more time with their true friends and their families.

About 360 Law Group Limited https://www.360lawgroup.co.uk/

360 Law Group directly challenges the traditional law firm model.  360 Law Group has proven to its clients and colleagues since 2014 that by effectively eliminating the costs of fixed premises and significantly reducing administration costs, legal services can be performed cost-effectively, and deliver substantial savings to clients without degradation of service. Its secure, state-of-the-art technology enables the firm to operate a distributed team of 250 highly qualified lawyers across 65 countries.

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