I’ve been working from an office for 40 years, so why can’t others?
in Changing Jobs, Employers, Legal Profession

I’ve been working from an office for 40 years, so why can’t others?

Flexible working has become all the rage in recent months, as increasing numbers of employees have got very used to working from home for some or all of the time. It has become an absolute requirement for us to specify on every job vacancy whether there is scope for remote working and flexible hours, simply because so many employees now ask for them.

Home Working is Normal?

This would appear perfectly normal to most, after all, a good proportion of the workforce have been working from home for many years. In fact, as the author of this article, I have to confess to working remotely since 2000 when I set up the Ten Percent Group.

One of the key issues in relation to offering flexible hours and remote working is the attitude of well established law firm owners, particularly in the smaller sized SME sector, where the recruiting partner or manager is very often the owner of the practice.

Reasons for not working from home

Partners very often like the idea of offering remote working and flexible hours, but when it actually comes down to it, some of them simply cannot get their head round why anybody would want to work remotely from home rather than in the office.

We get comments such as:

“Why would they want to work from home unless they were looking to do other things other than work?” or, “they’ve got children at home so how on earth are they going to work with the children there – are they just wanting to look after their children and do a bit of work for us on the side?” Recent correspondence has been as follows: “I’ve been working from my office for over 45 years. I work from an office because I’m at work, and I just don’t understand why anyone would want to work from home, because I go to my office to work and then I go home to not work.”

Why people want to work from home

I think the attitude to work and the way we work has changed for some and this has partly been brought on by lockdown and work necessarily becoming part of everyday life.

Homeworking Example

Take a recent day in my life. I am a home worker probably working around 45 hours a week on average, sometimes a lot more, sometimes but rarely less.

I got up at 6.30am and did the school run. Whilst out I completed a five mile jog around a local country park, followed by a spot of gardening. After a morning work session I returned to school to collect a daughter who had completed a GCSE exam. On the way back we called in to a pet shop to pick up a new UV light for her tortoise! Later this afternoon I will stop work at 4:30pm because I go off and coach an under-7 girls football team for an hour, before returning to do a bit more work probably at about 8pm this evening, before finishing for the day around 9.30pm.

I have included this example not because I am a narcissist but but simply to highlight why flexible working is so sought after these days. During lockdown people have got very used to being able to do things as and when they want to, rather than having to fit them around their hours of work of 9am to 5:30pm. This is one of the key reasons people like working from home, because lifestyles have evolved to a point where work is not the only thing done during the day.

Institutional Thinking

Society is changing in its attitudes towards office hours. If you have been working in offices since the age of 18 and you are now in your 60s, to a certain extent you are going to be a little bit institutionalised in the way you see your work. I strongly suspect you will not view your time in the same way that I view my time, in the sense that I can go for a run in the morning and start work an hour later than usual and then do a little bit of work in the evening instead. Or at the weekend get up 6:30am to do a couple of hours work to catch up for the round of golf I played on a Friday morning. I think younger generations view flexible hours even more keenly.

Moving the conversation forward slightly I think that in part this relates to a need for younger generations of lawyers to feel that they do not need to work 60 hour weeks. There is a shortage of lawyers looking to take partnership at a lot of practices and a substantial number are more interested in a much more even work/life balance. This is possibly relating to the inability for most people in certain salary brackets to stand a chance of ever purchasing a house.

No Right or Wrong

Every business is different and business requirements are different, but I suspect over time it will become increasingly rare to see job adverts for 9am to 5:30pm roles and instead an increasing number of roles will have to offer remote working to fit around lifestyles out of necessity.

Business Requirements

Very often I think allowing remote working is a question of trust on one hand and managing client expectations on the other. As an employer can you trust your staff to work if they are at home and can the business be flexible with how client enquiries are handled?

Very often it is a bit of a learning curve in terms of client contact. If a client calls to speak to a member of staff who has popped out from their house to visit the garden centre, can colleagues manage client expectations sufficiently to enable this to happen? Something to think about carefully if you are likely to be recruiting in the next 12 to 24 months – it remains a key issue in recruitment that is not likely to go away any time soon.

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 20 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at www.ten-percent.uk. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk