Learning from lockdown
As I write this blog, I am now entering into the 8th month of working from home full time. Having flirted with a brief return to the office last month, with the firm having taken all of the necessary measures to make the office as safe for staff and clients as possible, I was only able to get two days back at my desk before a new surge in cases of Covid-19 saw the government introduce tighter measures on the movement of people, urging people to once again work from home if they were able to do so effectively.
Over that 8-month period, my wife has started a new job and has not yet been to her new office or even met anyone she works with in person. My two sons have grown bored of remote learning and having yearned to get back to seeing their friends at school, were finally granted their wish last month when the new academic year started. How much longer they are able to do so remains to be seen, but closing schools again surely has to the be the last resort, as our children’s education has been so badly effected already and it will take a Herculean effort for both our children and their schools to make up for lost time.
However, out of this whole experience, I have seen a lot of changes within the legal profession, with many firms using the fact that so many changes have been forced upon them to grab the bull by the horns and implement longer term changes that they perhaps were previously somewhat tentative about trying or, in many cases, were not even considering. Having been forced to dip their toe in the water, some firms are now making drastic changes which, prior to Covid-19, they may never have even thought about.
For example, I have read about firms which are considering closing central London offices entirely, which for many years they were no doubt paying top dollar for, with a view to either relocating outside of London, downsizing to much smaller offices, or having staff work at home permanently. The legal profession is a very old and traditional one, built on foundations of time recording and being seen to be in the office. I remember many years ago when I had just qualified in law and managed to get my first job in London. I was amazed at the competition to be the first one in or the last one to leave each day, or the late night working when you got home from the office and even (before children in my case) coming in to the office on a weekend.
What would those senior lawyers from 20 years ago have made of this new era of remote working, paperless working and employers now placing such importance on their staff’s mental health and ensuring that they have and maintain some sort of work/life balance? My early experiences of working in law showed me that there was not always a huge amount of trust in staff, even though the time you would record and the costs you would bring in would be a very clear indicator of the effort you were putting in. However, this has changed drastically over the years, with most employers now realising that the more trust they put into their staff, the more this is repaid with effort and hard work. From what I have seen myself and heard from others, productivity has actually gone up over the last 8 months, as commuting time has been eradicated for so many and that time has been converted to being able to work on your cases.
These are certainly new times, albeit forced as a result of the most horrific pandemic in any of our lifetimes and it will be very hard to ever find any silver lining around this period in our history which has seen hundreds of thousands of deaths, businesses closing down, jobs being lost and so many other adverse consequences.
So, have we learnt lessons from the first lockdown, as the threat of a second hangs over us? For me, the biggest lesson I have learnt is that structure is vital. After years of waking up just before 6am to be in the office very early, I suddenly found myself able to have an extra hour or two in bed and then roll downstairs and onto a chair in front of my computer – a 30 second commute at most, even accounting for some traffic on occasions with children or dogs in my way on the stairs. My only physical movement during the day was the odd trip to the kitchen to get something eat or make another cup of coffee and then at the other end of the day, I would take the dog for a walk and that was my only exercise.
I started to feel unhealthy, unfit and lethargic and soon realised that, for the sake of an extra hour or so in bed, I was losing out on so much more. I therefore started to set my alarm again for a 6.00am start, taking the dog for a long morning stroll in the park before coming back home, getting the kids up for school, having a hearty breakfast and then sitting down to start work at 8.00am. Suddenly those 2 hours which I had been spending in bed were being put to much better use and I felt that I had already achieved so much before I even sat down to start working. This in turn had a huge and positive impact on my productivity, focus and attention throughout the working day and this is a routine I have maintained ever since.
Of course, discipline is required when working at home, as it is still important to separate your work life from your home and family life, especially when your workspace and your living space are one. Many times during the first lockdown I would tell my wife “I am just going to check my emails” and then I would find myself 4 hours later the only one in the house still awake and even the dog looking at me with complete disdain.
There are still evenings when I might do some work if the opportunity arises, but that will only be if it is not to the detriment of my family and if a rare period of quiet time in an otherwise manic family home gives me an opportunity to deal with some general admin to keep things in order. It does seem, however, that this may continue to be the new norm well into the new year, so the key for me is learning what we did well and what we did wrong the first time around and making sure that if we are fortunate enough to still be able to do our jobs from home, we continue to do so professionally and to the absolute best of our ability for all of our clients, whilst also always taking care of both our mental and physical health.
*Disclaimer: The information on the Anthony Gold website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. It is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.*