Published Monday 15th June 2020

In a new open letter to legal & professional services firms, Jason Adderley asks – What’s the rush?

In my last letter I suggested that firms are beginning to question the conventional wisdom guiding their real estate strategy. Unsurprisingly I received several messages from my former colleagues in the property sector claiming that “we don’t believe working from home will become a trend” and “we’ve seen times when home working has been particularly in vogue, but then the appeal of working in a traditional office resurfaces.”

Just a day later Mike Tumilty COO at Standard Life Aberdeen told 4,900 UK employees not to plan on coming back to the office in 2020, and even property services firm Avison Young has told its 1600 employees that they can work from home for the rest of the year.

And then I spoke to the Operations Director of a London law firm whose been under intense pressure from Partners to reopen the office. His response? “What’s the rush?”

Well, quite.

I wonder how your schedule’s working out? What are you doing at 7:30 when you’d otherwise by rushing for the Central Line? How does it feel actually having dinner with the kids?

Me – well, yes I miss London. But I don’t miss the West Coast Main Line. I (terribly) miss nipping in for a quick tapas lunch at The Port House, but my dinner at home tastes so much better when it hasn’t been plated up and kept warm in the oven for a couple of hours.

Indeed, in a personal epiphany a senior Partner in Birmingham firm said to me this week that “real prestige is a screen in my garden room, not a corner office on Colmore Row.”

This could be revolutionary. Why?

Well the Law Gazette tells us that Hogan Lovells will “ask staff to wear masks in common areas. They will restrict the number of people in lifts and implement physical distancing in meeting rooms. A rota system will mean that employees only come to the office on certain days of the week.”

Meanwhile, Fieldfisher said only 10% of staff will return initially, gradually increasing to 25%. The firm plans to introduce a one-way walking system through corridors and between floors, and will allow flexible arrival and departure times to help staff avoid the rush hour.”

If you just consider, for a moment, how ruthlessly efficient and dehumanising many offices were before Covid 19, imagine working under these new constraints for an indeterminate period.

But before we get carried away with the romance of the home-office, what about your colleagues who don’t have the luxury of the garden, library or spare room? These will often be your younger colleagues starting out on their careers or employed in support services – Trainees need guidance and mentoring; how on Earth does criminal Pupillage work with both Chambers and the Courts closed?

Essentially, the office will still be that necessary hub for many. It will be crucial to “reboot” your premises in a way that will allow a safe and productive return to work.

Yet this poses even more questions for us to return to in future posts. What will support services look like? Who will deliver them? Where from? What are the implications for service, costs and risk?

As I mentioned in my previous article, which if you haven’t seen it you can find here, all of these unanswered questions about the future mean firms need to be working now to prepare as best they can. Having a flexible strategy in place will be incredibly valuable as you’ll be in a stronger position to adapt to changing behaviors and expectations in the future.

If you haven’t got something in place already, or it’s not something you’re really focusing on at the moment, I would challenge you to consider the long term sustainability and protection such preparation can have on your business, particularly in terms of the well-being of your existing staff and clients.

Until next time.

About the Author: Jason Adderley, joined ERA after a 15-year career in the commercial property development and investment industry, and works with a diverse client base comprising solicitors, actuaries, chambers, patent attorneys, accountants, surveyors, consulting engineers and recruitment consultants.

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