Are the days of working from home coming to an end?

Posted in Latest News on 31 Jan 2024

Might 2024 be the year the working-from-home experiment is killed off by law firms desperate to get people back in the office?  

Since early 2020, when the COVID pandemic forced vast swathes of the economy into working from dining room tables and kitchen counters, most workplaces have allowed some or all of their staff a flexible approach to being in the office. Some have the option of days of their choice; for others, it is one or two set days a week. However, we here at Douglas Scott Legal Recruitment have been seeing more stories of law firms who are now encouraging people back into the office more and more, with some even going so far as to end home working all together. Is it the case that working from home might be consigned to antiquity?  

Several stories we have recently seen make it clear that firms are looking to move more towards having people back in the office. A recent question posted on the Legal Cheek website from a junior lawyer at a London law firm said that where they work, they’re essentially back to five days a week in the office, while both Slaughter & May and Clifford Chance have started monitoring how many days their employees are in the office per week. It’s clear, then, that some firms want to bring people back into the office full-time. This makes financial sense for many firms: rent rates on properties are rising, so they need to make the most of these spaces, especially now energy prices are dropping again. Many feel it is necessary to improve workplace culture: the most recent Law Firm Culture survey from Major Lindsey & Africa revealed that of those surveyed, 52% of respondents felt that the culture shifts at their firm had been negative since they had started there. Many attributed this to trying to strike the right balance between remote and in-office work, with people feeling like they are missing out on events that typically allow co-workers to get to know each other in a relaxed environment. However, more home-working makes people less likely to know their colleagues.  There was even a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that working from home can lower productivity by 18%, so firms are certainly concerned about any drop off in productivity. 

However, many candidates are still look to work from home. The Law Firm Culture survey found that people were still happy to work from home, offering a more significant work/life balance than pre-pandemic. Many respondents also feel that this focus on returning to work five days a week is riding roughshod over their job satisfaction, work/life balance, and, even in one extreme case, their mental health. Even firms like Clifford Chance are still looking to offer flexible working-from-home policies, even if they are monitoring people’s attendance to achieve 50% in-office work over a two-week period. Many still see working from home as one of the most significant benefits to their job: our latest salary survey shows that 27% of nearly 4000 respondents still sees it as their most valued benefit. Firms must bear this in mind when looking to reduce the number of days working from home. And, with no significant drop-off in productivity reported in the news, it seems that if firms want to move towards less homeworking, they will need to work with their staff in convincing them of the merits of being in the office.

There’s certainly a lot of buzz in the legal world currently about the so-called ‘end to working from home.’ Many will see it as a chance to return to how things used to be and allow a thriving office culture again. But others will see it as against allowing people to strike a better work/life balance and feel more productive. It remains to be seen which side of the argument will win out, and we’ll be following it closely to see which it will be. 

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