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What Legal Workplaces Will Look Like in 2021

Legal workplace

The past year has put a tremendous amount of stress on most businesses around the world. With the COVID-19 outbreak, lockdowns, and social distancing, many organizations, including law firms, are busy redefining the workplace and their working models. While this is a natural evolution to unprecedented events, keeping up with all the economic changes, technological advancement and modern workplace trends can be challenging. In this article, we outline upcoming legal workplace trends for 2021 and beyond.

Remote work is here to stay

The office-centric approach that has dominated everyone’s working life for centuries was already starting to see cracks prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the rapid advances in technology over the last 20 years, many individuals were already questioning the “need” to be in an office 40+ hours per week. In fact, a study conducted by Buffer in 2018 revealed that 90% of respondents planned to work remotely for the rest of their careers and they encourage their friends to look into remote working as well. Additionally, the majority of respondents working remotely part-time (through flexible work arrangements with some days in the office) want to increase the amount of time they work remotely. Respondents stated that the two biggest benefits to remote working were flexibility and being able to spend time with family. The key take-away for those that want to be at the forefront of legal workplace trends? The vast majority of employees love working remotely and the balance it brings to their life.

Thankfully, managing a remote workforce is easier than ever. Emerging cloud-based technologies that focus on distributed teams (whether remote workforces or multi-location companies) provide employees with tools that make collaboration and organization easier, while simultaneously giving management more insight into (and, thus, control over) individual productivity and efficiency.

Flexible work schedules = increased employee engagement and lower costs

While for years the traditional drudge of the 9 to 5 seemed unavoidable, COVID-19 forced organizations that were hesitant about – or even adamantly opposed to – implementing remote work options to go entirely remote. In fact, 88% of organizations either required or strongly encouraged employees to work from home during the pandemic. The unique, forced opportunity of the pandemic led to experimentation in the traditional working structure. An experiment in New Zealand tested a four-day workweek over a period of two months, during the pandemic. The experiment found that employee engagement was up by 20% while stress was down 7%. The majority of employees that have been able to work remotely during the last year are clearly happier in their work, as evidenced by a recent FlexJobs report. That report provided numerous insights (both new and citations to previous studies) that every company would be wise to review, such as:

  • 80% of workers would choose a job that offers a flexible schedule over those that did not;
  • 80% of respondents said they’d be more loyal to their employer if they offered flexible work;
  • 30% said that they value flexible work over additional vacation time;
  • Job seekers are willing to take up to 8% less in salary if it meant they could work for a company that allows flexible work schedules;
  • Increased engagement – few missed days; less turnover; higher long-term retention;
  • Increased productivity; and
  • Increased diversity.

As a result of the pandemic, even the most traditional organizations have seen first-hand the benefits of giving employees flexibility, including allowing remote work at least some of the time. Many large and small organizations across the US and globally have stated that after the pandemic is over, staff will be allowed to work remotely full-time or a few days each week and/or be given more flexibility options. These ongoing changes will help companies – and employees – continue to benefit from cost savings realized during the last year. For employers, fewer workers in the office at the same time means offices can be smaller, saving in rent and overhead. Employees save money (and time) on lengthy commutes (in New York and California, the average commute on public transit is two hours per day), separate work wardrobes, and eating out every day. It also lowers the carbon footprint of both. These are legal workplace trends that clearly benefit everyone.

Generation Z is joining the workforce

According to Randstad, Generation Z (those born between roughly 1995 and 2010) made up 36% of the global workforce in 2020. Various studies reveal that Generation Z will bring significant change to the workforce, in many areas. Generation Z wants more independence, flexibility, and health insurance. They are true digital natives, having had technology at their fingertips since they were born. They want to make a difference, which plays an important part in whom they chose to work for and just how they fit in. Generation Z will certainly have an increasing impact on legal workplace trends for many years to come.

Companies who do not adapt and try to force these individuals, who came of age after 9/11 and during the financial crisis and COVID pandemic, to work within the centuries-old traditions will not farewell.

Focus on training and skills development

With a constantly evolving workforce, and with increasing numbers of digital native employees who want to make a difference, employee training and skills development should be part of your 2021 strategy. This includes adopting new technologies, including case-management systems, that will allow your law firm to easily respond and adapt to future disruptions (from inclement weather to major crises) and the evolution of the workforce.

Law firms depend on talented individuals to get work done and keep clients happy. High turnover rates and/or less engaged employees will only cause problems. Fortunately, according to Harvard Business Review, investing in training and skills development nurtures top talent and leads to lower attrition. Furthermore, enhancing an employee’s capabilities will only benefit your law firm as it improves productivity and efficiency.

The last year has made it clear that changes have arrived and are here to stay. Employers who recognize these legal workplace trends and seize the moment will ensure their long-term success.


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