Going 'remote-first' in the legal industry

Our partner Tesco Mobile discusses how a permanent shift to 'remote-first' working could be a good thing for the legal industry:

The global pandemic has forced many businesses to fast-track their digital transformation plans in a bid to keep their employees working effectively, and the legal sector has certainly endured a steep learning curve since the world changed in March 2020.

While technology has been prevalent throughout the industry for years, the sudden enforced switch to a remote-first approach has, understandably, exposed some glaring issues.

For example, a study by the Civil Justice Council and the Legal Education Council, which surveyed 1,077 people in early May, found that almost half (44.7%) of remote court hearings were blighted by technical difficulties.

It’s not just the courtroom where the impact of COVID-19 has been felt: the day-to-day dynamic between solicitor and client has changed dramatically, and many legal professionals have found home-working challenging.

Nevertheless, there’s a sense that the past six months or so have been a precursor for a more permanent shift towards digital-first working models, and actually, this could be a boon for the legal industry.

Reliable connectivity is the ‘new normal’

Despite a relaxation of lockdown measures, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirmed on 1 October that 24% of the UK workforce was working remotely.

Although this was a sizable drop from the 47% of employees working from home in April, it’s still a significant number and further underlines the need for businesses to facilitate fast and reliable lines of communication.

A study by CCS Insight found that almost 65% of senior executives across Europe and the US expect to increase their IT spending in the coming year, with security, cloud services, remote collaboration technology and network connectivity being the biggest priorities.

Platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack have played a pivotal role in keeping businesses running in recent months, and this added mobility has, in many cases, resulted in increased productivity.

According to research by Cardiff University and the University of Southampton, 70% of people said they got as much or more done working remotely than they had done in the previous six months. Only 30% of those surveyed felt their productivity had dipped.

Striking the right balance between productivity and employee wellbeing

Any upturn in productivity is clearly a positive in such an uncertain climate. However, it’s imperative that businesses don’t lose sight of employee wellbeing.

For many legal professionals, long hours and burnout are issues that long pre-date the pandemic, but it’s clear that the time saved on commuting and travelling for face-to-face meetings has resulted in workers across multiple industries logging more billable hours.

The National Bureau of Economic Research found the average worker globally is spending an additional 48.5 minutes at their desk each day since remote working became the norm.

While technology has enabled people to get more done, unified communications also give businesses the power to create a social environment that allows staff to connect with their colleagues in a non-work capacity and access useful wellbeing and mindfulness resources.

Putting cybersecurity front and centre (without slowing things down)

Some businesses have coped with the dispersal of their workforces better than others. If you want to keep your firm running seamlessly, having a robust cybersecurity strategy undoubtedly makes a big difference.

Whether staff are using company-issue business mobile phones and laptops, or you’ve introduced a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy, sensitive data is now leaving the confines of the office more frequently. This is a particularly pressing concern for law firms, as data breaches can have severe consequences.

Data protection simply must be a top priority, but businesses need to introduce technology, processes and training that allows employees to work securely and without disruption. The research by the Civil Justice Council and the Legal Education Council suggested that legal professionals who have been accustomed to creating paper-based files have had to quickly adapt to new ways of working.

For example, the study showed that sending e-bundles by email has caused problems (predominantly because of file size), and many respondents felt the introduction of cloud video platforms would make it far easier to view and share documents during hearings.

Having the right technology in place from the outset can help to keep data secure and remove any blockers to productivity at the same time.

How to effectively introduce a remote-first approach

There are huge potential benefits of adopting new technology and working practices that give employees greater freedom – if managed correctly. It’s also important to underline the difference between ‘remote-first’ and ‘remote-friendly’.

While remote-friendly is a key step in the steady transition from a traditional face-to-face office setting to a more fluid digital way of working, remote-first is an all-encompassing cultural shift whereby all day-to-day processes and key business decisions are tailored for remote employees first and foremost.

Here are some parting tips from the head of legal at Tesco Mobile, Reena Sedov:

  • reliable connectivity is key: remote working is only effective if people can go about their business without interruptions
  • remote working must be empowering, not constraining: if employees feel they’re expected to work longer hours because they’re not in the office, productivity can nosedive
  • security must be top priority: companies may allow their staff to work from anywhere they wish, possibly even overseas. This presents unique cybersecurity challenges, and it’s crucial that everyone understands how they can communicate and transfer files securely
  • futureproof your business by digitising traditionally face-to-face processes: as employee appetite for flexible working grows, businesses need to plan how they can bring everything from recruitment to new staff onboarding online

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