May 28 2020
How one law firm are preparing for a return to the office
These unprecedented times have thrown up challenge after challenge. With the government starting to ease restrictions, for many law firms the next challenge is how to get the office prepped for the return of their staff. I was able to catch up with Nigel Coates, Deputy Senior Partner at Russell-Cooke to get his thoughts of life in lockdown and the steps that his firm are taking to prepare the office for life after lockdown.
How have you found working from home?
Personally, I have found working from home quite difficult because inevitably home isn’t set up as a formal work station and you don’t have the access to support equipment or materials, and it is certainly easier working with two screens rather than one. As a property lawyer the biggest challenge has been the collapse of the market, although this has released the pressures of on-going transactions it has been replaced by the anxiety and pressures arising from the lack of activity and the need to examine operational costs carefully.
However, the additional time at home with the family means that the garden is looking better than ever and I have been able to pick up my art brushes for the first time in a longtime!
How do you think the legal industry has reacted to these unprecedented times?
Generally, I think the industry has responded very well. Video conferencing tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams have been put to good use, so much so that they are challenging perspectives on the need for travel in the future and have some firms considering the fixed overheads of their premises. Slater Gordon for example have decided to close their London office at the end of their tenancy .
What are some of the challenges that working from home brings?
Remote working does raise difficult issues in relation to the delivery of supervision and training for junior lawyers and makes it more difficult to assess the productivity and effectiveness of support staff. The physical disconnection of people inevitably leads to loss of certain efficiencies. However, that has to be balanced against the extra time that is available to people by virtue of not having to commute.
In the immediate short-term there is likely to be a resistance to the use of public transport whilst firms feel the need to protect their working family from the risk of infection and the inevitable disruption that would flow from a breakout of the virus. Most firms are also having to grapple with the necessary measures to enable their offices to be safely occupied. Leading to the need for detailed protocols in relation to social distancing, allocation of work stations and the use of communal facilities. At present there remains a high degree of nervousness which means that it is difficult for firms to push their staff back into their previous normal working patterns.
Firms are also having to be very aware of the mental health implications arising from isolation and feelings of anxiety and these issues are best dealt with by good open and understanding communication. The development of clear strategies to deal with the Covid outbreak and the effective communication of those strategies are likely to improve people’s confidence that appropriate risk assessments have been made. Firms do of course have a legal duty to comply with government regulations and are being encouraged to publish the risk assessments that they have made.
What practical steps are Russell-Cooke taking to ensure the safety of their employees?
Firstly, we have put in place a series of protocols which insist on no working stations being occupied that are closer than 3m apart, with a detailed assessment of those work stations that can safely be occupied. For as long as social distancing measures remain it is likely that we will have a maximum of 60% occupancy to meet those rules.
We have devised a system whereby each member of staff has to certify that they are complying with social distancing rules and that neither them nor any member of their household is showing any Covid like symptoms. Members of staff are encouraged to work within their own “workpod” and are requested to wear simple cotton face masks in the office when not at their desks and movement between floors has been temporarily banned unless absolutely necessary.
Use of kitchen and tea points are limited to the use of one person at a time. Any equipment used, by way of printers, photocopiers etc. are to be sanitised before and after use with materials that we are providing.
On return to the office, each member of staff is issued with a welcome pack consisting of face masks, personal hand sanitiser and sanitising wipes.
These measures are designed to safeguard the community and increase confidence that our working environment is safe.