Flexible working – the COVID-19 effect!
I have always been a huge campaigner for flexible working practices across the board, whether that is home working, part time working, compressed hours, job sharing or any other flexible approach to our working lives.
Part of the lockdown I suspect for others as well as myself has involved some time clearing out the cupboards over the weekends and I was intrigued to find a Kent on Sunday article I was featured in back in 2007. I was quoted back then as saying “Kent is suffering from a legal brain drain because bosses are simply too inflexible!” and went on to highlight the benefits of flexible working. At the time I was working two days a week in the office and a half day a week at home, something I started after my eldest child was born in 2000. At that point I had 3 children, the eldest being 7 and the youngest being 1 and, quite frankly, had I not been able to work in this flexible way, I would have had to give up my role as a family lawyer.
Many of my fellow professional working colleagues at the time were not so lucky and a number of my class mates from law school gave up their legal careers to move into other areas that were more “family friendly” at the time. I was pretty lucky and actually finding this article made me reflect on how much has changed since then generally and now, with the lockdown, overnight!
Before Covid-19 hit, most law firms in 2020 were offering flexible working practices. Some had formal policies, other’s were on a case by case basis but there was a huge change from when my children were tiny and the firm I worked at was quite “cutting edge” for its approach. Interestingly, as I read back over the article, I saw that I even back then recognised that this was not a gender issue and that flexible working needs to be for fathers and other carers too. Gradually this is also improving and changes to paternity law and employment law have helped.
Over the years I have promoted flexible working continually – feeling that as someone who has worked flexibly for so long I could be an advocate and role model. However, overnight with Covid-19 this has now become reality for all of us not just within the legal practice but beyond. It will be interesting to see how things progress when the lockdown ends and we return to “normal”. Without doubt many businesses are able to function without their staff in the office all the time and I hope that we will take the opportunity to learn from the lessons we have had to learn overnight to keep our businesses running and adjust our working practices permanently.
That being said, I also think coming into the/a office environment is for some a much needed link to the outside world and it should be a question of choice and that is as much a part of the flexibility as being able to work at home.
We need to recognise that our staff are all individual and that they should be able to choose the working method that works best for them. That might include working at home part of the week or it might not. What Covid-19 and the lockdown have shown us is that it is possible to maintain our businesses without being in the office all the time. We can run efficiently and effectively and we can work remotely and using the various technological advances to enable us to do so. However, camaraderie and getting together are still important and, even though video conferencing has its place, I for one am looking forward to seeing the people I work with together in person again!