Our staff want us to be more flexible, say Baker McKenzie, Allen and Overy and Shoosmiths
Leading law firms with offices in Belfast are introducing new models of working in response to the pandemic.
The companies include Baker McKenzie, a multinational law firm with its headquarters in Chicago and a presence in more than 45 countries.
James Richards, the executive director of the business’s Belfast operation, said he was introducing a 2:2:1 set-up for workers.
“In practice, that means we expect the majority of us to spend, on average, two days per week working from the office, two days per week working from home, and one day per week from either location, depending on business and team needs,” Mr Richards explained.
The model will be introduced in several of the firm’s sites, but “each office has determined its policy, based on local needs”.
Mr Richards said: “We have had an agile working policy in place for over five years across the firm. The pandemic has acted as a catalyst for this.
“Our people have all done a great job at performing their core roles on a remote basis and have adapted well.
“It is clear that people miss the opportunities that in-person collaboration can offer, and as a business, we are committed to returning to an office-centred working model. Most of our team have benefited from the flexibility that remote working offers.
“In surveys of our people, they overwhelmingly supported the adoption of a hybrid model.”
Based half a mile from Baker McKenzie’s City Quays office, the law firm Allen and Overy, which opened in the city 10 years ago, is shifting to a 60:40 model across all its locations.
Patricia Rogers, its head of Belfast support services, said: “Flexibility is key, and people will be able to choose their own attendance pattern, provided it works for both clients and teams.”
The company hopes the new model will free up space and “enable us to comfortably accommodate our growth”.
Ms Rogers said: “The consensus from our [internal] survey was that colleagues wanted to combine the benefits of working from home and the office.”
The Belfast head of the national law firm Shoosmiths recently said her company wanted to focus on “output not occupancy”.
Gillian Crotty explained: “We were ready for home working even before the pandemic hit. Our preference is to trust our staff to deliver for clients, but to do so in a way that promotes a true quality of life, reflecting the diversity of our people.”
Ulster University’s Economic Policy Centre recently published a report predicting that between 41% and 60% of local jobs could, in the future, be completed remotely, at least in part.
The report said the findings “demonstrate the scale of change that may come in time as discussions about new working arrangements take place across Northern Ireland”. It added: “The results suggested greatest support for a return to the office for two to four days per week.”
Reduced overheads, improved staff wellbeing, fewer sickness days and better staff retention were among the more favourable aspects of hybrid working, according to employers questioned in the survey.
But the report also warned: “Consultees identified a range of concerns with long-term home working. These included the loss of collaboration between staff, morale and wellbeing of staff due to isolation.”