Navigating the Future of Work
By Omar Taleb
Here’s the not-so-happy, or happy (depending on who you ask) end to the story: remote work is here to stay. Weeks after #WorkFromHome, or #WFH, started trending on Twitter in March, the giants of Silicon Valley decided that their respective workforces would be in no rush to return to the office. It didn’t take long before the rest of corporate America started following their lead.
For months, the tech world has been hearing the phrase “great accelerator,” that the pandemic has sped up the prevalence of pre-existing trends. We were never going to be ready for a pandemic, but we’ve never been more ready for such a seismic shift. Just a year ago, lawyers would have scoffed at the idea of holding meetings over Zoom, but video conferencing has emerged as the very glue binding the professional world. The internet and other information technologies were built for this, and they’ve proven capable of handling the near-complete pivot to digital.
Efficiency Durability is Key
The age-old concern managers have for working remotely is that employees are incapable of being productive without supervision; it’s not that employees couldn’t work from home, but that they would be less efficient. In 2020, maximizing efficiency is no longer the priority – companies are optimizing themselves for durability.
For growth-stage startups, durability means doubling down on existing revenue streams and laying the groundwork for measured, consistent, scaling. For mature companies, half the battle is redesigning in-house roles, systems, and processes, but these processes are already in a continuous state of evolution at a startup company, which means ensuring workflow flexibility isn’t nearly as difficult a task.
Visual workplace management tools, such as monday.com, or Asana, have become vital for supervisors to measure both individual and team performance. Legalboards offers a workplace management tool specifically for legal practitioners to be able to conceptualize and execute daily workflows. What could have been seen as a novelty service for law firms in the past has become a necessity for practitioners servicing clients from a remote setting.
These tools allow for the implementation of KPIs (key performance indicators) so that founders or project managers can keep track of productivity in a remote setting, and foster cross-pollination as team members overlap in their deliverables. The ability for co-workers and teams to collaborate is something Legalboards promotes as a core component of their service; this is vital where it’s impossible for co-workers to look over each other’s shoulder in the office. Features like the Time Tracker take on greater relevance when there is no clear distinction between time spent at home and time spent clocking in hours at work.
(Remote) Company Culture
A report from McKinsey from May 2020 details what they call the “post-COVID-19 return”, advocating for accelerated digitization and maximizing revenue opportunities. Equally as important, however, is the discussion of the “social contract” between employers and employees – the spoken and unspoken rules that govern, and ultimately define each workplace.
Law firms will not only need to invest in technology to continue the smooth transition to longer-term remote working, but in the well-being of their staff, who continue their high-pressure jobs under the added stress of the pandemic.
Rigid hierarchies just will not work in a situation where there is no centralized location for those in charge to meet and make decisions. Flat organizations that are designed with open channels of communication, regardless of how big or small the team is, are better equipped for a work environment where teams aren’t working next to each other in an office or incubator setting.
For startups, team members often wear more than one hat and fulfill multiple roles, further highlighting the need for a culture of cross-pollination. At law firms, An open company culture is imperative, and the responsibility is placed on senior partners to establish a dialogue in which associates are empowered to communicate the troubles that may arise with the overlapping of their professional and personal lives.
The Return to Work?
Founders Forum, a UK-based network of startup founders, conducted a survey in which 80% of the respondents fell in the Generation X and Millennial demographic. Since the shift to working from home, 90% were able to accomplish their core deliverables remotely, as they would from a co-working space, and this doesn’t factor in Generation Z, a new class of workers even more prepared for digitization than their Millennial predecessors.
What this tells us is that there won’t be a return to normalcy that sees the professional world revert back to a pre-COVID scenario. Flexibility is becoming a prized asset in a setting where companies are realizing that productivity is not dependent on shared office spaces.
The future “return to work” could be two to four days a week, or in rotations, where certain team members alternate in the time spent back in the office. The incubation system, where incubators offer startup companies meeting and workspaces, could be adopted by other companies in some form, as management realizes that traditional offices may not be necessary where a “third-space” working environment would be sufficient.
Contrary to the doom-and-gloom of the Twittersphere, #WFH is not this horrible ending to the story. If anything, it’s the beginning of a new chapter, where companies are forced to take a more humanist approach, prioritizing their employees over be-all-end-all streamlined efficiency.
Navigating the future of work will take what is more easily said than done: communication.