Research published by legal publisher Thomson Reuters shows fewer than one in 10 lawyers want to return to working in the office full-time, compared to 22 per cent before the pandemic hit. 

The survey of over 2,500 law firm staff, as reported by The Law Society, revealed over 50 per cent wanted to work only one or two days in the office (42 per cent) or had no desire to return to the office at all (10 per cent). 

It would be hard to deny the benefit of remote working to companies and their employees, with over half (52 per cent) of employees across the UK law sector saying working from home has improved their work-life balance

With Boris Johnson finally announcing the official lifting of all COVID-19 restrictions from face coverings to isolation laws, more firms will be reopening up their doors over the coming weeks. However, research results, such as Reuters’, have presented major challenges for law firms’ plans to return to office and how it could impact lawyer satisfaction, retention, and recruitment.  

After two years of working in the confines of their homes, lawyers and the rest of the UK workforce have adapted rather well to the conditions we initially struggled with in March 2020.  

But is remote working a one-size-fits-all model? 

Multigenerational workplaces 

Research has revealed a split between senior male lawyers and women, juniors, and general counsels, indicating that senior team members prefer to work from the office while the latter groups prefer to work from home.  

However, other reports illustrate that employees’ eagerness for office culture – where they can collaborate and socialise with colleagues after two years of isolation – is on the rise.  

At a time where more focus, investment and effort is going into achieving diverse and inclusive workplaces, attracting and retaining talent of all ages and backgrounds, multigenerational workplaces are far more common than before. At current, there are up to five different generations in a workplace at one time, spanning from Baby Boomers to Gen Zs.  

It is therefore appropriate that law firm leaders and employers consider this when it comes to their remote working policies. More senior partners and staff members may often have other life commitments that require working from home, such as children or caring responsibilities. 

Younger team members may value the team camaraderie of the office environment, where team collaboration and teamwork fuels their learning and development. 

Firms that are looking to onboard a swathe of new young talent may well benefit from introducing more office-based work to aid progression. 

Mental health 

The pros and cons of increased, long-term flexible working is still being debated widely, with Kevin Ellis, Chairman of PwC, voicing doubts that staff “need to be in the office or with clients for three days a week to observe, to network and to socialise.” 

Research has revealed 39 per cent of legal professionals said working from home has had a negative impact on their mental health, with almost half (46 per cent) saying they feel isolated. 

Over 1 in 4 said they feel the strains of imposter syndrome and self-doubt more so working remotely than they did previously. While there is overwhelming support for fully or mostly remote work, the negative impacts on mental health are abundantly clear, and employers should consider tailoring workplace policies appropriately. 

Remote working has its benefits, but it is important that it is not applied as a one-size-fits-all blanket as it doesn’t suit every role or for that matter, every employee.