Throughout the global COVID-19 pandemic, progress toward promoting wellness and work-life balance gained momentum at breakneck speed, and public health conditions forced corporations’ hands to invest heavily in measures to create efficient and effective remote work environments.
Beyond fear and unrelenting uncertainty, the pandemic issued in a new era of lucidity for workers, allowing them to focus on how they want to live their lives and what they really want out of a job. The past 18 months have provided many people with an opportunity to critically evaluate what and who is important in life. Above all, we learned how to make the best out of what is available. Now, as health restrictions abate, many people do not want to return to the previous status quo.
For these individuals, the pandemic was a boon, providing them with a chance to stay with the people they love and avoid the hassles of sitting in an office or cubicle under a supervisor’s scrutinising eye or punching day-in and day-out.
When faced with the choice between shifting back to the traditional workplace or pursuing more progressive career options, many people within the legal industry are saying goodbye to the daily grind.
While economic recessions previously had an impact on the global economy and led to income loss, this time was slightly different. The pandemic affected global enterprises and job loss, but it also forced most workers worldwide, concurrently, and sometimes precariously, to balance their personal and professional lives. Also, unlike previous economic downturns, a number of studies indicate that urban crime rates and pollution levels sunk as a result of widespread lockdown restrictions, even as unemployment rates rose.
According to a recent study conducted by Microsoft, “with over 40 per cent of the global workforce considering leaving their employer this year, a thoughtful approach to hybrid work will be critical for attracting and retaining diverse talent.” The same research identifies that more than 70 per cent of workers want flexible remote work options to continue, even while more than 65 per cent crave more in-person time with their teams.
In a recent interview, Gartner behavioural scientist Aaron McEwan told ABC’s This Working Life that "the movement of talent is so significant and so sharp that it’s different to probably anything we’ve seen in living memory."
We are forging a completely new path. Pandemics reshape society, Mr McEwan said, and this one has shifted the balance of power in the workplace: “It has rewritten the psychological contract between employers and employees.”
The legal industry’s pandemic taleAttrition is a serious issue for every enterprise with respect to culture and work environment, and law firms are no different. In addition to the cost burden, attrition can also have a huge impact on a brand’s value and reputation within the marketplace, as well.
In a recent article by Jessica Shea, an international reporter at Law.com, she wrote that “firms have placed critical emphasis on having human resource policies and tech infrastructures that can enable workforces to shift seamlessly to remote working and vice versa. The drastic changes all attributed to shifts in headcount.”
This impact has played out globally. In the same article, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas managing partner Cyril Shroff said that “pandemic has had a profound impact in the legal world. Asia is no exception. Managing attrition has been the biggest challenge. Whilst a good leverage ratio is critical to profitability in Asian markets, which are very price-sensitive, the larger headcount is becoming critical to managing the sheer workload.”
The widening disconnect between employers and employees about a possible post-pandemic return to the office could lead to a tsunami of resignations and increase worker disengagement, according to a report by global consultancy McKinsey.
Globally, employers must now tackle the implications of higher-than-normal employee attrition. About 42 per cent of workers who now perform their jobs remotely as a result of the pandemic said they will look for a job that offers options to work from home in perpetuity if their current employer forces them to return to the office, according to a March 2021 survey by financial services company Prudential.
Boon or bane for existing staffEvery time an employee accepts a job, they execute mental calculations about what they get in exchange for their labour, time, and effort.
During the pandemic, many employees moved from bustling metropolises to their hometowns – not just to avoid the costs of living in a top-tier city but also to spend time with their loved ones. And this is not limited to lawyers; paralegals and other professional staff also wish to support their employers predominantly through remote work. When employees’ cost of living goes down, employers can reap the benefit cost-savings in salary.
“I have started hiring from Tier B and C cities in India and passing the benefit to my clients,” said Nitin Kaushik, managing partner of Aeson Legal, a leading commercial law firm based in Mumbai, India. “Alternatively, I am saving on mundane office expenses and administration.”
What’s next for future lawyersWhile many law students traditionally gravitate toward big cities after graduation to chase the most promising opportunities, the pandemic has successfully demonstrated that lawyers can perform the work from nearly anywhere. All you need is a laptop, internet access, and your caffeinated beverage of choice.
The next generation of lawyers will have the advantage of a better position as they can negotiate with prospective employers. They do not have to travel to a new location for job, because now the opportunities are at their fingertips.
Microsoft, in its recent study, stated that “Talent is everywhere in a hybrid work world. Furthermore, remote job postings on LinkedIn increased more than five times during the pandemic, and people are taking notice. Forty-six per cent of remote workers we surveyed are planning to move to a new location this year because they can now work remotely. People no longer have to leave their desk, house or community to expand their career, and it will have profound impacts on the talent landscape.”
In an interview with Reuters about the key trends in shaping the recruiting market, Andy Colon, Chief Talent Officer at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, said that “there is a change now as a result of a pandemic, where there's a greater emphasis on flexibility for lawyers, and firms are trying to define what that means, and what the extent of that flexibility could be. We have to view it in the context of the generational differences that exist between junior lawyers, who are coming up in the practice of law that have greater expectations of flexibility. So, finding that perfect balance between the before and the after, it's certainly a challenge.”
Simran, an aspiring corporate attorney and third-year law student from Amity University, India, said she prefers remote work environment than an in-office job after graduation. “I have spent two years studying from home and have realised how effective it will be to avoid traffic. I prefer flexible and remote working for the increased productivity and the economic benefit.”
There has been a lot of buzz around employee wellness, balance, and controlling attrition. Firm leaders have always struggled with the very question of how to best retain top talent. Now is the time for leaders to think holistically and pass on the benefit of flexibility to their employees and clients.
Treating employees like humans and not machines can break the age-old misconception that money is the only motivator.
Disclaimer: Every attempt has been made to ensure that the information in this article has been obtained from reliable sources, Novum Learning, LPI nor the author is responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information, as the content published here is for information purposes only. The article does not constitute a comprehensive or complete statement of the matters discussed or the law relating thereto and does not constitute professional and/or financial advice.