One of the unintended consequences of the pandemic is that millions of people have had the opportunity to try out working from home. The circumstances were far from ideal, but pre-lockdown employment surveys almost always showed a big demand for flexible home working.
Last year, in a blog on work / life balance in the legal profession, I reported on a survey showing that 40% of lawyers thought that flexible working would be the biggest benefit when choosing a law firm.
Now that we have all experienced home working, can we safely conclude that it improves our work / life balance?
A recent survey featured on Legal Cheek seems to confirm that working from home has generally been seen to be a positive. It revealed that, “More than half (52%) of employees across the UK law sector say working from home has improved their work-life balance for the better, while just over a quarter (26%) feel more motivated working remotely.”
So - it would appear a resounding “Yes” is in order.
But, on the other hand, the same survey uncovered some more worrying conclusions: “39% of legal professionals said working from home has had a negative impact on their mental health, with almost half (46%) saying they feel more isolated.
"Imposter syndrome and self-doubt are rife, with more than a quarter (27%) feeling these more so working from home than they did previously.”
The working from home contradiction
These findings are not unusual. This contradiction has been unearthed in several studies and surveys since the first lockdown. People, in general, seem to prefer working from home, but they also believe that isolation presents the real risk of negative mental health issues.
Clearly, flexible working and working from home are certainly here to stay.
In an interview with Financial Times, Tom Shropshire, the Global Head of US Practice, Linklaters London/New York, concluded that, “We have proven that this works in a way that we probably didn’t expect.” He personally appreciated being spared the gruelling schedule of flights and spending more time with his family.
If home working is the new normal, then it is important that employers learn how to make it work for their employees. In fairness, employers were deprived of the opportunity to implement wellness policies because the lockdown happened so quickly.
This is borne out in another survey which found that less than half (44%) of workers in the legal profession felt their employer had helped them to make adequate provisions to work from home in the long-term.
The need for time to adapt
Almost overnight, the UK workforce had to adapt to a vastly different way of working, and although most welcomed the change, it was inevitable that it would throw up uncertainties and concerns. It’s no wonder that the surveys on home working are laden with contradictions.
With proper planning and the benefit of experience, the pitfalls of working from home can be effectively tackled.
And once the dust settles, legal professionals will be able to enjoy the upsides of a more balanced work / life relationship resulting from flexible working.
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