I have noticed something of interest, to me anyway. As most of us have moved to working from home, in combination with school closures, the work experience has become far more casual. We hear and often see participants’ children and pets during our meetings, and unlike a short while ago, this is not considered unprofessional. In fact, it often brings much needed levity to our now more monotonous workday. I see clients in T-shirts while videoconferencing and have since followed suit. Like a lawyer who keeps court apparel behind the office door, I now keep a button-down in my home office should I need to “dress up” for a more formal meeting. And yes, I always wear pants!
For those who are making it into the office, dress codes are similarly relaxed or on limited display. This all begs the question – is the quality of our work suffering? So far I have heard no indication of that. In fact, I am seeing anecdotal evidence of people working longer hours and developing ever-more creative ways to provide better than normal results. Some of us have converted the time we used to spend commuting into additional hours to work (or at least some of our commute time).
Are we weathering this storm? So far so good. Social distancing has allowed me to see my children much more than I normally would during the workweek. It has kept me from seeing friends and clients, but my FaceTime, Teams, Webex and Zoom timers are off the chart. I am using videoconferencing tools for scheduled meetings that in the past were strictly audio calls. I think this is bringing me closer to colleagues and clients even though my in-person time with these people has not actually decreased over the last month – we were always working from different locations.
This work-related video chat model is bleeding into my personal life. Just last night I shared drinks with a friend via Zoom. He was on his couch and I was sitting in my home office; I dare say we were both more comfortable than had we gone out to an actual bar. For some reason, my bartender was still a bit stingy with his pours.
Despite my usual zombie-apocalypse paranoia, I know that we will make it through this trying time. We will use the lessons and habits learned to support more extensive and permanent work-from-home policies. We will all likely change the way we think about offices and the need to be there every day, as well as the inherent cost of space for every employee every day.
Even now we are seeing a change in the way organizations are looking to the future. A newly formed law firm that we have been assisting has already determined that instead of renting and maintaining office space, it will build out an infrastructure that will support its attorneys and staff virtually. The entire IT infrastructure will be hosted in the cloud, including virtual desktops. The users within the firm will be able to receive the same desktop experience regardless of their location.
Up until recently very few law firms had embraced this decentralized approach, but the mandated stay-at-home orders have shown us that the traditional office model may not provide the same value we have always attributed to it.
While I suspect that most organizations won’t abandon the idea of a physical office location, many will continue to embrace this newly normalized model as it fits within their requirements. The value proposition is tremendous. Just scratching the surface, there are savings in rent, overhead, insurance and coffee. There may be an increase in employee morale too as they are provided greater flexibility and enjoy a reduced commute.
Will we continue to focus on the things that matter and less on “professionalism”? I hope so – if we make sure that professionalism only refers to how we dress and from where we work and not how we treat each other and the level of service we provide our clients.