Making Work, Work

We already know the modern work paradigm is shifting; sitting at a desk in an office from 9 to 5 is no longer the default, and the rise of flexible working is gaining more attention. A recent YouGov survey has revealed that only 6% of working Britons now put in those hours. Instead, 73% work either part-time or with some form of flexible working arrangement (Deloitte and Timewise study).

Flexible working is no longer just a special condition for some people in work. Essentially it’s a way of working that suits the needs of employees of all kinds. This could mean starting and leaving the office earlier or working from home a few days a week. But as Anna Whitehouse of Mother Pukka Flex Appeal campaign explained: “Flexible working doesn’t mean working less or slacking off, it means finding hours that suit your life and how you best work. And it’s not just an issue for parents, either – it’s one of the few issues that both the unionists of the TUC and the employers at the CBI agree on: flexible working is better for staff, and it’s better for profits.”

The benefits are indeed tangible and wide ranging. Vodafone conducted a global survey about flexible working back in 2016, revealing that companies who had implemented agile strategies:

  • Increased company profits (according to 61% of respondents);
  • Improved productivity (83%);
  • Positively impacted company reputation (58%); and
  • Improved staff morale (76%).

Flexi-work also has a knock-on effect on recruitment. As Clare Butler, recruitment expert and Global Managing Director of Lawrence Simmons Recruitment, revealed to Catherine Gleave in our recent piece on “The Future’s Flexi”, employers need to be open-minded about their approach to flexible working going forward because it can make all the difference when it comes to talent acquisition, with many contracts won and lost over this very issue. There is a push towards respecting the work-life balance across the legal profession and if companies push back, they risk losing out on some serious talent. This is especially true regarding working parents and millennials for whom workplace culture, of which this plays a part, is often more important than traditional status indicators, like salary.

Rights to Flexible Working

Companies may not actively offer it as part of recruitment, but after six months in a job, every employee in the UK has the right to request flexible working. While companies aren’t obliged to acquiesce to a request, they are obliged to consider it “in a reasonable manner”. Are you thinking of pitching the case for flexi working to your boss or trying negotiate (or even lay the groundwork for the future) on accepting a new position? Read the LexisNexis piece on the Flex Appeal and #BeBoldforChange here. It’s got the answers to two of the most common – and increasingly outdated – objections: “If we did it for you, we’d have to do it for everyone!” and “You’ll be less productive.”

Even though some companies might dig in their heels, relying on the predictable old arguments for not implementing agile working policies, flexible working is on the rise – both in the country, and in the legal profession, marking a significant turning point for the industry in 2019. As more companies are working agile policies into their contracts, the legal market as a whole is thriving, with even more talented individuals either entering or returning to the workforce. As Catherine Gleave notes: “Not only do women feel more empowered to return to the workplace on their own terms, the rising popularity of flexible working means that a varied work structure is the standard rather than a special requirement, thus preventing any bias against candidates who require a more flexible work schedule.”

Working Smarter

In addition to injecting even more talent into the marketplace, flexible working is just one of the ways the modern legal workforce can work smarter, rather than harder. And it’s being facilitated largely by the advance of technology. Taken at its most basic, laptops and smartphones mean that lawyers can be online and contactable 24/7, no matter where they are in the world. But add to that the plethora of cutting-edge legal tools, such as case management software, and it’s clear that legal professionals can remain connected to both their clients and colleagues without being physically present in the office. They can execute tasks, securely access shared files, issue and review contracts, send out invoices, and much more.

There’s no more putting it off: the legal market is evolving and the traditional working model is going to diminish. As the market changes, different, more agile working models are on the rise, from portfolio careers to flexible working. These models can benefit both employee and employer, as companies are beginning to realise and act upon, and as seen in the continued success of organisations such as Obelisk Support, which recently joined the FT Future 100 UK list as a diversity leader – the only legal company to do so.

But for those considering taking a flexible approach to work, there are undoubtedly challenges, from the risk of succumbing to procrastination to figuring out how to engender trust at work and stay on top of client care. But at its core there are certain things to do in the run up to taking the leap:

  • Be realistic about what you can do on a flexible schedule and take the time to figure out how and where.
  • Find a forward-looking company with a positive work culture.
  • Research the right tools and technology to facilitate working efficiently out of the office.
  • Discuss it with your team, both full-time in-house and other flexible workers, to make sure there’s buy-in and understanding.
  • Stay flexible and carry out reviews of your arrangement. Be prepared to adjust and change as you go.

For more practical, easy-to-implement solutions and suggestions, read the LexisNexis article on the Future of Law – “Flexible Working for Lawyers: How Far Can You Flex?

Matthew Taylor, RSA
Making Work, Work

At The Attic, we recently caught up with Matthew Taylor, director of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) to talk about innovation and the future of the workplace. This topic is particularly timely as the government just responded to Matthew Taylor’s Good Work: Review of Modern Working Practices and published four consultation documents. At a time when the legal profession is increasingly turning to AI and automation, we discuss the meaning of innovation and how this will impact how we work.

What is the role of innovation in society and what should it be?

Innovation is about facing new challenges – whether they come from technology, climate or politics – and providing new solutions, but we should also continue to support human progress. We’ll always meet new challenges and we’ll always want to achieve more in life, but innovation should aim to bring a step forward for humanity.

The RSA has been involved with innovation for 260 years. This has involved, amongst others, different ways of working. There was no such thing as the welfare state when the RSA was founded in 1754. Ultimately, we are about ideas and actions behind social progress. As a progressive organisation, we continue to push progress. We do it via three key themes that we believe have the most impact for people: Creative Learning and Development, Public Services & Communities and Economy, Enterprise and Manufacturing.

We also have a community of 29,000 fellows, who support us with their donations, forming networks and taking initiatives that the RSA support.

What is the best innovation you have seen recently?

The most innovative work that I’ve seen recently is not a product, it’s understanding an issue in a different way. This is the RSA’s work on economic insecurity. Economic security can be a powerful and effective way of understanding social problems.

What is the worst innovation you have seen recently?

In terms of worse innovations, a lots of things are pretty awful, such as products that damage the environment without doing much. About 10 years ago, I was particularly dismayed when I entered in an electronic shop and saw a digital photo frame. This is a photo frame that you have to charge and all it does is showing a rolling slideshow in people’s homes. To me, that just adds to the amount of junk in the world. More recently in 2017, I learned about a platform for retail workers that would portray shop workers as self-employed. It’s a terrible idea.

Talking about innovation and work, how did you see the future of the gig economy and of professions in general?

I am happy with the idea of the gig economy but we need a level playing field. The gig economy should not be about the capacity to avoid paying taxes. It should be about making sure that innovation and productivity get rewarded and to get to that stage, we need new policies. How can we have a sustainable fiscal and regulatory framework so that people can work? That’s an interesting question. The government commissioned a report on modern working practices in 2017 and some of my report touches on the gig economy.

Regarding the future of professions, it is pretty clear that they won’t disappear. However, the nature of professions will change because of artificial intelligence and robotics. It will be less about having and transferring knowledge, because machines are better at this than we are, and more about human creativity and communication. To which extent professions are altered remains to be seen. In The Age of Automation: Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Low-Skilled Work, the RSA discusses how robotics and AI could lead to a better way to work with the implementation of certain safeguards.

In your opinion, how will innovation drive productivity improvements?

Innovation should change productivity improvement, but companies that genuinely innovate should drive the wave of change and not, for instance, companies that bend the rules. Take Uber. Uber needs to work in a framework that’s in line with global policy goals and that treats people fairly.

Can innovation be beneficial to the low-skilled workers and how?

Yes, I’ve got a good recent example. Tesco has a new app that will allow staff to work wherever they want to work and that’s a great example of good innovation that enables people. Along those lines, I’m particularly interested in ‘worker tech,’ digital tools that enable the self-employed to support each other via platforms. It is my belief that worker tech will give these people a voice and help them organise themselves so they can get together, make demands together and communicate together.

What resources/programmes does the RSA offer to the professional community?

We are a professional community, with our 29,000 fellows, but we also bring inspiration, ideas and routes for engagement to them. We work hard to make it feel like the fellowship is not a private members club, but a group of people interested in working together and making the world a better place.

 

Media

The Legal Week Intelligence Top 20 Legal IT Innovators 2016 report profiles industry experts, thought leaders and innovators who are the driving forces in shaping how the future of the legal industry will look.

“I was looking for a new solution to legal outsourcing, which seemed to be all the rage at the time,” explains Denis-Smith. “What I could see was a huge number of talented women leaving law firms. Leadership and technical ability don’t have anything to do with one another but in law firms they merge as one and the same.” She argues that the long hours culture can be problematic for people with young families: “In that environment, you’re measured not for your strengths but for your weaknesses: how many hours you’ve been in the office rather than what you have achieved – a willingness to compromise everything for work.” Obelisk was conceived with the idea that “outsourcing doesn’t need to go abroad, it can be going into people’s homes – a return to the cottage industry”.

Read the full profile here.

Making Work, Work

A recent report showed that 81% of people would look for flexible working before joining a new company. But businesses in the western world are still slow to respond to the demands for flexible and remote work infrastructures.

Last week, we were looking at the details of a report on The Competitive Advantage of Flexible and Family Friendly Working, compiled by My Family Care. The report looked at the way that people across a variety of industries work and how they want to work. It provided some very interesting insights about both employees and employers. According to the results, a whopping 81% of employees would look for flexible working options before joining a company. In addition, over half of respondents (53%) would prefer flexible work over a 5% salary increase. Naturally the trend is slightly stronger amongst parents and carers, but overall the majority of Millennials and those over the age of 34 would like to work flexible to some degree (51% and 71% respectively).

And while 32% actively promote flexible work practices in their business, 68% admit they don’t, while 61% of companies involved in the study say they allow flexible working to take place ‘under the radar’. There is still the impression that a high number of business leaders recognise the need to embrace remote and flexible work patterns. Perhaps, because industry cultures are slow to respond to the growing trend, they are reluctant to take the leap and invest in a proper course of action. Indeed, this would be backed up by another recent study by Epicor that found companies in the developed world are slow to invest in technologies such as sharing platforms, and cloud storage that support remote and flexible working patterns. Emerging markets are proving to be a step ahead, with 75% of businesses in emerging markets agree that flexible working practices and technologies are significant in helping retain key people (compared to 62% of respondents from developed countries).

With our focus this month on the time and productivity gains to be made from the 1 Million Hours available to legal businesses from our pool of talent, statistics like those above still come as a surprise. Our global, mobile society is hardly a new or emerging trend, so we would expect to see more businesses actively investing and promoting agile and remote working practices. Those who are doing so would appear to still be pioneers of progression.

Get in touch to be part of the changing legal landscape and see what you can gain from working differently.

Family & Work

When work doesn’t fit with the multiple facets of our lives, we are in danger of losing sight of ourselves

We can sometimes make the mistake of going to extreme lengths to keep ourselves in the career loop when life changes. We try to do things the same way we did before, allowing little room to focus on developing particular skills and industry knowledge. Working endless hours in the office with no real gain, or working at home with a baby yet to settle into a decent routine, while you simultaneously try to get to grips with all the accounting and filing that come with life as a newbie freelancer, does not make for a happy productive mix – the latter being my own experience. It’s true that even when taking the leap to being your own boss, you can still fall into the trap of working to benefit others, rather than figuring out what works best for both of you.

When I look back on those early days, however, I am grateful as it made me realise what I was able to deliver, and pushed me to pursue steadier, on-going projects that really captured my interests. Realising things weren’t going well allowed me to focus and truly develop, and organise my time more effectively, rather than flying by the seat of my pants each day. I’ve taken leaps of courage, and in many ways this has made me a better mother too, as my own routine is more settled I can focus better attention on what my daughter needs from me – simple things such as prolonged conversation, planning ahead for costume parties and all those other important things in a school child’s life.

Perspective and clarity is needed to make those leaps of courage and push yourself outside the comfort zone. You need to be able to look forward (and indeed back) to make those defining decisions; and you can’t do that if you’re only living in the urgent now. And it’s an ongoing process: to be able to periodically take stock to see where you are, where you want to be, and what you need to do to get there, requires work that fits with you and your life. Having that headspace and emotional wellbeing is vital; without it you cannot be in the mind frame to study, train or even decide on the next project that’s going to take you to the next level in your career. There is no point barely scraping through bits of work that don’t contribute to a bigger picture – you don’t do your best work, progress is slower and it can actually be less financially rewarding, as the lack of confidence that comes with it can leave you not feeling in a position to ask for better rates. Perspective makes you able to see your strengths and what you are truly worth, so even if you are still caught up in the daily grind, it really does pay to take the time you think you don’t have to assess whether you really are working in the most effective way – the way that allows you to be as present as possible in every aspect of your life.

For some, there is still the sense that if we allow life to ‘get in the way’, we’ve let ourselves and others down. We can forget that all of life is what makes us, not just our work, as important as that is. We also forget that we are not alone in that situation, that everyone is juggling something; be it young family, care for elderly relatives, spouse illness, or numerous other priorities. The more we are honest and communicate with one another about these things, rather than pretending to be super human, understanding can be found and better teamwork and productivity follows. On the other side, as an employer if you provide a workplace that allows people to work in harmony with the changes in their lives, you attract talent that you would otherwise miss out on, preventing everyone else from getting stuck in the cycle too.

Of course it will never be perfect: there will always be a period of daily fire fighting or unforeseen circumstance. But if it seems like every hour of every day is taking that shape, it may be time to step back and look at what needs to change. You could be amazed at where a little bit of perspective can take you.

Making Work, Work

The future of work is already human. We just need to be more human, more of the time – Roger Steare, corporate philosopher

If you were following the #workischanging event hosted by CIPD this week, there were some interesting insights into the future of work, with flexible working and technology being two of the main topics discussed. Mobile technology, computerisation of traditionally human led job roles, reinventing the office and office culture, and the rise of the freelance economy; all these developments show our working world is a much different picture to the 9 to 5 cubicle office life that we still have the tendency to see as the traditional default.

What these changes really have at the heart is human endeavour and wellbeing. Shaking up office culture is all about creating the conditions to get the most out of workers, by making them happier in work and more able to balance their work and personal lives.

Obelisk has also been hearing what people would do with the time made available to them by working smarter and more productively in a flexible environment, as part of our #MyMillionHours campaign. We’ve looked in detail at the economic gains that can be made by reactivating talent and allowing people with fluctuating personal lives a way to continue working in harmony with those priorities. The numbers don’t lie, but what the discussion keeps coming back to is the prioritisation of worker’s wellbeing enabling everyone to do a better job at home and in their work, and remain happy and committed to the job they are in.

Expecting people to be boxed into work conditions that don’t accommodate their real, everyday lives should have long been dismissed as counterintuitive, yet it has been an accepted normality for so many for so long. By treating workers as human first, and shaping our changing working landscape around human life patterns and emotional reactions, while developing technology that enables us to do our jobs better, more efficiently and in more locations than ever, that acceptance gives way to innovation and change.

The very nature of modern business is fast paced, requiring businesses and people to be agile,  proactive, and reactive, with weekly and daily changes to projects, marketing campaigns, customer service responses, legal contracts and much more. Bringing in freelance workers on a project by project basis helps fight those daily fires, and allows businesses to bring in the specific talent and expertise required at the time. By doing so, a pool of latent talent is being tapped, and people who previously felt locked out of work or unable to progress their careers find their skills and experience reactivated, with their confidence and drive increased as a result.

It doesn’t need spelling out what an increase in confidence, wellbeing and ambition can do for the economy and society as a whole. Injecting 1 million hours into the legal sector can bring a much needed improvement to working patterns and wellbeing within the industry. Work for the majority of us is our passion – for many it is a vocation – and the feeling when it no longer is compatible with our lives is a devastating one. Seizing the opportunities presented by the changing working landscape could mean that no one has to experience that feeling again, and that talent can be brought back to life and used to make the lives of clients easier too. Changing work for the better is a matter of putting humans at the centre.