Littles management series: Working from home works for Littles

I have written previously about the importance of working agile. For me, it was a no-brainer for any successful business before COVID (for those who can think back that far). Now, it’s absolutely essential, not only from a productivity perspective, but also in terms of ensuring the health and safety of staff, clients and the community.

In fact, it seems that employers are going to have a lot less choice in the matter. In the UK, which is about six months ahead of us in the vaccine race and establishment ‘COVID-normal’, mandatory ongoing measures are being introduced to ensure that come winter, all employees who can work from home must work from home. The same will likely happen here at some stage. Moving forward, there are likely to be snap stay at home orders issued to particular workplaces or buildings as COVID cases are identified. Firms are going to need to think about how they keep staff safe when they are in the office, or out and about meeting with clients. This includes, among other things, adapting the ‘4 square metre rule’ as the norm, temperature checks, rapid workplace testing, and adopting vaccine policies.

Ensuring not only business continuity, but improved service quality through these changing circumstances is a top priority for Littles.

The pressure is on firms to put in place objective performance measures. This is a good thing for everyone. Managers don’t get to force employees to come into the office because they just don’t ‘feel’ that they work well at home. It doesn’t make sense when viewed through either a productivity or health and safety lens. For Littles, this means metrics focused on ensuring that our people are giving clients the best possible legal experience, service and care. And no, that doesn’t mean counting keystrokes.

Of course, there’s a big difference between firms that are genuinely agile, and those that have it forced upon them, kicking and screaming. As ever, the firms that embrace work from home as the new normal, and put systems in place to make it work for them and their clients, will be the winners. Littles employees can work wherever they want, with all the tools that they’d have access to in the office. There’s still an office (and a very nice one, at that) awaiting them if they want to use it, lockdowns permitting. And in terms of hours worked? If our clients are happy, we’re happy.

The luddites that can’t bear the idea of their employees being out of their line of sight, lest they take an extra seven minutes for lunch or make work calls whilst pushing their child on a swing, will not. I have heard of extremely senior executives within organisations wanting to make staff access to work from home arrangements contingent on a WHS inspection of their home and workspace. A young lawyer I spoke to who works for a large corporate told me about how she works from home two days’ per week, but must (MUST) still go in for three. The kicker? When she does go into the office, no one else is there. What is the point?

As with all new things, there will be naysayers. However, you’ll forgive me if I approach this with some scepticism, as the proponents of ‘the office’ staying at the centre of working life are not necessarily at the cutting edge of workplace tech. A frighteningly large part of Australia’s economy (and most of the super industry) is premised on investment funds being able to pack tall buildings with commercial tenants. The Fin Review, which these days appears to be operating as a promotional newsletter for the Big 4 and their clients, has been shrieking about the perils of work from home for workplace ‘culture’. Come on.

Does this mean that culture isn’t important? Of course not. We are proud of the distinctly ‘Littles’ ethos that we have built over many years. Making staff feel like they are part of a community that shares successes has been crucial to where we are today. But do we owe that to bricks and mortar? No. It’s because we hire people who are resilient, adaptable and ready to lead, whether it’s from the office, or via Zoom (just make sure the volume’s turned on).

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