5 Questions Law Firms Should Consider Before Reopening the Office After COVID-19

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Wherever you worked in January of 2020, it’s highly unlikely your team occupies those desks today.

If you’re part of a large law firm, chances are your office is located in a multi-tenant building at the center of a major metropolitan area. If you work at a boutique firm, perhaps you typically occupy a smaller office space that’s scaled to your needs.

While the novel coronavirus appears to be waning in some cities, others are experiencing their first waves: while your team in Chicago debates returning to the office over email, the team in Houston is assiduously washing their hands between calls at home.

It’s a tough spot for any law firm, but you’re not alone in asking the question “What next?” Here are five questions to consider before you decide to reopen your offices.

1: How is remote working going for your employees?

The best way to find out how your employees are doing is by survey. If you checked in with everyone back in March to ensure that everyone had an adequate home office set up, it’s past time to send another survey out to see how they’re coping as the pandemic evolves.

In this survey, be direct. Ask everyone how they feel about working from home and whether they want to return to the office. In addition to asking quantitative questions about how much they miss the office, leave room for them to write in their questions and concerns.

By letting your team articulate their worries, you’re opening the door for your leadership team to demonstrate empathy. This is crucial if you’re truly invested in providing a workspace that’s psychologically and physically safe.

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2: If you reopen the office, how will your employees get to work?

In lieu of taking public transportation, many commuters will be opting to drive into work alone for the first time in years when they do return to the office.

To this end, you need to find out how your employees get to work and if their mode of transit will change in the COVID-19 era. The simplest way to get this information will be to include it in your survey.

3: How does remote work impact your client relationships?

As you consider bringing employees back into the office, it’s important to think ahead to a time when guests might be welcomed back into the building.

  • Are your clients still located where they were before the crisis?
  • Do they want or need to come in to meet with you?

If phone calls and video meetings suffice, don’t overthink the importance of getting people into the same room to talk.

However, if you’re finding that phone calls and video meetings leave gaps in communication, look for ways to address these issues before assuming that returning to the office will improve things.

Given that masks are now mandatory in many cities, having in-person meetings may introduce new barriers to communication, literally. It is tough to read facial expressions when half of your face is covered.

4: Do you have the digital infrastructure you need to operate securely?

There are two basic things you can require of your staff, if you don’t already, to help secure your team and their data online:

  • If using on-premises applications, operate on a verified private network (VPN). If you don’t yet require that your staff operate on a VPN, it’s likely that your firm is susceptible to a major cybersecurity breach.
  • Use two-factor authentication (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA) for all work-related devices: phones, computers, and email accounts should at least have 2FA in place. 

While these may sound like details for an IT department to iron out, these are high-level security questions worth any professional’s consideration as you think about returning to the office or moving your whole operation to full-time remote work through the end of 2020.

Data breaches and phishing schemes have been on the rise since COVID-19 cases began to crop up outside of China, and it’s critical that you put the right anti-malware and anti-virus software in place (and in your user agreements) before you change where your workforce is located again.

5: Is it necessary to return to the same office space?

This pandemic offers your team a chance to reassess your team’s needs.

If your firm is on the verge of growing or shrinking, this also presents an opportunity to test out what a different office space might look like and how it could help you save money. Whether you’re adding enough new team members to need more square footage or you’re looking to downsize, pro-working office space is available for rent in many major cities.

While co-working seems to be in its twilight days, there are new office rental options available for flexible teams that need private space to do deep work.

The added benefit of a pro-working contract is that it doesn’t require signing a lengthy five or 10-year commitment to secure a major downtown address. If you’re interested in making a change on a trial basis as the office landscape continues to evolve, a short-term commitment can play to your advantage.

It’s Time to Reconsider Your Office Needs

For many firms, it’s easy to feel like spending money on a beautiful office that may never feel safe again isn’t worth it. Fortunately, there are new short-term rental options on the market for law firms of all sizes that can accommodate those that are looking to become more nimble operations without sacrificing a great workplace experience.

And some of them look a lot like traditional offices. In any global climate, lawyers need private, secure space where they can execute on a tight deadline without compromising on confidentiality. Most home offices don’t begin to compare to the offices your team left behind in March.

Take this opportunity to step back and ask what value you and your team get out of having an office, then begin to reconstruct your “must have” list from the bottom up.

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