As the world slowly moves on to the endemic phase of the coronavirus, law firms are trying to decrease their office space. According to a report on space reduction in The Legal Intelligencer, some experts estimate that law firms will reduce their space by upward of 20%-30%. One survey also points to 76% of respondents anticipating a decrease of space needs, especially in a post-COVID-19 environment.
It’s an interesting time for the industry, considering how law firm design has maintained the same model over the last 100 years. Now, it seems like we’re saying goodbye to the traditional law offices, with the individual rooms that symbolize status and success. Instead, the industry is understanding the new reality that coming into the office is no longer the default. Employees drop by the office as a deliberate choice to fulfill functions that can’t be performed remotely, such as team-building, mentorship, and collaboration. We anticipate that these efforts will engage fresh talent and next-generation clients.
In this article, we’ll offer three key ideas on the law office downsizing trend:
Support flexibility, mobility, and connection for your workforce
According to a study on law firm stress by PLOS, lawyers suffer from especially high rates of depression, anxiety, and substance misuse. Women, in particular, show higher rates of attrition; many female lawyers contemplate leaving their careers due to mental health problems, burnout, and stress — often related to work-family conflict. Legal workers not only want to work from home full-time after the pandemic, but that there is also a clear and pressing need for flexibility.
As lawyers have proved success in being able to work from anywhere, mobility should be factored into your set-up. Soften physical barriers for stronger workplace connections, but keep designated areas for confidentiality. Fluid, hybrid solutions will also be in vogue. Allow employees to “book” areas, like conference rooms, on an as-needed basis to save space. Private offices will likely evolve to hold reconfigurable furniture and tools to accommodate in-person and virtual collaboration. You can even have a universal-sized attorney office, with additional interior spaces for associates to encourage interaction.
It’s important to emphasize wellness in a law office. The environment should support performance and productivity: good air quality, daylight, biophilic features, and active design elements, to name a few. Moving forward, law offices should empower employees with choice.
Use technology in your downsizing strategy
Large organizations often lack detailed information about their workforce. You may have a basic idea on what everyone does and where, but you don’t really have a complete picture. As insights on workplace reshaping by LHH point out, intensive analysis can help firms determine which roles will be affected by downsizing. Roles will change, be augmented, and added with advances in technology. Combining data assessment and analytics will allow you to right-size according to employee needs.
There are many other ways to integrate technology for smarter downsizing. New legal technologies are providing ways to store information securely. You can eliminate libraries and unnecessary paper storage for more square footage, then replace these with an efficient solution for accessing documents. Cloud connections for video monitoring and project management software are also useful for support staff working offsite.
If there’s anything we can take away from the past two years, it’s that technology can help us make better use of our resources.
Reconfigure your office space for all stakeholders
We’re at a crossroads that seems to encourage us toward changing everything we’ve accepted as permanent over the years. There’s no better time to rethink the way we deal with space than now. One benefit of changing to meet the specific needs of your workers is that it gives you an edge in hiring. A write-up by Josh Blandi on smart recruitment points out how law firms are constantly on the lookout for new talent, while battling to retain their best and brightest — and competitive salaries may no longer be enough.
Work-life balance, an easy commute, and a hybrid workplace are attractive points for promising hires. You can think in terms of demographics like gender, race, or age; maybe size furnishing to fit female employees or adapt equipment to meet the needs of aging workers. Your clientele have also grown into managing tasks online. They could be happier with changes like self-scheduling, client document portals, online payments, and e-signatures on documents.
To summarize, you should reconfigure your office with stakeholders in mind. Link people through lounges, terraces, and eating areas for socialization. Incorporate the aspects of physical workplaces that remote work can’t offer — so your people have a reason to come back together at your office. Supporting these valuable interactions is ultimately the heart of a future-proofed workplace downsizing strategy.