Rethinking the Value of the Workplace

Rethinking the Value of the Workplace

Solicitor Apprentice, Maia Crockford, considers whether young professionals are likely to be disadvantaged by remote working.

Maia Crockford

COVID-19 has undoubtedly taken the working world by storm and completely shifted the dynamic of professionals in the workplace. It has forced the hand of those professions, including law, that were perhaps seen as slightly behind the times, to accept remote working as a norm. Such an unexpected, unprecedented event such as a pandemic, paired with remote working within the same 4 walls of your home for now over a year, is certain to force adaptation and reflection both in employees and employers.

The advantages of remote working for those who have families and are able to comfortably work from home are obvious. Family time has become a lot more accessible and some are seeing the positive effects of having the time, due to a lack of commute and flexible working hours, to spend with their children. This is inevitably going to directly affect priorities. For those that are lucky enough to have a ‘home office’ or a comfortable set up with two monitors, why would they want to return to the office more than, say, once a week solely for the purpose of catching up with colleagues? It is a wonderful thing that people are recognising the importance of quality (personal) time at home, whether that be with family or not.

However, we must also consider those who, like myself, are in more junior roles and are likely to have relocated to city centres for the purpose of being closer to the office. Being forced to work from home, when your home is a two bed flat share or a house share, really isn’t glamorous. We’ve been forced to set up monitors on our dining tables or in our bedrooms and expected to produce the same level of work. The situation can be difficult to navigate if the people you live with are university students and are all home whilst you are trying to work. On the other hand, should they have similar jobs, multiple professionals attempting to work and take calls in such a small, confided space can be just as tricky. It’s uncomfortable and, quite frankly, not sustainable in whatever shared situation you find yourself in.

If the practicalities of remote working itself weren’t hard enough for those who find themselves in similar positions to the one described above, the longer term effects of not going into the office on development are prominent.

The question to be asked is: where do we draw the line? If we honour the needs of all of those who find themselves falling into the above two categories, it is likely to result in a situation in which juniors make up the capacity of office attendance with a huge lack of senior presence. This will, I’m sure, have a devastating impact on development and progression for those who learn an incredible amount solely via osmosis. The importance of overhearing partners the phone with clients and networking with colleagues in-person should not be understated. Furthermore, concerns around supervision are starting to arise with juniors lacking the usual access to inperson support and the complete elimination of the option to pop their head around the desk of a colleague to ask a quick question that doesn’t require a whole phone call.

In any event, the dynamic is changing. Employees are starting to demand more of their current/future employers and it is highly likely that candidates will not be accepting roles with employers that don’t support their flexible working requirements. The power is shifting. Mental health is, rightly so, becoming a priority. Employers are realising the demand for flexible working schemes and are being forced to revisit their usual working policies.

I think it is safe to come to the conclusion that there cannot be a conclusion; it is not viable to apply a blanket assumption to a group of individuals that are all in vastly different situations with different requirements and needs. If there is anything to take from this shift forced upon us by the pandemic, it is that we should make conscious effort to be considerate of others and their