Updated: May 24, 2022
This insight blog will explore;
Current return to office trends in the legal sector
The impact of the midweek-hump on Facilities teams
How do I get staff to return to the office?
Opportunities to right-size your real estate
The legal industry does not appear to be immune to the midweek-hump. According to our observations, office attendance remains underwhelming in this sector with Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays being the most popular days to attend the office. Occupying 10 million sq. ft of office space, the top 100 law firms in London are reviewing their real estate options and according to one Cushman & Wakefield analyst, a 10-15% reduction will be being considered by most law firms over the coming months.
Case study – what is the reality now?
Over the past 6 months a top 50 Legal Company has been conducting high level utilisation surveys on their office occupancy. Using swipe card access they have attained data that will help them manage their future real estate strategy.
The Partnership at the firm were keen to get staff back to the office and recommended that employees returned 3 days per week as a minimum. This was not dictated but was encouraged as a way of returning back to normal and making better use of their real estate.
Here are the results;
ClearSpace have analysed the data and some key conclusions can be drawn:
Following Christmas break (2021) the weekly pattern of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday aptly named the ‘mid-week hump’ clearly emerges in February 2022 leaving Friday as the day of least attendance closely followed by Monday.
This pattern was not altered by the relaxing of COVID regulations from the 24th of February.
On average, non-fee earning departments recorded higher levels of office attendance.
So why haven’t staff returned?
A wide-reaching survey by Global Architects Unispace (Introducing the Reluctant Returner (unispace.com)) pointed to a number of factors for low office attendance:
Over four-fifths (86%) felt they had a better work-life balance when working from home
79% felt they were better off financially
58% of teams felt their productivity had improved with remote working
56% felt their journey takes up a significant part of their day
With employees reluctant to return, Facilities teams are struggling to advise or predict the office provisions required over the coming months. Offices are sitting idle for majority of the week and although this presents an opportunity to rationalise real estate, this is impossible with an uncertainty around the permanence of remote working and the fact that workers are attending the office on the same days.
How do we get people back to the office and do we need them?
With the recent announcement by Rees-Mogg regarding civil servants Jacob Rees-Mogg calls for civil servants to return to the office - BBC News being widely condemned and out of touch with the mood of his staff, do we really need people back in the office? Legal Companies have not seen a massive decrease in productivity and one Legal Company has noted “no marked increase in their errors and omissions” for those newly qualified.
Starting salaries for newly qualified lawyers has hit an all-time-high (London NQ lawyer pay hits record £161,500 - Legal Cheek) which is being driven by the influx of US law firms. The need to accommodate new employee wishes will become critical to attracting the right talent. There are also generational differences with 69% of 18-34-year-olds wanting to be either in the office full-time, or have a hybrid approach that is mostly based in the workplace. This drops to 59% of those aged 35-44 and 56% for those over 45 (Introducing the Reluctant Returner - unispace.com).
What should my next move be?
Step 1: The first step is to fully understand your current situation. There are many ways in which you can do this. As in the Legal case study presented earlier in this blog, as a basis you could use swipe card access information to understand office attendance levels by department. Alternatively, you could utilise sensor technology to give you a live analysis of occupancy and use of the building and its areas within.
Step 2: The next step is to understand your business goals. What is your firm’s hybrid working policy? Do you have one? Does this need updating? Do you have an office attendance target? Your goal could be to reduce real estate footprint by 20% or to reconfigure your space to reduce the number of cellular offices and improve collaborative work areas.
Step 3: Speak to departments and involve them in your plans. Ask them to nominate a representative for their area of business. Conduct surveys and interviews for both qualitative and quantitative data that will highlight any reluctancy, resistance and common requests.
Step 4: Design your Return to Office Strategy. Data driven decisions can now be made following an analysis of your current situation, staff feedback and your future ambitions. You will need to be bold to take advantage of real estate rationalisation opportunities however, involving employees in your plans will help the change process to run more smoothly and ultimately be successful. You will need to monitor the situation as your strategy is rolled out. Incentives may need to be factored in and you could think about creating a competition between departments. A number of change management tactics could be useful here.
ClearSpace Group are experienced Workplace Consultants helping Law firms to understand their current situation and highlight opportunities to optimise their workspace. Working closely with facilities teams, our project managers are able to assist in any change related activities in the workplace particularly around real estate rationalisation, office moves & changes and filing & storage reductions.