Flexible hybrid and remote working have different meanings for different people – how has Covid-19 affected your work?
Our dispute resolution team have discovered challenges and benefits in the last 18 months that they did not expect.
Richard Morgan, Head of Dispute Resolution
I accept the need for remote working during the pandemic, of course, and was very relieved that we had largely facilitated this well before lockdown (as we have practised flexible working for years to enable continuity of employment for, for example, mothers returning from maternity leave).
But working entirely remotely has numerous downsides. Trainees (and me!) learn so much by osmosis, just hearing what is going on around them, and if they are the only ones in the office, who do they learn from?
We have created open plan offices with teams strategically placed so that cross-referral of work is enhanced. Everything is faster when you can “pick the brains” of the people around you without having to play telephone tennis all day or make appointments. There is so much more to a law practice than just creating documents.
Flexible working, by contrast (combined with paper-free working) is an asset, and enables people to work across several offices, so that we can use resources more efficiently. Plus, I hate working at home! I like the clear division between work and home and dislike the blurring of the two. For those living alone or in shared and cramped accommodation continuous remote working was a real challenge.
In terms of the developments with Dispute Resolution and technology, I have been continually impressed with the capabilities and accessibility of data. As a District Judge, I have been pleasantly surprised by the use of remote hearings and in particular, electronic bundles. Prior to lockdown and the restrictions being imposed I would have likely highlighted all of the complications which could arise from conducting hearings remotely and preferred an in-person hearing. However, I have experienced the efficiency and time-saving capabilities in practice and I believe that in certain circumstances, remote hearings are helpful and even preferable and for those reasons, I expect they may be here to stay, in one way or another.
Luckily, I was not challenged by the transition to working remotely, which was a great relief. I did miss working in the office; mainly the sense of community, both inside and outside the office, as well as ready access to paperwork where needed.
There is something to be said for the interaction experienced during a face to face meeting. During lockdown and the restrictions that followed, I have conducted numerous meetings, conferences and discussions remotely which are helpful and efficient in respect of time and costs. However, there can often be a lack of human interaction. I am looking forward to being able to once again conduct face to face meetings with my clients and cementing that client and lawyer relationship with direct interaction.
There were definitely positives to working from home, such as ready access to snacks and bottomless cups of tea, but I soon missed the interaction of working with colleagues in the team, and particularly the banter! Seeing clients and colleagues face to face has a real benefit, which you cannot always replicate from video conferencing, as good as Teams and Zoom can be.
From a personal perspective, one of the biggest challenges I found with working from home was the blurring between home and office life. So, I have enjoyed the transition back to office working and the routine that has provided.
During the period of lockdown and restrictions, I was impressed by the comradery of my team in Dispute Resolution. Every member of the team supported and helped the others to ensure that the impact was minimal, for clients and colleagues alike.
Working from home initially was a novelty for me and I was very impressed with everyone’s ability to adapt to remote working so quickly. However, I quickly began to crave my normal routine. I have always loved where I live, but the numerous lockdowns made me even more grateful for the greenery and beauty of Herefordshire.
I prefer working from the office for the camaraderie and friendship, but it also allows the team to share ideas and discuss cases far more easily. It is surprising how much you can learn from osmosis! I prefer the structure that going into the office provides, along with the division between work and home life.
I think everybody has experienced a technology failure which has left us with a lasting impression, whether it was simply not being able to log onto something, having to turn the computer on again and off again or struggling to remove a cat filter during a court hearing! The frustrations of technology are shared by us all however, I think that the majority of us would now concede that the benefits outweigh the occasional frustration.
From a Dispute Resolution point of view, the use of technology for remote hearings has been somewhat of a game changer. We can now hold conferences, meetings and court hearings without incurring the cost and time of travelling and we can prepare electronic hearing bundles which saves the environment, postage/courier fees, costs and they can be accessible from anywhere in the world.
A significant amount of my work involves the use of technology and artificial intelligence to assist with the disclosure process and the use of e-disclosure platforms. I am therefore excited by any technological developments which enhance Dispute Resolution and the processes involved. I hope that this area will continue to develop in order to assist in making the sector more streamlined, accessible and cost effective for our clients.
As a trainee, I find it productive to be in the office as I can work closely alongside my supervisor and have regular, face-to-face catch ups about the work I am doing.
I have been involved in numerous online mediations which have been conducted by Zoom or Teams. I have been extremely impressed with the efficiency of this process to include the move from joint party meetings to individual private rooms, all operated by the mediator. It has definitely saved the time and cost of travelling to and hiring a mediation venue and I think it tends to focus the parties’ attention more effectively.
Working from home during the pandemic certainly had its challenges, particularly when combined with home schooling my children. I was amazed at how quickly I was able to swap roles, one minute I would be preparing documents for court and the next I would be teaching maths.
I certainly prefer being in the office, as I can learn from my colleagues and share ideas; it is much more personal being together rather than seeing each other on screens. Now that we have the ability to work flexibly, it assists with the work life balance to know that if I need to be at home, I can complete my work remotely and still commit to my role.
During the period of restrictions, initially, the Dispute Resolution team organised daily calls simply to check in with each other and then went on to arrange a dedicated Dispute Resolution “Fun Committee” to help maintain morale within the entire department.