The new world of work: returning to the office – when and why should we do it?

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Andrea Kennedy
11 KBW, London



Andrea Kennedy, 11 KBW, London and Chair of the IBA Law Firm Management Committee Talent and Leadership Subcommittee


Gary AssimShoosmiths, London and Vice-Chair of the Talent and Leadership Working Group

Hanim HamzahZICO Law, Singapore and Senior Vice-Chair of the IBA Law Firm Management Committee

Rasem KamalKamal & Associates, Ramallah and Middle East Liaison Officer of the IBA Law Firm Management Committee Advisory Board

Maria Luz Vargas, Estudio Fernandez & Vargas Abogados, Lima


Firms around the world are planning to re-open their offices, but what is the appetite among staff to go back? After four months in lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we find that working from home can work. What are the pros and cons of working from home, and is there a healthy balance that can be struck? Our international panel shares their thoughts and experiences about this new way of working.

The webinar started by seeking the views of the audience in regard to the following statement: ‘I want to spend less time working in the office, even when the pandemic ends.’

We asked the audience to answer yes or no. Almost 80 per cent of the audience (81 people at the time) answered ‘yes’.

Gary Assim started off the webinar by sharing his firm’s experience of working remotely for over ten years. Following the financial crisis of 2008, the firm looked at how they could cut costs, particularly as regards their real estate. They engaged consultants to look at how three of their seven offices used their office space. They found that at any one time, a third of the offices were not being used. This then grew into a wider look at how all the offices could be re-configured to be used more efficiently, including allowing some people to work from home. Many assumed that allowing people to work from home would result in a drop in productivity, but the review found that the opposite was the case. The outcome was a shedding of expensive real estate and re-engineering their offices. Gary shared pictures of some of the offices and rooms and explains how they are now used.

Hanim Hamzah shared her firm’s experience of working from home and returning to the office, across ten countries in Southeast Asia. Hanim said it is a mixed score card in her region in relation to how much lockdown has been eased.

Rasem Kamal phoned in from his office and made a distinction between transactional and disputes work. The former was the least affected by working from home, whereas the litigation lawyers were more affected due to shortcomings in the technology in the courts or government agencies. Rasem’s firm encouraged as many people as possible to work from home to keep them safe and will keep capacity in the office to a maximum of 50 to 60 per cent while the Covid-19 is still circulating.

Maria Luz Vargas, from Lima, talked about how Peru was one of the first countries to implement, very abruptly, a quarantine and curfew. While the legal staff adjusted very quickly and easily to working from home, almost overnight, the administrative staff faced more challenges. 

Issues raised by the audience, and addressed by the panel, included how to ensure quality control and deal with supervision. Other topics included how to communicate effectively with your staff, checking in with them to see how they are feeling, both physically and mentally, and how leaders make decisions based on all of these things both in the short-term and the long-term. And finally, what about the clients? How do we stay engaged with the clients, what does networking look like now and does this ‘new normal’ offer new opportunities?

The webinar is available here.

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