In an article first published in The Lawyer, data from our recent ‘return to the office survey’ is discussed as strategic insights are shared to help map the way ahead upon the ‘Great Return’ to the office in a hybrid world.

You may agree with Whitehall sentiments regarding the productivity of homeworkers and think it’s all cheese and coffee for those who prefer their home office. You may even think it’s fair to pay homeworkers 20 per cent less than their office-based counterparts. To do so would put you in the minority, new research from Totum suggests.

Big law has embraced the agile age with gusto, but just what shape that should take in the long-term remains up for debate. All 36 firms surveyed by Totum for its third ‘return to the office survey’ have a hybrid working policy which covers all employees, a steady increase from 18 of the 24 firms surveyed a year earlier. Nevertheless, these are experimental times with just over half of firms (53 per cent) having now introduced a formal policy (March 2021: 50 per cent) – leaving half who have not.

Here’s what the ‘have-nots’ need to know. First, firms prefer to have their people in the office for 60 per cent of the time (32 per cent). Next, there is a central recognition that homeworking is risky for team cohesion (82 per cent), while most agree trainees will be hit hardest by the lack of office time (79 per cent). The upside is that the majority agree there is a better morale in the hybrid workforce (83 per cent), with work/life balance a key advantage (71 per cent). What of productivity? This has improved, according to more than half of respondents (53 per cent). The findings suggest if you want a happier, more productive workforce and you have a plan to mitigate the impact it will have on trainees, hybrid working is for you.

Most firms want people in the office for 60 per cent of their time

But perhaps, just perhaps, your firm is now considering whether to echo Stephenson Harwood, with its decision to implement a 20 per cent pay cut to those who want to stay home full time (its preference is for people to be in the office for 60 per cent of their time). Lawyers who joined the firm from outside the City during the pandemic and who are not expected to go in regularly, will be on a lower pay scale.

Of course, most firms pay a London premium for their City workforce (averaging about 50 per cent more). In articulating its policy clearly, Stephenson Harwood has shone a light on a challenge faced by many as they emerge from the pandemic: what to do with those who don’t want to go into the office at all? The Totum research suggests Stephenson Harwood will be in the minority with its pay cuts; some 86 per cent of respondents are not currently discounting salaries according to location. That said, for the 3 per cent of firms which are reducing salaries based on location (and 11 per cent considering it), most are following Stephenson Harwood’s lead by reducing pay only for those who apply to stay-at-home full time.

If we’re living in experimental times then the early results of the hybrid trials indicate it has been positive overall with productivity and wellbeing both improving. But with no ‘one size fits all’ solution, expect firms to tweak their policies according to practice, location and potentially, productivity levels. The firm that hits on the right formula will set the tone for the market.

To read the full article, click here.

To find out more about Totum research, contact [email protected]

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