Cardiff and District Law Society and Legal News Wales recently invited employees in the legal sector in Wales to share their wellbeing and remote working experiences and desires for the future in a recent survey to help legal entities plan ahead.
We collaborated to run a wellbeing survey for lawyers in Wales, to help understand how an increased focus on wellbeing during the pandemic, and the use of remote working has shaped employees’ aspirations for how they want to work, where and what kind of support they expect from their employers in the months and years ahead.
The purpose of the temperature check is to hear from law firm employees – to obtain their views on returning to work, what a working week might look like, expectations for wellbeing support, remote and flexible working and more.
The data is now in and we’re delighted to share the news to help law firms in Wales and beyond create attractive, healthy and aspirational places to work.
As law firms are planning to integrate remote working and possibly flexible working into their long-term operation, now is the time to see what employees want, and share that data with decision-makers.
The questions were largely split into two themes: peoples’ experiences over the last 12 months, and what they want their future working environment to look like.
Over the next few pages, this report presents a summary of the findings, with accompanying appendices for both the full responses and junior lawyer only responses. A total of 106 anonymised responses from employees across Wales were received in total.
Let’s start with a review of the last 12 months:
In the last year, 61% of the respondents had worked solely from home with the rest working a mixture of at home and in the office. This differs massively from how people worked pre-pandemic – with 51% of respondents never working from home previously and only 10% doing it once a week.
It is clear that this has been a big shift and learning exercise for most people – and one we did not get any time to prepare for! So, how have people found it?
We asked respondents whether working from home had been a positive or negative experience – people could rate the experience from 0 (negative) to 100 (positive). The average score was 80% – so we can assume that, generally, it has been a positive experience for people.
We asked some more specific questions in relation to client and colleague relationships (see image slider below):
The above responses are interesting – they show that even with an increase in issues that are associated with negativity in the workplace (i.e. less connection to colleagues, and a pressure to be available at all times) people still generally see working from home as a positive experience.
However, that does not mean that we should ignore these negatives, as they are likely to take a toll on wellbeing if they become the ‘new normal’.
We also wanted to delve into how employees felt their employers had responded to the pandemic:
These responses are incredibly encouraging – showing that the majority of firms have been open and supportive with employees.
Let’s move on to what people want from the future…
We appreciate that this is a bit of work in progress – who knows what next week, month or year will look like. However, now is the time to start planning and implementing the ‘new normal’ so we are prepared.
We asked people if they were anxious about returning to the office and 53% said they were.
This was considerably higher with junior lawyers (75%). We asked people to provide text answers on how employers could reduce this anxiety. The full text responses are in the appendices and can be summarised with two key themes: on the one hand people want reassurance that it is safe to return (for example, clear COVID-protection methods in place), and on the other hand we have people who are concerned that they will be required to return to the office full time and will lose the flexibility and work/life balance they have gained over the last year.
The desire to be consulted on any plans was also expressed by a number of respondents.
Expectations of a return to work
We asked people how they wanted to work going forward and only 3% said they wanted to be in the office every day. 73% want a mix, and 24% want to work from home every day.
It is clear that there is still a desire to work from an office – just not every day.
Do we have to live near the office?
We also wanted to know if people had considered moving away, now that they may not need to be tied to a physical office and location. 34% of people said they had, and this rises to 58% when filtered to just junior lawyers. This is something that employers will need to consider carefully – it may bring some challenges but it could also open new opportunities, as the pool of potential recruitments could widen significantly if there was no longer a need to have employees physically present.
So where do we go from here?
It is indisputable that the pandemic has brought significant challenges to the profession, but it has also brought many positives.
We now have the chance to change how we work for the better. Many firms had been teetering on the edge of ‘agile’ working for many years, but there were too many unknowns. We have now been thrown into it and the result has been an even more productive (and profitable) workforce.
The challenge now is how do combine the positives that both office and home working bring? How can we keep the flexibility of home working and increase in wellbeing that brings, whilst also maintaining the supervision, support and teamwork that the office environment bring? These are complex questions and many firms are still dipping their toes into how hybrid models will look and, importantly, work.
We recently attended a LawCare roundtable event on returning to work and wanted to feed back some of the key suggestions discussed by attendees and panelists.
- Communication is KEY and must be two-way. Ask employees what they want and really listen to what they say.
- Be adaptable – it is unlikely that you will get it right first time. Keep listening and implement change where needed.
- Create a culture of openness. Our survey shows that a lot of people are feeling anxious about the return to the office. Encourage people to be open about their anxieties – from the top down – and this will help normalise those feelings.
- Reduce uncertainty by implementing clear COVID protection measures and letting people know what these are before they return.
- Don’t forget the social activities! Many of us will not have seen our colleagues in over a year (or may even have some we have never met). Social events help people to blow off steam after a long week – and reintroducing these could help ease some people’s anxiety about returning. Equally, be mindful that some people will not be ready to return to in person social activities.
Planning a wider return to the office?
For more useful advice for employers, watch this insightful Legal News Exchange event for employers, with guest speakers from EffectiveHRM, Yolk Recruitment and law firms in Wales.
The results in full:
View our digital report, below, or download the PDF here.
Our many thanks to legalnewswales.com for hosting and helping to market this survey across Wales – and to you for sharing your views.