Transatlantic law firm Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD) is to adopt a hybrid working model for its UK offices, allowing partners and staff to choose whether to continue working from their homes, the office, or a combination of both in the post-covid-19 world.
The decision follows a firm-wide survey of WBD’s 1,100-strong UK workforce which asked how partners and employees wanted to work post-pandemic.
The new model will be introduced across WBD UK from September and provides a framework for people to agree whether they wish to be a homeworker, office-based, or a hybrid worker, splitting time flexibly between home and the office. Only those in learning roles would be required to attend the firm’s offices.
“As we open our offices up, a more flexible, hybrid model of working will bring efficiencies in the way we spend our time, as well as making a continued impact on our environmental sustainability, reducing travel and our carbon footprint,” said Jonathan Blair, WBD’s UK managing partner.
“We asked our people how they had found the last year, to tell us about the benefits and the challenges, and how they would prefer to work in the long term. A large majority said they wanted a blend of home and office working, had thrived working from home during the pandemic, and really wanted it to become a permanent feature of how our business operates.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum, however, many WBD staff said they missed the office environment, including the chance to socialise, collaborate, and make the most of on-site training opportunities.
Blair said the adoption of a hybrid working model offered the best of both worlds and built on the firm’s existing approach of allowing staff to work “something other than the standard 9-5 full-time, office-based role”.
WBD is the latest firm to announce a move to hybrid working as lockdown measures in the UK and elsewhere are eased, even as opinion on long-term remote working remains split within the leadership ranks of the legal profession.
Last month, Morgan Stanley’s chief legal officer, Eric Grossman, complained of a “lack of urgency” among lawyers to return to the office, telling firms in a letter that those who eschew remote working “will have a significant performance advantage over those that do not”.
Similar to WBD, Shearman & Sterling will, from September, initiate a new policy that splits employees into groups of either fully office-based, fully remote, or hybrid remote.
The New York-headquartered firm said it expects most of its employees, including partners, to be in-office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Support staff, including receptionists, office services, and assistants are expected to be in the office full-time.
“Our new approach is tailored to meet the business needs of the firm and our clients while also providing some flexibility and absolute clarity for our people. It incorporates the views of our colleagues following our global survey earlier this year,” said David Beveridge, Shearman’s senior partner.
“We recognise the benefits of a hybrid approach with remote working offering flexibility and time for more focused tasks, while having specific ‘in the office’ days will facilitate in-person collaboration, as well as in-person learning and development opportunities.”
Among the host of other legal businesses providing staff with more flexibility is Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer which earlier this year unveiled a new agile working policy allowing lawyers to spend half their week working from home.
Meanwhile, fellow magic circle outfit Slaughter and May revealed its trainees may work from home one day a week with other staff in London and Brussels being given the option to work remotely up to 40% of their time.
International firm Clyde & Co has also announced its employees can work from home three days a week, while UK firm Irwin Mitchel told its 3,000 employees they can choose when and where they work.