Unfortunately, it has taken a catastrophic event like COVID-19 to show that you can WFH effectively in the legal industry—and for sustained periods of time.
Recently, the world got a new-ish acronym stashed into its vocabulary box—WFH or “working from home”.
One of the most jaw-dropping examples of WFH-by-necessity has been court appearances by Skype / Zoom or phone. Believe it or not, it can be done. Back in the day, organising a video link for a court hearing felt like a tooth extraction.
So amongst the grim news, including the reality that not everyone has the luxury of working from home, let’s look to the silver lining.
#1. Get on the efficiency express
The 5-day (or more) work week puts significant stress on our environment, transportation systems and people. We need to rethink the standard rush hour.
WFH has taught a lot of us that business-as-usual doesn’t make for the most productive day. Things like…
… starting your morning by squeezing into the metal sardine can (a.k.a. train or tram)—be glad it doesn’t smell like fish…
… people constantly dangling over your desk who just want to “pick your brain” or “have five minutes of your time”…
… and multiple coffee runs, alongside other distractions.
According to the author and academic Cal Newport, we only have around 4 hours (max!) of productive working time in a day, what he calls “deep work”. After which, most of what we do is sub-optimal fluffing around. To make things worse, distractions don’t help because it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus.
#2. Get in and out of meetings faster (maybe)
One of the biggest pet peeves most people have about meetings is that they drag on longer than they should.
There is an awful lot of shuffling to meetings and waiting around for it to start. You can almost guarantee that it never runs on time. The exception being court hearings.
Rework, a book by Basecamp founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, makes an excellent observation about meetings. For example, if you make 10 people meet for 1 hour when they could meet for 30 minutes, that’s 5 hours of lost time. It’s horrible and enlightening when you think about it in that way.
From personal observation, I’ve noticed that most people are a little bit more aware of the need to get to the point without dragging out a Skype / Zoom / Teams meeting.
#3. It’s OK to be human
One of my favorite parts of WFH to date is our collective realisation that life and work don’t fall into separate, neat compartments.
An insightful article shared by a friend, “Work-life balance is a lie—and coronavirus is exposing it”, notes that business-as-usual involves presenting a “disembodied” sense of self at workplaces—with no obligations to anyone when this is clearly untrue. I recall my former colleagues’ sense of guilt as they rushed out of the office at 4.30 pm to pick up their kids from daycare.
WFH is breaking these barriers down.
Are kids busting into your Zoom chat? Dogs going bonkers in the background? It’s all part of life. And it makes a call so much more fun when you know that you’re talking to a human, not a robot.
If you’re embarrassed about it, people are more understanding than you think right now. Let’s hope it continues in the post-COVID-19 world.
#4. It’s only the start of greater acceptance
When we’re on the other side, it’s my hope that WFH at least one day a week will become the norm in not only in the legal industry—but in a range of other industries that don’t need you to be physically in the room.
It’s a sensible choice for the environment, transportation networks, productivity, and our general wellbeing.
Further listening / reading:
- Download This Show podcast, “Locked down and ready to Zoom” (26 March 2020)
- Danielle J. Lindemann, ”Work-life balance is a lie—and coronavirus is exposing it” (26 March 2020)
- Cal Newport blog, “The Original Four Hour Workweek” (24 April 2015)
- Kermit Pattison, “Worker, Interrupted: The Cost of Task Switching” (28 July 2008)