Balancing flexible work hours, remote access with firm needs
By Rob Lamberti, AdvocateDaily.com Contributor
Firms are feeling the pressure to offer flexibility in work hours and remote access to their employees, but these options should be offered within reason, says Toronto legal management consultant Mark Dormer.
He says there has to be a balance between that accommodation for employees and the ability by management to run an efficient operation with face-to-face interaction that builds internal relationships and commitment to the firm.
Dormer tells AdvocateDaily.com that while the trend of working at home or away from the office is seen as a key employee retention strategy, firms need to maintain a central location that acts as an anchor for the organization.
"I think employees, especially younger employees, are expecting, requesting and preferring more flexibility when it comes to their work schedule," says Dormer, owner and president of Cosgrove Associates Inc.
"The millennials' view on the work-life balance is driving much of this. It's a great thing to work at your leisure at a coffee shop or from home on a snowy afternoon, or work the hours you like, but I think you really do need a central office. You need some 'face time' between employees, clients and managers."
An email, online or telephone conversation has its advantages but they can be limiting, Dormer says. "You can't beat a face-to-face interaction when you're strategizing," he says.
The trend in the United States is towards employees working away from the office, according to a Gallup poll. A Canadian report suggests flexible work environments improves productivity, reduces absenteeism, attracts talent and retains it, and offers financial savings.
But what may be possible in some work environments may not necessarily fit legal practices that require court appearances, storing files, having access to a library and dealing with the legal system, Dormer says.
"It depends on the industry," he says. "Law firms are very centralized in terms of their people, files, legal texts and the courts."
While there are advantages to offering workers who are new parents flexibility in shifts or allowing employees to work from home or a coffee shop when weather socks them in, the office provides management oversight and ensures employees remain productive and maintain relationships with clients, Dormer says.
"It depends on your clientele, but you want your clients to come down to your central office for meetings to make sure their needs are managed," he says. "Outside the office, it's difficult to find a location where one can focus on the meeting."
Dormer says firms are meeting employees "halfway" to offer some flexibility. "If anything, they go home for their children. Family comes first," he says.
That flexibility by employers helps build stronger relationships with employees, Dormer says.
"Many firms that I work with have an understanding of the parameters around working outside the office, and they certainly demand that employees spend some time in the office interacting with people," he says.
Dormer says there's a stronger family-focused culture in firms that offer flexibility. "They're attracting younger people by having this kind of environment," he says.
Firms moving towards flexibility and off-site work must have strong technical capabilities to make it function well, and he suggests they rely on qualified computer experts to ensure the system is secure and efficient.
"The most important thing is you have to treat what you do very privately," Dormer says. "If you're working in a coffee shop, you should position yourself so that other people can't see your screen and what you're working on.
"You shouldn't use shared computers for anything, even at home," he says. "You don't want your kids to have access to your work."