Big tech companies are famously fond of open-plan offices believed to show flattening hierarchy and workplace camaraderie. In recent years, law firms have also been increasingly embracing this trend to promote a more inclusive culture and enhance collaboration. Leaders of those firms share with ALB what inspires their decision to go open and what difference it makes for talent and clients.
WHAT DROVE YOUR FIRM’S MOVE TO AN OPEN-PLAN DESIGN, AND WHAT BENEFITS OR POTENTIAL DOWNSIDES HAVE YOU SEEN WITH THIS ARRANGEMENT?
CALVIN TAN, partner, Simmons & Simmons
We acknowledge and appreciate the importance of collaboration, ﬂexibility, and reinforcing the open-door policy integral to any cohesive workplace. That’s why in 2022, we introduced an open plan concept with a ﬂexible desk-sharing initiative, which has proven to be a great success.
Our teams now have the opportunity to work even more closely with one another, share ideas, and collaborate on projects more effectively across the different practice groups. This has not only improved overall productivity and efﬁciency as a ﬁrm, but it has also helped create a more sociable work setting for our colleagues to interact and get to know one another better.
This initiative has fostered precious friendships among colleagues and greatly supported the development of stronger team dynamics and cross-team collaboration across the various practice groups, putting us in the best possible position to collectively support our clients.
This close network of teams formed, and creating a social workplace is vital to our success as a law ﬁrm as colleagues look forward to coming into ofﬁce. As we continue to scale up our Singapore team in 2023 and the coming years, this approach to open ofﬁces will not only allow us to optimise the space available to accommodate our growth as an ofﬁce. However, it will continue to encourage collegiality, and increase social interactions among colleagues, all to produce a uniﬁed and harmonious ofﬁce.
WEI ZHANG, Hong Kong managing director, Withers
As many industries adapt to an open-ofﬁce workplace to bring people together, Withers has accomplished this in its ﬁt-out in favour of a more collaborative and creatively engaging workspace environment.
We have partners sitting amongst the junior lawyers and support staff, which really leads to spectacular results. Working in a fast-paced environment in the legal ﬁeld, many of our partners and staff enjoy sitting next to or opposite each other, where they can easily bounce ideas off each other. The open plan concept ignites productivity; communication thrives; and it encourages sharing ideas while building camaraderie. This especially works very well for staff who want to be part of a culture or community, as the open environment can boost morale and optimise workﬂow.
Our W Café is one of a kind, with its vast area based right next to our front house conference room suites. It has a spectacular view of Victoria Harbour, high-spec renovation and adequate seating. Withers hosts many events for clients and organises regular team-bonding meals and drinks at the cafeteria. There are also magazines, newspapers, and TV channels for those who want a quiet read during their coffee break. Our lawyers and business sup-port not only have the ability to share updates and information continually, spark creativity and increase the potential of collaboration projects, but also to bond and establish rapport in such a welcoming communal space.
Our global operations teams across the Withers brand strives to be different and move with the times. Although lawyers have a reputation for being conservative, there is certainly no sign of this trend slowing down and we hope to see further enhancements in our workplace experience.
STEPHEN KITTS, Asia chair, Eversheds Sutherland
Eversheds Sutherland’s modern, open-plan ofﬁce environment in Hong Kong supports better team connectivity and maximises how the workspace available is used. The design uses “best-in-class” ﬁxtures and ﬁttings to create an agile working environment, with all partners, lawyers and business services colleagues sharing a number of “ﬂexible-working” spaces.
The progressive design in Hong Kong delivered several beneﬁts and reﬂects the ﬁrm’s core values, including enhancing cross-team communication, improving collaboration and boosting creativity. We quickly established a “one-team” culture that has created a “win-win” outcome for the business. Health and well-being were also high on the agenda, with a “Wellness” room installed for meditation, short breaks and nursing mothers.
The approach to modernising the ofﬁce layout took everyone out of their “comfort zones” as we set about creating a better and more progressive working environment. Extensive consultation involved the Hong Kong partners and staff with the architects to create a “state-of-the-art” and agile working space with excellent environmental credentials.
A key behavioural change was the move to a paper-lite environment to support the ﬁrm’s Responsible Business commitments and meet our client’s expectations that their advisers will improve their commitment to the green agenda.
The Hong Kong ofﬁce’s move to open plan set a benchmark for the ﬁrm’s other ofﬁce refurbishments to improve the physical working environment of all our colleagues in support of the development and expectations of our people and clients. Signiﬁcant change is always unsettling for some people, combined with the wider anxieties around the current global situation, but our “state-of-the-art” ofﬁce is now well placed to support our colleagues by providing them with a substantially improved working space.