In an increasingly digitized economy, flexible working is growing common across the board. While it certainly has its benefits in terms of improving employee engagement, and hence retention, a consensus is yet to form on the best way to implement it. As a result, firms are approaching flexible working in different ways, and there is no one-size-fits-all method.

 


Lorna Chen, Greater China head, Shearman & Sterling

Working flexibly really depends on the practice group and your specialty. If you are focusing on a fast-paced transaction, and you only show up in the office from Monday to Thursday, for that kind of project, a flexible working schedule doesn’t work. But in other cases, because of the developments in technology, when my team are working in different time zones, it doesn’t matter where they are as long as they have an iPhone, an iPad or a laptop, which is linked to the system and can run documents, they are connected.

If they’re having a vacation, they might have to jump on a conference call or negotiate with parties, (poor them!) because in a small team when you have urgent deals it doesn’t work to just drop everything and go on a beach vacation. Most of the time, my team members for example, they just bring some work, not necessarily those heavy lifting examples, but at least to a certain degree.

This also works the other way, if associates have family for example, and they have children who are sick or they need to go to a parent-teacher conference and be away from the office for a few hours from time to time, or if they work late and then come into the office later in the morning, we’re actually flexible about that.

Obviously, you can’t abuse the system, but at least from how I have operated we have operated on this basis, the flexibility is a positive. Our staff are very happy with the flexibility and are very proactive in terms of managing their clients or telling their clients they’ll be on a flight for the next three hours and providing a contact for if there’s an emergency.

Simon McConnell, Hong Kong managing partner, Clyde & Co

As a global law firm and employer of choice, we recognise the value and increasing importance of flexible and agile working. We have carried out pilot programmes across the organisation, including in our Scotland and San Francisco offices. Providing agility in how and where our people work is important and a key area of focus for the firm to ensure that we’re attracting the very best talent, allowing our people to balance work and personal commitments, and utilising our property portfolio effectively.

We will continue to work towards greater flexibility, investing in technology and a supportive workplace culture to make it a success, while ensuring that exemplary client service is at the heart of all these changes.

We also recognise that different workplace cultures exist across jurisdictions in which we operate, so there can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach.

Rosanne Passmore, associate, White & Case

I currently work four days a week with Fridays off, and save for very rare occasions involving the most demanding transactions, I have been able to stay away from the office on Fridays. Being out of office for one day every week requires working smartly – smarter use of my time so I can be more productive within a condensed period of time, smarter use of technology so that my office can be wherever I am, smarter workload planning so that work still gets completed on schedule notwithstanding my day off, smarter collaboration with other team members so we can still provide seamless service to our clients. Having said that, clients are generally understanding and supportive of my working arrangement and my being away from the office for one day of the week have not adversely affected the level of service we provide to our clients – if anything, I would say my flexible working arrangement has made me more focused and productive. Being able to finally have time to balance other life priorities with work is critical to ensure that an otherwise extremely stressful and demanding career is sustainable.

I find that flexible working arrangements, can actually help to improve efficiency and hence any effect on productivity, if any, would be positive. Technology has not only made remote working possible; working out of the office is as seamless as it can get with remote access technology. Instead of being tied to my desk into the small hours of the night, I can go home and have dinner with my children, tuck them into bed and carry on working from home – work still gets completed as if I were sitting in my office, with the difference being I am now content from being able to achieve a better work-life balance.

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