Agile working is becoming more and more popular in many sectors, including the legal profession. But what is it, and how could you and your firm benefit?
What is agile working?
Agile working is a form of flexible working, which allows people to work at times and in places to suit their individual needs as long as they meet defined goals. While traditional flexible working is seen as a benefit solely to the employee, agile working has been shown to be beneficial to both the employee and the employer.
How does it work?
Through making best use of modern technology, employees are able to perform their work duties from any location. When remote access to company databases and servers is enabled, employees are able to access all the information they need to complete their work wherever they are, and share it with their employer.
While there are, naturally, concerns that employees working away from the office may abuse the lack of physical supervision, these have largely proved unfounded. Research by a number of organisations has shown that agile working actually leads to increased efficiency, productivity and effectiveness.
As employees are allowed to work hours that suit them, they are able to work at the times when they are most productive. Client queries can be handled at different times of the day, including outside normal working hours. This responsiveness has been shown to improve both efficiency and client satisfaction, leading to a higher client retention rate.
Agile working means that businesses need less physical space, which reduces overheads. When events outside a company’s control mean that they are unable to operate from their usual premises, perhaps due to adverse weather, power cuts or issues with the building, staff are able to continue working from home, so the business remains unaffected.
The ability to work remotely, at times that suit employees, has been shown to improve job satisfaction. This greater satisfaction leads employees to be more committed to their work, and more likely to remain with a company. Agile working also enables companies to employ talent from across the world, regardless of where they are physically located. In addition, it has allowed people – often women – who may find it harder to work traditional hours to continue working so that their abilities and talent are not lost from the workforce.
As with anything, there are some drawbacks. It is harder to bring staff together for meetings. It may be more difficult to manage performance on a daily basis, and some people’s personalities are unsuited to working alone or not having allocated space. With a little effort, these drawbacks can be overcome. Modern teleconferencing equipment removes the need for meeting attendees to be in the same physical space. New management techniques can be learned and monitoring procedures put in place; and additional support can be provided during the early days of moving to agile working for those struggling with the change.
Agile working in law firms
The legal industry is embracing the concept of agile working. When international law firm DAC Beachcroft opened a new office in the UK, they chose to provide fewer desks and didn’t allocate them to specific members of staff. Staff are able to choose whether and when to work in the office. The company has found it to be so successful that they are planning to expand it across their network of offices worldwide.
Other firms have taken a different approach. Instead of directly employing staff, they use people on an ad hoc basis to meet demand as it changes. Those providing work on this basis can choose what work they want to take on, while the law firm is able to reduce its overheads when business is quiet and react quickly to changing demand.
Agile working could very well be the business model of the future. The benefits it offers to both businesses and employees are well documented and, while it has some drawbacks, these can largely be overcome with a small amount of time and effort during the early days of the transition.