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With remote workforces unlikely to return en masse any time soon, it is worth revisiting how corporate counsel are handling this novel work environment. It appears to be going well. Well enough, at least, that many companies are considering shifting permanently to more flexible work arrangements.
The Association of Corporate Counsel has been polling members regarding remote work experiences. In June, almost 90% of respondents indicated they are currently working from home. In July, 46% of respondents said their organizations will keep changes to remote working experiences moving forward, regardless of when the pandemic abates.
The ability to shift to at least part-time remote work has existed for many years. However, companies have been reluctant to modify their work-from-home policies. Fears over the ability to communicate effectively, get work done, and cultivate professional relationships made some hesitant to shift to a remote workforce. With the pandemic forcing companies to adapt, it appears these fears may have been somewhat overblown.
According to the ACC poll, over 80% of respondents felt that their company was able to communicate the right amount even with a remote workforce, suggesting that most legal departments are handling the shift just fine.
What's more, companies have already borne the cost of a shift to a remote workforce, invested in online collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom, and become comfortable with online meetings. At this point, continuing to allow some employees to work from home may make the most sense.
It is enough that some have sounded alarm bells over a reduced need for commercial office space. According to the ACC poll, approximately one-third of respondents indicated they felt the need for less office space.
Of course, it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. It may be that employees will simply have more flexibility to get work done at home, and go into the office when necessary.
One difficulty some in-house counsel are finding while working from home is maintaining a work/life balance. Without a commute and no clear delineation to the end of the workday, employees and corporate counsel may end up working more hours than ever before. In the June ACC poll, over half of corporate counsel respondents said they were working more hours than when they went into the office, while 40% said there was no change. Only 6.7% were working less and that does not include respondents who were furloughed or shifted to part-time work.
This isn't the first time there have been prognostications of a coming shift to a remote workforce. Still, companies have never before invested this amount of time and resources in making remote work function well.
It remains to be seen how dramatic a shift to remote work it will be. But signs point to at least an increased amount of flexibility in work-from-home arrangements moving forward.