You might think that’s a typo there in the title. Doesn’t everyone talk about work/life balance? True, but many key strokes have already been spent on that topic. I would rather talk about the new work/work balance – that is, the balance between working remotely and working at the office. In particular, I want to explain why it is important for lawyers and law firm staff to have both, and the downfalls of either a permanent work from home arrangement, or mandatory full time office attendance.
Many of us have discovered the advantages of working from home over the past two years – skipping long commutes, saving money on gas and parking, wearing sweatpants without anyone knowing you’re doing so on Zoom meetings (guilty!), staying out of the cold in the winter, spending extra time with family, etc. Suffice it to say, the advantages are many!
Working from home, with the convenience and savings it provides, and the potential for uninterrupted work (if you have a quiet home office space), is absolutely here to stay. But professional success in the legal world will also include some good old fashioned in-office work.
What we miss when we work at home is, primarily, our coworkers. Whether it is the personal interactions that provide texture to our day to day routine, collaboration with our colleagues that leads to new and better ideas and work product, business development through lunch and coffee meetings, or being part of a workplace culture that we can be proud of, being around other people is crucial to our professional success. Success should not only be measured in tasks completed, hours docketed, or other objectives that are easily quantifiable in the home environment. Success is also about growing and learning and being part of something bigger than yourself. Those things require us to get together in person, at least some of the time. From a personal perspective, achieving a balance between work from home, and work from the office, is going to be the key to our personal and professional achievement moving forward.
It is particularly important that law firm leaders encourage and celebrate the opportunity to work together in person, rather than treating it as a necessary evil. People are rarely loyal to a company or a firm, but they are loyal to the people they work with. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to develop and maintain that loyalty without actually seeing each other. While it is possible to hold remote spontaneous meetings, they are rare. But in the office, we can take the time to walk to someone else’s workspace, ask them about their weekend or their family, or run an idea or a thought by them. We should all engage in those unprompted conversations that remind us that we work with human beings, who have lives (often lived in sweatpants, apparently), who want to share, and who want to be a part of something bigger than themselves (and their laptop at the dining room table).
Embrace the new reality. Enjoy the extra time on your hands from the saved commute one day, and enjoy the time with your coworkers at the office the next day. Celebrate that togetherness, and understand the importance of working together in a shared work environment. Flexibility and hybrid working scenarios are now the standard, and successful talent retention will depend upon a leader’s understanding of this new reality. If the default is to only work from home, loyalty will be a thing of the past, and people will be more likely to follow the money. If the default is to only work from the office, those who want to save some time on the commute and wear their comfortable clothes more often, will be more likely to follow the flexibility. Understanding all of this will lead to a successful work/work balance.
Adam Wagman is a senior partner and former managing partner at Howie, Sacks & Henry LLP. Adam is a past President of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association (OTLA), and he also served for many years on OTLA’s Board of Directors in addition to holding numerous other leadership positions in the brain injury and legal communities. Adam is certified by the Law Society of Ontario as a Specialist in Civil Litigation and he frequently chairs and speaks at Continuing Legal Education programs. Adam is honoured to be recognized as a leading practitioner in several respected legal directories, and he was named the Best Lawyers 2022 Personal Injury Litigation “Lawyer of the Year” in Toronto. Adam can be reached at 416-361-0988 or firstname.lastname@example.org.