The Legal sector – will COVID-19 shape a different workplace?

Paul Gibbon, director in the commercial property team at Wake Smith Solicitors in Sheffield looks at the legal sector and Peter Whiteley, head of office at Knight Frank in Sheffield, emphasises offices are more than just a place to work in.

The value of office space for the legal sector cannot be underestimated, according to property professionals.

Offices can help drive strategic change, lever strategic opportunities, provide organisational change, digital transformation, training development and innovation according to legal experts Wake Smith Solicitors and Commercial property giants Knight Frank.

Both claim that offices are not only a needed requirement for progressive commerce, but expect the requirements of tenants and owners to change in the wake of COVID-19.

Paul Gibbon, director in the commercial property team at Wake Smith Solicitors in Sheffield looks at the legal sector and Peter Whiteley, head of office at Knight Frank in Sheffield, emphasises offices are more than just a place to work in.

Paul said: “We have all had to make changes as a result of COVID-19, whether it was learning how to home school, not visiting friends and family, staying away from shops - but for many, working from home is the biggest challenge.

“What many people took for granted was the commute into the office everyday whether it was on public transport, foot, bike or by car, to face the usual working day with colleagues and catching up with clients and contacts through meetings and networking.

“However, the pandemic has brought about change, bringing re-evaluation of office accommodation and the choice of where and how we work, starkly into focus.

“The legal sector was quick to adopt large scale homeworking, following Government guidelines to ensure the health and safety of the workforce and clients alike. As a profession, we remain dedicated to pro-actively protecting our employees, suppliers, clients and the business from potential exposure to the virus and to mitigate the threat from its spread.

But has the pandemic changed the way the legal sector perceives the value of the office?

Paul said: “The business community as a whole has seen advantages to homeworking. Examples include opportunities to reduce costs, improve technical innovation and streamline processes. For staff, there are advantages that come with the flexibility of homeworking such as improved work life balance and avoiding the commute.”

“These advantages have been discussed in the media at length. However, there are many advantages, for our sector, to working in a physical office environment.

“One of the best things is the excitement of learning something new on a regular basis from colleagues and other contacts. This is especially true for those starting out in the profession, whether they are trainee solicitors or legal executives, junior paralegals or apprentices, who thrive off the input from other experienced individuals.

“From the point of view of those in charge of managing the law firm, issues such as risk management, supervision and compliance, marketing and cross-selling are more challenging to deal with effectively when large numbers of staff are working remotely.

“The office environment is also where you build new ideas and expand your knowledge and have the opportunity to challenge yourself creatively and investigate and learn different kinds of approaches, methods, and techniques.

“That said, for all businesses considering office working during the current pandemic, securing the health and wellbeing of the workforce will be the top priority. Therefore, following the latest Government guidelines, including rigorous risk assessment, is paramount.”

Peter Whiteley added: “Offices matter for businesses and individuals. The benefits that an office bring cannot be undervalued.

“For businesses they are more than just a cost, they are a strategic device, a place for cultural transformation, a source of competitive advantage, and often key to an image and ethos.

“For individuals it is where behaviour, communication and interpersonal skills are refined and innovation occurs.

“An office environment is always beneficial for those people and it’s far easier to meet other employees to share ideas, experiences and expertise.

“They act as a collaboration centre and a place for social interaction and teamwork but also a centre of training and development.

“Offices of the near future will change depending on the occupiers’ culture, strategics aims and dynamics.

“The emphasis will be on experience, environment and wellness, all of which will be key requirements for future office space”

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