MALCOLM ZOPPI | LEGAL JARGON WRITER
As businesses, including law firms, try to adapt to the current climate affected by COVID-19, employees have found themselves working from home instead of at the office. The remote-working system is also commonly known as ‘working from home’ or WFH.
Slater and Gordon had decided not to renew their London office lease and move to a smaller office space. This is to encourage more of their staff to work from home, as they said that remote-working was popular amongst their staff. This has made remote working a long-term solution for the firm and the norm for many of its staff members.
A similar change has been undertaken by the Italian Banca Intesa Sanpaolo, which has been in the process of selling off many of their large buildings. This means that the bank sees WFH as a long-term solution, making the ‘semi-optional’ WFH a part of the conditions of the employment contract.
The Commercial Benefits:
Remote working can lower costs on rent and travel, and it allows firms to be more adaptable to their international clients. This is because, as employees work from home, their working hours can be more flexible. This will enable workers to adapt to the different time-zones of their clients more easily.
Interaction/ Interpersonal Issues:
Communication between staff and retaining the personal relationship with clients could be an issue as WFH makes it difficult to ensure sufficient support and collaboration. If a firm prides itself on its office environment being friendly, supportive, and collaborative; WFH may discredit the claims. Employees will find themselves ever-more isolated, reduced to interacting with screens and emails instead of genuine conversations with their team members. It is going to be much more difficult for firms that choose remote working to ensure there is sufficient support and collaboration between colleagues. This may be why firms such as Freshfields and Linklaters have quickly moved back into the office.
Logistical Issues for Businesses and Employees:
Issues include how quickly broken technology can be fixed, as technology teams will not be in the same building. It also brings into question who covers a 'workplace injury' if that injury is sustained at home. Remote working is crucial in certain situations such as lockdown, but the long-term practicality does not appear as positive.
Further, as employees are asked to perform their duties under their contract of employment from home instead of the office, the home can be argued to become an extension of the office. This is because the employees are forced to work from home, performing their tasks for the organisation in their private property. Moreover, companies may enforce restrictions on where the person may live, even if they are WFH. This is because the employee may be required to be physically present on certain occasions. Additionally, office-specific restrictions may be enforced on the working space of an employee’s home, limiting their personal freedoms.
Moreover, organisations may lower costs by reducing their office space, although space will still be needed by the employees. Workers might need to start investing in larger homes to accommodate a working space, which will increase their own costs.
Issues surrounding the exchange of information also need to be considered. As appointments are needed to be booked online through emails or other software, the faster face-to-face interaction is limited. This is further restricted by companies closing or de-scaling their call-centres, where people find themselves waiting on the phone for hours for a simple appointment. Moreover, the issues surrounding the high costs of computers for those receiving lower wages are not properly addressed, as not all are able to afford a computer.
Webinars are following the same trend, where the interaction by the attendees is limited to dropping a question in the chat function, which is often flooded by dozens or hundreds of other enquires. This is due to the fact that attendees are automatically muted as soon as they join the meeting, transforming a discussion to a monologue. This further creates issues relating to the ability to part-take in debates, where individuals are not empowered to contribute their ideas and views.
Overall, COVID-19 will have long-term impacts regardless of the discovery of a vaccine. Companies are rewriting their business models to further reduce costs, ultimately shifting them onto the working class with low levels of bargaining power. The future will be dependant on the use of computers and the internet. Ultimately, the interaction with colleagues and superiors, along with other supporting institutions, will continuously become more bureaucratic. This will slow the flow of information and the ability to react, rendering the working class even more vulnerable and restricted.
Questions for Individual Thinking:
1. Should companies, which saved costs by reducing their office space, distribute the profits to employees needing larger homes to accommodate a home office?
2. Will the lack of interaction with colleagues and clients lead to significant issues relating to mental health?
3. Will the changes that have been put in place due to COVID-19 be Reverted post-pandemic?
Born in Switzerland, grew up in the Bahamas, studying in England, completed an Erasmus year in Denmark, and now living in Spain.
Malcolm prides himself on his internationality and ability to analyse current affairs from different perspectives.
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