Leading a permanently remote workforce: Observations on a quiet revolution
Before the pandemic it was rare to know anyone who worked fully remotely. Working from home may have been something many people, particularly parents and carers, dreamed of but, in sectors like financial services and law, asking for it was career suicide. Such flexible working requests from men seemed to be particularly frowned upon by bosses and society in general, as if it was a sign you didn’t take work seriously.
Fast forward to the Covid lockdowns and remote working suddenly became the only game in town, getting the workforce logging on from home was a matter of survival for most professional services businesses. To many people’s surprise, it worked and productivity did not fall off a cliff.
It’s hardly surprising that when the end of the pandemic made a return to the office possible, the genie was well and truly out of the bottle. Not only did many staff not want to give up the financial and lifestyle benefits of working from home but businesses also wanted to preserve some of the benefits they had enjoyed, for example by reducing office space costs.
Remote v hybrid working
Although some did, lots of businesses did not take the truly radical step of closing their offices altogether, they compromised and went hybrid. Before the pandemic many of us might never have heard the phrase “hybrid working” let alone experienced it. But spending part of the working week at home and part in the office is now incredibly popular and has been shown to be a huge positive for recruitment and retention – many people consider it the best of both worlds.
At Nexa, we have always been a remote business. From setting up in 2017 we have never required our consultants to come into a central office. Nearly all our consultants work from home all of the time. Some may prefer other locations such as shared workspaces (and may meet clients there) and many may work from different locations when they are travelling. We give our consultants absolute freedom to work whenever and wherever they want to. Nexa has a contract with WeWork so these facilities are available to our consultants if they need them for client meetings, social gatherings and just catching up. But, similarly to our lawyers, we are finding that clients increasingly do not require face to face meetings much anymore so there is less and less call for permanent office space at all.
As a business, by being truly remote rather than hybrid it means we can recruit from literally anywhere in the country, because we don’t need our consultants to come to a particular location regularly. This gives us a limitless catchment area and a much bigger pool to take talent from as we never require people to travel to us.
It would be wrong of me to say we are a fully remote business as our back-office support team which supports our consultants with accounting, billing, compliance and IT is based in Oswestry. Our team there generally all work in a hybrid way but they enjoy being together in the same office a lot of the week and it has been effective for morale and effectiveness.
Without a doubt our consultants really value the freedom full remote working gives them and the positive difference this has made to their work life balance and wellbeing when compared to the traditional law firm environment many of them have come from. Again and again we hear how people wish they had been able to work like this years ago and how they would never go back.
Challenges can be overcome
I’ve often heard it said that it is difficult to cement a corporate culture if people are not physically in the same space, but I have not found that to be the case at Nexa. In fact, I’m really proud of the supportive community of solicitors we have built here and it’s one of the things people mention in our satisfaction surveys. We do organise social events around the country for people to bond face-to-face if they want to but there is absolutely no pressure to participate, some people just aren’t interested and that’s fine. Because our structure is flat and democratic, I think people feel less pressure to “schmooze” as that isn’t necessary for them to succeed.
There are also plenty of opportunities for people to get to know each other via our online events and, perhaps most importantly, by working on client matters together.
I recently led a roundtable discussion at the Alternative Events Law Firm Management Summit on ‘Leading a hybrid workforce’ and my top 3 tips for success were: commitment, communication and culture. If you commit to it, your comms are good and you constantly ensure you have and retain the right culture then you’ve got every chance of succeeding with hybrid and/or remote working as a team.
Fully remote working is right for Nexa’s business model, but I appreciate there are other types of legal business where it wouldn’t be so easy. However, as technology improves and becomes more accessible and expectations around workplace culture evolve (as new generations come into the profession) I believe there are likely to be fewer and fewer of these exceptions. If the will to make it work is present in the leadership of a firm, remote working can be extremely successful for both solicitors and their clients.