Overhauling the office: the modern firm’s practice
Luke Nicholls considers what solicitors need when not working from home
The role of an office in a modern business, and certainly a modern firm, has evolved rapidly over the last ten or so years. Gone are the fusty offices and walls of lever-arch files, tea trolleys and rigidly formal meeting rooms – replaced instead by open-plan workspaces, paperless environments and more flexible, comfortable and accessible meeting and working spaces. These changes have been driven by a wide variety of external business and societal changes – some of which were certainly accelerated by the covid-19 pandemic. Now, working from home and hybrid working models are the norm, there’s more of an open conversation about employee wellbeing – and more of a desire and need for firms to show their human side.
For firms looking to redesign their spaces now, a number of different issues need to be considered and held in balance.
Future-proof your firm
For instance, future-proofing the office needs to be a huge consideration. A relocation or redesign is a huge expense, so you need to get it right and create a design that will age well – not only from an aesthetic point of view, but also in how it functions and works day-to-day for lawyers. We’re seeing Generation Z enter the workforce – and firms need to think carefully about this future generation of legal leaders,to ensure their workplace works hard now, and in the future, to attract and retain top talent. In their report,‘Understanding Generation Z in the workplace’, Deloitte note:
“We think Gen Z will have the ability to demand greater personalisation in how they move along their career journey. For organisations to attract and retain the best and brightest of the generation, it will require a different mindset. It is worth considering what this is.”
From that same report, it was recognised: “Gen Z prefers individual tasks over team-based activities however they will value physical connection. They prefer independence but not isolation.” All of these factors need to be considered – for example, creating flexible spaces which encourage collaboration – but also creating spaces for quiet, solo work, will be important. For many, post-pandemic, the function of the office has changed. Some people may prefer to stay at home to get their head down on complex legal work, and come into the office for more collaborative work and to be inspired by colleagues. But for the younger generation of lawyers, who may be living in house-shares or with their parents, there isn’t necessarily an option for a quiet, relaxed workspace at home – and that’s where they see the office as having an important role. Equally, the role of the office is arguably even more important for these new generations of lawyers, who need to be mentored and learn from their more experienced peers.
Everyone likes to work differently and this matters – it’s no longer as prescriptive as it once was, so an office can’t cater for a ‘one-size-fits all’ work style, but a multi-generational workforce who appreciate the office for different reasons.
Reflect your values
Your office is a physical manifestation of your firm. It’s a perfect opportunity, especially if you’re having a redesign, to creatively and visually reflect your firm’s ethos and values. Take, for example, sustainability. We recently redesigned our office and made sure that all of the products and materials that were chosen were selected with sustainability in mind.
Equally, we take great pride in not being a ‘traditional’ law firm, we’ve embraced an agile working culture for a long time and we certainly encourage our lawyers to bring their ‘whole selves’ to work. Therefore, it was important our new office reflected our personality as a firm, and really accentuated the things about the firm which are different from others. This translated into a bolder use of colour, ‘non-traditional’ office furniture – and, at times, more playful design elements.
Diversity and inclusion is at the heart of our firm – and it was therefore important to us that our new space was designed with this in mind. For example, creating a mothering room for new mothers to have the option to have a relaxing, private space to pump breastmilk. Inclusive toilets, prayer and reflection rooms are also important to consider, as well as ensuring the whole office space is accessible for those with both visible and non-visible disabilities.
Wellbeing at work
Thankfully, mental health has come under the spotlight in recent years and is now considered as important as physical health by many firms. We’ve seen an impressive array of initiatives from firms over the last few years to help ensure their employees are supported and feel able to talk about any mental health struggles.
Office design can play a really important part in employee mental health. Everything from the choice of colours, to the light, room temperature and amount of space can help create a more calming atmosphere, conducive to work.
When we created our new office, we made sure to create a dedicated space for our ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’ activities, which include yoga, meditation and HIIT classes.
Soft furnishings and creating a ‘home away from home’ feeling is also important. Some people liked the option to work from their sofa during the lockdowns – but for others, they prefer to take a break and unwind. Having some lounge-style seating helps to communicate the message that relaxation and taking a break is not just important but encouraged.
Think about client experience
Most firm offices also serve a significant purpose in hosting clients – and it’s really important to consider this client experience when redesigning an office too. How will this group of individuals experience your firm, how will the office make them feel – and when they leave, what will their lasting impressions be?
For our firm, we work with seriously injured clients – and therefore they can arrive at the office already feeling overwhelmed and nervous. We made a conscious effort to not feel like a traditional law firm, and instead of hiding behind a large, imposing reception area, we created a relaxed non-traditional type café-lounge, with big open windows looking out onto the street. Hard edges, cavernous spaces and imposing architecture could potentially make a nervous client feel even more so.
Of course, for a corporate firm, you are dealing with a vastly different client base – and therefore the appropriate environment is different. Again, it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ design.
Firms should be aiming to support the happiest, healthiest and most productive workforces possible. An office can set the tone for a firm and influence, for better or worse, how lawyers feel and how they work. Careful consideration of how lawyers use an office in the modern age, and how this will continue to evolve over time, is essential in creating a workable, inviting, inclusive and flexible office space.
Luke Nicholls is the finance partner heading the financial operations team at Bolt Burdon Kemp: boltburdonkemp.co.uk/why-bolt-burdon-kemp-bbk-solicitors/meet-our-team/luke/