Stuart Clements article on "Did COVID-19 Improve Our Productivity? After Doing It For Almost Two Years, A Defense Of Remote Work"
Reprinted with permission from the February 7, 2022, edition of Texas Lawyer © 2022 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited, contact 877-257-3382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The only thing that’s changed is everything.” That was Apple’s catchphrase when it introduced the iPhone 6S — a phone I had for a very long time — to the world in 2015. But that quote also applies to COVID-19. It changed everything about our lives, how we shop, how we eat, how we communicate … and how we work. Like that phone, it — and its ramifications — will be around for a long time.
Everything about our world and work culture changed in March 2020. While the Jamie Dimons, or other CEOs who don’t like Zoom meetings, may pray otherwise, there are too many technologically enlightened individuals in the workforce to ignore the benefits of remote work and assume that everything will go back to normal. Nor should it.
As an associate at Chamberlain Hrdlicka since 2015, I enjoy the substantial luxury of job flexibility and autonomy in keeping my own schedule. It is an ability that provides the freedom to be a good husband and a dad; it is a freedom I had long before COVID-19 arrived. Certainly, this pandemic requires a lot of pivoting on everyone’s part. Although the human, economic, and political tolls of COVID-19 are devastating, the prevailing wisdom is that remote work is here to stay. Surveys across the board show that remote — or hybrid — work models improve balancing one’s job with one’s personal life. Most workers want to continue performing under such circumstances.
During the early months of COVID-19, I enjoyed the benefits of being home to watch my four kids grow up — particularly the twins, who were merely a year and a half at the time. I cherished eating lunch with the family, breaking to take walks and ride bikes, throwing laundry in the wash, doing a quick load of dishes — all the simple things that fit around my daily work schedule, yet were critical to allowing a household of six to run more smoothly. I cannot say I yearned for the opportunity to change diapers, clean up messes, or tune out temper tantrums while on the phone or videoconferencing with judges, clients, or opposing counsel, but all in all, it was a critical component to raising a healthy and happy family in today’s environment. Remote work has and will continue to play an important role in developing and maintaining a quintessential 21st century family unit.
That said, there are some anecdotal problems to working from home. As a senior associate trying to reach the next level of my practice, maintaining client and referral relationships can be significantly more difficult without the in-person connection critical to building personal and professional relationships. I greatly missed Bar meetings, Rotary Club meetings, and other community initiatives unavailable until they figured out how to pivot to videoconferencing.
However, there are workarounds if one is able and willing to utilize available technology. During the last couple of years, I have been to virtual wine tastings, cooking classes, happy hours, and other networking events — all with tremendous success. Take the time to check in with people through e-mail or text on a regular basis, if for no other reason than to say hello, ask how they are doing, and offer both personal and professional assistance. In a remote or hybrid work environment, these initiatives are essential for those associates with a view toward advancing their careers.
I have yet to witness personally that productivity and collaboration suffers with remote work. In my practice, I engage virtually with other practice groups in our Atlanta, San Antonio, and Philadelphia offices with great success before, during, and (hopefully) after COVID-19. There are certainly more distractions when working remotely, but ultimately, all it takes is a little focus and motivation to make things run smoothly. In fact, many of my empty-nester colleagues, freed from having to answer so many questions from co-workers, report having more effective practices outside the traditional office space in the quiet confines of their home offices. Nevertheless, in-person communication will remain critical to the legal practice in many circumstances, but that should not discourage employers and employees alike from embracing the benefits that hybrid work offers.
Employers willing to accommodate and offer a hybrid work environment to their employees will have an edge in recruiting top young employees. Most law students looking for jobs will also be interested in getting married, starting a family, and taking time out for personal development. Remote work provides a greater opportunity for success in all aspects of life. Firm leaders can also save on overhead by cutting office space and parking requirements. Embracing these initiatives also has broader environmental benefits — less greenhouse gas emissions caused by commuting cars to name one — that should not be ignored as we combat our current climate crisis.
Using today’s — and ever-improving — technology, remote and hybrid work offers significant benefits to those willing to embrace the opportunity. Ultimately, it will lead to a healthier, more content, and more productive workforce.