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Alison Lobb, Managing Partner of Morecrofts on the positives of optional home working

All get back to the office? On yer’ bike…

This autumn, we’ve seen thousands of people ‘return to the office’ full time for the first time since last March. Morecrofts managing partner Alison Lobb has her say on why optional home-working has had a positive impact, and how she won’t be demanding change any time soon…

IT’S been more than 18 months since the first lockdown and for many, working from home has become the norm. At Morecrofts, we are offering flexible working to all of those whose jobs allow, whilst ensuring that the service provided to clients remains as strong as ever.
We have all learnt new skills and adapted to new technology and our people have flourished. Many have told us they have grown in confidence, as well as being more productive, but also, and most importantly, happier. Work-life balance has become a real thing that everyone appreciates more than ever.

The ability to come into the office when they want and to work at home as much as they want, often avoiding a stressful commute, has led to a contented and motivated workforce, and more than anything else, our team understand and value how much we trust them to do their utmost, for our clients and for the business.

That is why it was quite frankly insulting and upsetting to hear Oliver Dowden saying at the Conservative Party Conference that workers need to “get off their pelotons and back to their desks”. Quite apart from the obvious comment that the majority of people can’t afford a peloton, if they even know what one is, the suggestion that those who have been working from home have been wasting their time, not making an effort, or even abusing their relationship with their employers, is completely out of touch with reality. It serves to resurrect the attitude, which we all thought had now been overcome, that those working from home are somehow “skiving”, or not pulling their weight.

No more ‘wasted’ holidays

Flexible and agile working has benefited so many people in so many different ways. Yes, our people have been able to leave their desks to collect children from school, care for elderly relatives, take home deliveries, even do their shopping in the middle of the day when it’s quieter, but they have worked at different times to make sure their work gets done, and most of them have created more income and goodwill for the firm than they did before. Previously, they would have used their holiday entitlement taking time off for such mundane activities, now they can work around those minor commitments and spend their well-earned holiday on what it is really meant for, actually having a break and relaxing. If we need to, we can measure, time, productivity, and outputs, and if we felt anyone wasn’t pulling their weight, those could be addressed with individuals or teams (we haven’t needed to so far).

I have read some articles raising concerns about training, maintaining the organisational culture, and worries that those working remotely might get overlooked for promotion or opportunities. We are fortunate that we have a strong team structure, and an excellent workplace culture, and through effective and inclusive communication we have been able to utilise those through the pandemic to unite and motivate our team. Many bonds are now stronger than ever. Yes, there is some training, particularly for new joiners, best done face to face – so it’s done that way. No-one is saying remote workers can never meet one another! There’s a time and a place for whatever methods work best.

Taking responsibility and setting boundaries

The biggest concern with working from home is the difficulty many have in setting boundaries between work-life and home-life. That is something we have to keep aware of and make sure our people are shutting that door behind them in the evening or switching everything off. I’m as guilty as the next person, and it’s important to reinforce the message that one person’s work time might not ally with that of another, and that emails sent do not need to be responded to straightaway. In the legal profession, presenteeism has historically been an issue, but there’s no pride to be had in overwork and possible burnout, and it’s essential that the firm’s culture doesn’t include that. I am very proud of the fact that we have always supported our staff who might have needed to work different hours for whatever reasons, family or study or something else entirely, and this is really just the next stage of that philosophy.

Ultimately creating a hybrid or remote working environment is about trust, and understanding the different ways that people want to work, which benefits them, and hence brings benefits to the business too. After all, as a client, would you rather deal with someone who is happy, relaxed and professional, or have a lawyer who is stressed, miserable and pushed for time? I know which I would choose!

Different people have different needs

Remote working isn’t for everyone, and it’s important that’s recognised too. Some need an office environment, or a place to go, to perform at their best, and that’s fine and should be catered for as well. Some people need other people around them at all times, or others just don’t have the facilities or surroundings for home working, or indeed just don’t like it.
We’re all different and are motivated and energised in different ways. Personally, I do my best work between 4pm and 7pm – I always have done. Others might be at their best at 5am. It doesn’t matter; it’s not a competition and nothing is “best”. Flexibility can bring out the best in all of us, as long as it’s well and fairly managed and there’s plenty of give and take.

As an employer, I have come to understand that often the more you give, in terms of time and flexibility, the more you get back in loyalty and commitment. As someone said to me a long time ago, work should be what you do, not where you go, and we have all come to realise that, during the strange times we have gone through together. We have all shared, and indeed are still sharing, a once a century transformational experience, and it’s vital that we don’t squander the advances we have made due to a desire to hang on to the old ways. Change is difficult, but is always necessary, and handled properly it will make all our lives better.