The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically changed how we work in terms of not just our location but our working patterns, styles, the technology we use. We’ve had to hit the ground running. In many ways this has been a positive change for many legal professionals, flexible working requests, frequently denied, have now been made possible and no commute is shortening the working day.
Practicalities aside, the pandemic has changed us all emotionally. For some it has been the wake up call they needed that the way they were working and living was not sustainable – we are , after all, human beings not human doings.
Lawyers are often seen as ‘the suits’, people without emotion or feeling, just there to get the job done whatever it takes, but coronavirus has given us the opportunity to see each other and ourselves in a different light, and realise what really matters to us.
Being yourself at work
One of the ways in which the pandemic has changed us is we are all automatically being more ourselves at work. Being at home in our own environment naturally relaxes our professional persona and encourages us to share more of our personal lives with our colleagues. We can see people in their homes, the photos and books on their shelves, cameo appearances from children and pets, office wear jettisoned in favour of a t-shirt.
We are getting a window into our colleague’s lives and seeing them as the people they become once they leave the office. This makes us all seem more human, authentic and more accessible, bringing us closer to each other. In fact research shows that being yourself at work can make you up to three times more successful.
Lawyers are not always considered to be the most caring individuals, not necessarily through any fault of their own but because the relentless pace of the work and the competitiveness of the profession often leaves little time for focusing on others.
Being socially isolated has made us realise the value of human connection, and we’ve needed to improve our communication skills and emotional intelligence to be able to effectively do our jobs remotely. Meetings don’t often start with everyone asking after each other, but Zoom calls frequently do.
Many teams are actually speaking more now than they did working alongside each other in an office. We are asking people how they are and really listening to the answer, and perhaps sharing more about how we are feeling about lockdown.
Our shared anxieties about the nature of what we are each living through has made it easier for us to connect with colleagues. Chats about the latest Netflix binge in the office have been replaced with video calls about personal issues like worries about our parents or family. We really are all in this together.
Better, more honest, relationships
In legal workplaces, many relationships could be described as transactional, and hierarchical. During the pandemic business leaders have had to find out more about their employees and be more empathetic in considering their home and family situations. Managers are now having open conversations with staff about how work can get done and the flexibility needed to fit this in around childcare or other commitments.
A lack of direct observation has lead to more trust, employees trusted to do their jobs to their best of their ability at home and a result feeling more autonomy over their work – which leads to higher levels of wellbeing. Flexible working arrangements are now accepted as vital which may very well benefit diversity and inclusion.
Redefining our values
Often lawyers chose a job based on the salary or prestige of the firm. Research shows that when we match our personal values to the values of a company we are more likely to be happy at work. For many of us lockdown has been an opportunity to work out what is really important to us. We can work out what it is we are really missing in lockdown and what has helped us get through this time – whether we’ve rediscovered music, a love of cooking or yoga.
You may have also learnt what works for you regarding the practicalities of your day to day job, perhaps you have thrived with less supervision, missed the collaborative nature of the office, needed more support from managers or realised you don’t have enough leisure time. With a clearer idea of what makes us tick and what we need to be happy, we can look for an employer that mirrors our own values.
A sense of community
Lockdown has brought a sense of community spirit, connecting people who wouldn’t usually talk, encouraging people to help others, and new communities have been formed with lawyers sharing jokes, quizzes, advice, tips online, in WhatsApp groups. Humans have evolved to behave in ways that promote the survival of our species and kindness and looking out for others have been crucial to this.
As the economic and emotional effects of the pandemic begin to be truly felt over the next few months, this sense of community will be more important than ever, the legal workplace may never be quite the same again.
LawCare provides emotional support to all legal professionals, support staff and their families. You can call our confidential helpline on 0800 279 6888, email us at email@example.com or access webchat and other resources at www.lawcare.org.uk