The only constant in workplace design is evolution. As technology develops our workplace behaviours and the relationship between people and space do the same.
Headlines about the use of artificial intelligence and loss of jobs to automation, the challenge to recruit the brightest and best and the need to reduce costs and ensure business agility are just some of the complex challenges facing UK legal practice today. All of these factors have an impact on our use of space so as 2017 progresses here are the legal sector’s workplace trends:
Melting pot workforce
There’s more diversity in the workplace than ever before. The extended age for retirement means that people are working for longer and importantly, keeping expertise, knowledge and skills in the workforce for longer too. There’s also the arrival of the gig economy and the increased number of professionals who are choosing to go freelance in order to pursue the ‘gigs’ they want rather than having a permanent relationship with one employer. These temporary workers add diversity and are a group that must be engaged for the duration of their contract.
Workplaces and organisational cultures must embrace this diversity, finding ways for multi-generational workforces to come together as one, temporary workers to assimilate into teams, cultures and value systems and for company goals and vision to be unifying and shared with everyone.
Such is the challenge of recruiting and retaining the brightest and best, particularly when there’s a skill shortage, that employers now have to find innovative ways to curate compelling and engaging employee experiences.
This is manifesting itself in numerous ways including investing in organisational culture and internal communications programmes, designing workspaces that encourage interaction, collaboration and provides stimulation, reinvigorating the recruitment process and investing in the technology and tools that really help employees to get the job done. Workplace will continue to be a powerful factor in attracting candidates and we expect to see a continued push away from overly corporate spaces to more open, eye-catching work environments that bring culture, values and working practices to life.
More appraisals please
The newest generation to enter the workplace has been dubbed ‘generation snowflake’ – a disparaging term that reflects their delicate nature and need for constant feedback and affirmation. As part of that, and in relation to the previous point, legal practices need to provide more performance feedback than just once per year. Frequent appraisal and mentoring are now a vital part of employee engagement and the key to unlocking productivity, wellbeing, engagement and unlocking the power of extra discretionary effort. In the workplace this requires careful consideration of the co-locations of teams and management as well as the creation of spaces for informal meetings, get-togethers and training and a culture of support, learning and listening.
Although one of the later sectors to adopt workplace mobility, the arrival of activity based working has helped to free the legal sector from fixed desk settings. We expect to see more of this during 2017 as more practices look to include different work settings to reflect the wide variety of tasks they undertake. This move is part of a wider transition to agile working and business process improvement. As part of this we can expect to see more investment in collaborative working technologies and electronic storage systems, which support lawyers working remotely.
Tech threat and opportunity
A lot of media attention has been given to the potential loss of jobs in the future due to automation in the sector. The upshot is that firms need to review their talent management practices now and look at how technological advances will impact the business over the next 20 years. While there is some threat to jobs, there is also opportunity for innovation, new job creation and marketing differentiation. As a result we expect to see more consideration being given to property rationalisation and the design of spaces with inherent flexibility to accommodate changing needs.
With the passing of every year we gain new insights into changing market conditions and how changes in the relationship between people, place, technology and process impact business. 2017 looks set to be a year of continued trust and empowerment in legal practice employees, supported with greater technology investment to deliver improved business efficiency and agility. Effective, engaging and well-designed workspaces will continue to be at the heart of successful modern law firms.