Guest post from Rhicha Kapila, partner and chief operating officer, and Luke Nicholls, finance partner, at London firm Bolt Burdon Kemp
Not everyone during the lockdowns were fortunate to have fully kitted-out home offices. And whilst many people were vying for kitchen table space with housemates and home-schooling, many also enjoyed the variety of working from different locations and in a more flexible way.
Working from home for such a sustained period of time has, for many, turned people off the idea of traditional office working and this is something law firms need to consider as people come back into the office and return to the so-called ‘new normal’.
And on a much larger and longer-term scale, law firms also need to really think about the working environment they offer and not just how this works for the lawyers of today but the lawyers of tomorrow too.
Attracting and retaining the new generation of lawyers will be a key consideration for law firms as Gen Z (born 1997 onwards) rapidly overtake Millennials and all the generations before as the most populous in the workforce. Not least because the needs and ambitions of this generation are unique.
Deloitte published a report into the profound impact Gen Z workers will have and commented: “Radically different than Millennials, this generation has an entirely unique perspective on careers and how to define success in life and in the workforce.”
Whilst it’s not always helpful to generalise, there are some common, defining features which have shaped this generation.
The Economist has described Generation Z as a more educated, well-behaved and stressed generation in comparison to previous. Gen Z are digital natives, growing up entirely with the internet and as such are more computer literate and switched on to the benefits, and limitations, of technologies.
According to Forbes, workers from this age group generally “want to work with a company that stands for a purpose beyond simply making a profit and want to feel their work is making a positive societal or environmental impact”.
This generation has also grown up with more of a focus on mental health, diversity and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Working styles will also change with the new generation. Doubtless the pandemic will have influenced this, but there was already a more consistent push towards more autonomy and flexibility.
According to the Deloitte report, “Gen Z prefers individual tasks over team-based activities however they will value physical connection. They prefer independence but not isolation”.
So how does this translate into office design and how a law firm office works for its team members?
At Bolt Burdon Kemp, we’ve recently invested in a new office and are set to move into new premises next month. We realise by moving more centrally into London and taking a larger space, we’re bucking the trend.
However, we strongly believe lawyers now and in the future will want and value a space that’s not their home to work from and, most importantly, a space to connect and collaborate with colleagues and clients. Agile, flexible spaces were key for us, with a real focus on wellbeing and comfort too.
For example, we created both quiet and collaborative spaces so lawyers have the choice to work exactly how they want away from home. Multiple meeting and Zoom rooms give people the flexibility to meet with clients virtually or in person.
The new office, spread over six floors, will also include a mothering and private room and a “club-house”, which will be a dedicated space for staff to join in with ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’ activities. This floor will also provide lounge-style seating where the team can simply choose to unwind and relax any day of the week whilst taking advantage of the nutrition bar and pool table. We also made sure sustainability was a key consideration at all stages of the design.
We wanted to make sure our new office space truly reflected our brand and we made a conscious effort to not feel like a traditional law firm, but one instead which champions wellbeing and an agile working culture. We don’t just want to pay lip-service to flexible working, but have an office that genuinely encourages this way of working.
Of course, an office space isn’t a deciding factor in whether someone wants to join, or stay, at a law firm. But making sure the space is designed to reflect the brand’s purpose, ethos and is future-proofed for the new generation of lawyers is important.
Thinking about how work will change and what lawyers need to do their best work and remain relaxed and happy while they do it should be a key consideration for any firm rethinking their office space.