Doug Deeth gives a taster of next week’s webinar, “How will the world look after lockdown?”

In the middle of March 2020, concerns about the coronavirus in Canada began to spread, and I started planning to reduce the number of people who came into the office every day; encouraging some to work from home; and to stay home if they were not feeling well, without losing any “sick days”.

We wanted to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus by, for example, reducing the number of trips on public transit by offering them staggered hours and alternate days in the office. We had to decide who we thought we needed in the office every day and who could work 2 -3 days a week from home. Some people were not pleased when they were deemed not to be essential; others, designated essential, were upset at not having the opportunity to work from home that other people had. Clearly people were more concerned about their relative importance to the operation of the office than with their health.

Within a couple of days, this process was overtaken by the government’s decision to shut down all non-essential services.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your perspective, law firms were considered to be an essential service and were allowed to continue to work, but were encouraged to work remotely whenever possible. However, the concerns of many members of our staff about coming to the office, about taking public transit, and about being out in public generally increased.

Speedy transition to paperless

Within a very short time, we had arranged for almost all of our staff to work from home, and very quickly transitioned some of our paper intensive practices, such as docketing and billing, to paperless processes, achieving almost overnight what might have taken a couple of months in normal times. After some supplementation of the computer equipment that our staff was using at home, such as moving larger screens from the office to home workplaces, and moving people off laptops onto full-sized keyboards and screens, we were finding that practically all the work we had been doing in the office could be done at home. We kept a few people in the office to scan documents, pick up incoming mail, including cheques, do the banking, and make sure the office computers were still running.

This seemed almost too good to be true. We could look forward, I thought, to a time when we could make this remote working permanent, reducing the amount of expensive office space we needed, keeping our staff happy by allowing them to work from home, without the long commutes many of them endured on a daily basis, while losing none of the productivity that we had with people working in the office…

Sure, it was harder to keep track of how busy people were. Lawyers kept their dockets, so we asked the staff to fill in timesheets. I guess they were all busy, as they almost all managed to work exactly 7.0 hours per day on the work they had to do at home, but that was a small price to pay. Maybe I could negotiate lower salaries in exchange for the right to work from home.

Office of the future

Then I talked to Marshal. Marshal Stearns is an office designer with a lot of experience in dealing with both traditional and more modern, open offices and had some very interesting ideas about “the office of the future”. I had spoken to Marshal a few months earlier when he approached me with a view to designing or redesigning our offices. The time was not ripe for us, but I met him for coffee anyway and we had a great discussion about office design, productivity and where we would be going in the next few years.

When I told Marshal my plans about reducing off size, saving lots of rent money, and having people work at home, possibly for lower pay, he stopped me dead in my tracks and asked a lot of questions for which I had no answers. He asked about the landlord, about food service and food courts, kitchens and coffee machines, paper files and photocopiers. I had not thought of any of these things. My ideas for a smaller, cheaper office and staff were evaporating, but at least I could just adopt Marshal’s ideas and tell the employees how things were going to be from now on. Everything would run smoothly.

HR caveats

Then I spoke to Nancy. Nancy Shapiro is one of Canada’s leading labour and human resources lawyers, and a person whose advice we rely on. Not so fast she said. There are things that you have to think about here. How are you going to deal with people who work at home? Can you ask them to keep track of time? What if their workday takes them beyond normal office hours? Are you going to ask them about health risks and concerns and use that information to decide who will work from home? Are the people that you want in the office really the people you need in the office?

My head was spinning. The workplace of the future was going to be much different than I had expected, and I would need to make some significant changes to our office practices to accommodate the realities of that post-Covid world.

Maybe I could find a webinar that would help me with some of these issues.

And so the idea for FICPI’s webinar, “How will the world look after lockdown”, was born. Join the three of us for this live session on Wednesday 20th May at 1pm London, 2pm Paris. Register now to reserve your place.

Next steps 

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