Trainee Blog: A trainee's perspective on Agile Working

Agile working (the flexible combination of remote working and office working) was possible, but certainly not the norm, for lawyers before the start of the pandemic. However, nearly two years later, it seems inevitable that agile working will be here to stay, in some form or another, even after the pandemic eventually comes to an end.

In October 2021, Michelmores launched a 12-month Agile Working Pilot Scheme to identify how we can best embed a more flexible approach to working, which meets the needs of our clients and our people, into the post-pandemic future. Now, the firm is currently conducting a firmwide survey to gather views on its implementation to date and to find the best approach for all moving forward.

Understandably, those who are at the start of their legal careers may have questions about how this new way of working will impact them and the training that they receive.

Does Agile Working work for trainees?

Whilst the results of the latest survey still need to be collected and analysed, we already know from a Michelmores all-staff survey conducted last summer that agile working was important to 87% of respondents and offered them tangible work-life benefits. Trainees are no exception to this trend and below are a few real-life examples which illustrate how I as a trainee have benefitted from agile working since I joined the firm:

  • Relocating across the country: Having the ability to participate in the three-week trainee induction remotely meant that I was able to join the firm and meet colleagues before I had physically moved into the area. This also meant that I did not have to panic about being "in the office" by a specific date when I experienced delays in moving across the country during the pandemic. 
  • Extra time with family and friends over Christmas: Simply being able to log on and get my work done remotely meant that I could enjoy extra time with family in different parts of the country during the holiday season without always having to be physically near the office.
  • Task-dependent working preferences: I have learned that I find it easier to complete certain tasks, such as research and drafting, when working remotely. This is because I have greater control over my surroundings which means I can limit distractions and focus solely on the task at hand. Conversely, I prefer working in the office on days when my calendar is filled with internal meetings, since I enjoy the in-person interaction which even the best Teams call cannot quite replicate.

Naturally, there will be times when working in the office is preferable or even essential. However, when that is not the case, having the flexibility to choose to work remotely or in the office enables me to be more efficient and productive. This is true regardless of whether my choice is based on my daily to-do list or in response to wider events affecting the outside world.

What is a realistic split of remote and office working for a trainee?

The very nature of agile working means that there isn't a simple answer to this question. However, for a practical example, over the course of my first seat I have gone into the office on average twice per week (excluding periods when work-from-home orders were in force due to the Omicron variant) and I found this balance worked well for me and my team. In contrast, there are some trainees in my cohort who are regularly in the office four times per week simply because they prefer to be in the office more frequently and their teams empower them to make that choice. As I look ahead to my second seat, when I'll be joining the Corporate department in London, I'm excited to work in our new state-of-the-art office at 100 Liverpool Street and I expect that I will be in the office more frequently over the next six months as we continue with agile working without the threat of further covid restrictions.

Are there any downsides to Agile Working?

Trainees must be alert to the fact that agile working has potential pitfalls if not managed properly. One of the biggest concerns that junior lawyers have about agile working is getting less exposure to senior colleagues compared to what you might have had in pre-pandemic times. This can result in two significant downsides:

  • fewer opportunities for 'osmosis learning': i.e. learning by simply being around and observing your colleagues. The lack of exposure could make it harder to develop some of the 'soft' skills (such as how to conduct oneself and develop rapport when advising clients) which are just as necessary in a successful solicitor's skillset as a detailed knowledge of the law.
  • feeling less 'visible': junior lawyers may find it harder to make strong connections within their teams and with other colleagues because of the lack of in-person time together. This could impact the amount and quality of work that senior colleagues trust them with and the amount of ad-hoc feedback or recognition they get.

However, these downsides can be mitigated by making effective use of technology and communicating with colleagues with intention. For example, members of my team often invite me to join their client calls on Teams and this has allowed me to watch and learn how they operate with clients, regardless of whether one, both or neither of us are in the office. I also have regularly scheduled catch ups with my supervisor to ensure that, regardless of where we are working, I get frequent opportunities to discuss the tasks that I am working on and be given feedback on the work that I have already completed.

Tips for Agile Working

Agile working is still a relatively new experience for everyone, and trainees should not feel intimidated or put off by the fact that they are unlikely to be in the office with their colleagues five days a week. Below are some tips for how to get the most out of agile working, from my experience to date:

  • Be aware of different perspectives and act accordingly: Remember that everyone you work with will have a different opinion on agile working. Some colleagues may be enjoying the extra flexibility that agile working affords, whilst others may be itching to get back to a time when the office was humming with activity. On the days that you are working remotely, make an extra effort to let your colleagues know what you are up to. This will reassure them that you are on top of your workload and know what you need to be getting on with.
  • Be proactive and responsive: If you feel like you have not had enough contact with your colleagues recently, be proactive and pick up the phone or arrange to have a quick catch up. If you know your colleagues are going to be working in the office on a particular day, arrange to work in the office at the same time to reap the benefits of in-person collaboration on that day.
  • Find what works for you: Pay attention to what you personally like or dislike about remote and office working and try to find the balance between the two which allows you to complete your work as effectively as possible whilst building close ties within your team.
  • Make the most of the mix: Be intentional about maximising the different opportunities that working remotely or being in the office offer. For example, when I work in the office, I meet up with other trainees for lunch, which adds a little bit of extra socialising into my week, and I use the office gym to work out after I have logged off for the day. When I work from home, I often walk to the local coffee shop and treat myself to a hazelnut latte in my lunch break. Having a little variety between your routines can add excitement to your day, regardless of where you are working.

This article is for general information only and does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. If you have any questions relating to your particular circumstances, you should seek independent legal advice.