A legal recruitment firm, Laurence Simons, recently studied the working hours in the legal industry. It found that partners are working for six and a half extra weeks every year, partly to compete with bigger companies for business. Respondents also said that there was increased demand that was pushing them to work longer than ever.
We’re in an increasingly competitive market, and we’re constantly being hounded about productivity; if you don’t constantly produce something, you’re going to see the rug pulled from under you. Anecdotally, we hear of partners working 70-hour weeks just to get the job done. This sounds very noble, but is it sensible, or even necessary?
When it comes to working more productively, smaller businesses have one key advantage. They are less restricted. Compared to a large legal firm, a small firm has the flexibility to bring in new ideas, without having to battle through layers of approval.
Flexible, or agile, working doesn’t necessarily mean working fewer hours, although that’s a welcome by-product for many companies. It does mean that working hours are adjusted, either to suit the company, the individual, or (ideally) both.
Sir Richard Branson is perhaps the best-known advocate for flexible, or agile, working. He offers staff unlimited leave, and the freedom to work where they choose. Not only does this improve productivity and reduce stress, but it also allows the Virgin Group to use resources more efficiently.
Creating the right culture
The Virgin Group is certainly in a privileged position; not many bosses could afford to let employees go off on a holiday on a whim. But Sir Richard Branson stresses that there is an expectation on staff to finish work before they disappear, and to not leave colleagues in the lurch. It all comes down to the culture you’ve created, and how a more agile approach fosters loyalty and commitment.
Additionally, we have to look at the Laurence Simons study, and the reality that we are all working for longer. That’s more time at work, without a significant increase in income, and without any noticeable decrease in work-related stress. Firms become ingrained in set processes, and they can’t imagine doing anything differently. If you could reduce your hours, take Fridays off, or spend more time with the kids, surely the initiative would be worthwhile.
3 steps smarter working
If your work-life balance is slipping away, there are three simple ways to re-think it.
Let remote working improve your time management. Capitalise on your most productive hours in the day. Make lists of things you must do, and things that can wait until tomorrow. Implement communication technology, like live chat and VoIP, to slash the amount of time you spend on email and snail mail.
Use size to your advantage. Small businesses are better at adopting cloud technologies, because they have fewer levels of approval to fight through, and fewer gatekeepers to please. Could you save time by sharing documents electronically, or automating part of your workflow? The tools are out there: you just have to implement them.
Don’t be afraid of regulatory compliance. Some firms balk at the idea of using digital services for confidential documents. In fact, many service providers are far more secure than your on-premise infrastructure. As a rule, stick with UK providers who only use ISO 27001 certified, UK data centres. That way, you will be fully compliant.
Remember: working flexibly isn’t a ticket to an easy life. In fact, it can create its own sources of stress. One key risk is the inability to switch off from your work; if you’re not in the office, it can be difficult to draw a line where work stops and free time begins. Make sure you are really working smarter, not harder, and using digital tools to support smarter working. That way, you can improve results, and reduce office time, yet avoid the temptation to take work everywhere.