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WFH? As a partner?

a dog sitting with its owner near a computer keyboard

Working from home? As a partner?

I am hearing this more and more at the moment as professional firms tip toe towards some form of new hybrid working world.

Most firms have, understandably, fudged the issue for now with generic guidelines, for example around spending at least a few days in the office every couple of weeks. But is that the right approach for me as a partner?

The short answer is ‘No’. The longer answer is more nuanced.

A guideline like this is a stop-gap to address a hot, introverted employment market for professionals which is demanding greater flexibility post-pandemic. It buys firms time over the Autumn and Winter to start to work out what hybrid working really means for them and how to balance this against an extroverted, highly competitive client market with evolving demands for face time post-pandemic.

The challenge for firms has always been to manage tensions between the competing forces of our buy-side and sell-side markets. But this is very different. The pandemic significantly dampened these competing forces in the virtual world for well over a year, but now these markets have reopened, the runners and riders are assembling themselves on the ground in the real world and no one knows what new norms will emerge. And partners are caught in the middle.

The priority for us, now that we have a choice, has to be to focus as leaders on doing the right things on a human level for our people and our clients, and then allow where these activities should take place to speak for itself. To acknowledge that the pandemic has been a human interpersonal aberration and that we need to overcorrect during this period of readjustment to ensure that our people and clients are getting the personal face time they need.

This doesn’t mean trooping back into the office 5 days a week – that was always, frankly, crazy especially for genuine head-down solo ‘work’. But just because we can do a lot now virtually doesn’t mean we should. The virtual world is not the right environment to resecure internal and external bonds which have frayed, inevitably, over the last 18 months, let alone build new bonds, develop people, ideas and relationships. And if we’re not seeing our clients and people face to face we can be sure that our competitors will be.

This next period of 6 to 12 months has the potential to be a period of significant change as our people and client markets pull against each after a long period of enforced hibernation in the virtual world. This is an opportunity and a threat for every firm.

So most partners have to be back and leading the line for now, reasonably visible and available face to face – if not taking advantage of the opportunity, then at least managing the threat.


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