b'PEOPLE| LEGAL SECTOR| 2020SUSTAINABILITY INSIGHTFLEXIBLE WORKING Challenges and Opportunities No one could have been fully prepared for the pace and extent of the February 2020 shift to remote and flexible working due to the COVID pandemic. Firms needed to quickly identify emerging issues, challenges and solutions to deliver business outputs whilst supporting their staff in a difficult time.New flexible working arrangements and support were common strategies to help staff adapt. Useful initiatives include; greater flexibility for leave arrangements, additional carers leave, new supporting technology as well relief from billing and productivity targets. Historically, flexible working was often accepted in principle, however in reality only infrequently adopted by a minority of staff. A Bain and Co report from 2016 showed that men who worked flexibly said they didnt feel supported by senior staff and that their flexible work arrangements were viewed negatively by peers and managers.The values and the organisational culture didnt truly integrate flexible working and many firms didnt have the systems in place, or the trust required to make the concepts work on such a massive scale. Supporting this cultural change is especially important to men. If men are to make greater contribution to unpaid commitments which are currently led my women, then their adoption of flexible working will need improve.There is strong evidence to suggest that the tide of flexible working has turned and that expectations from current staff and a competitive employment market have shifted dramatically. COVID has provided a unique opportunity to re-evaluate the future of the work environment.From the perspective of law firms, flexible working has delivered many of the benefits expected. Many law firms have maintained productivity and profitability. Workers are also reporting increased productivity, flexibility and improved lifestyle. Flexible working has allowed many people to pivot to meet new personal priorities including caring for children at home following school and childcare restrictions.Of course, as we consider the future role of flexible work and working from home we also need to address the problems that are experienced by some people, including managing the blurring boundaries between work and home, feelings of isolation and longer hours.The COVID experience has created a shared understanding that flexible working can be a normal workplace behaviour. Now is the time to check in with employees to understand what they loved and want to keep versus what has been hard and is not sustainable. What is the balance they want to retain and how can flexible working policies be adjusted and fast tracked to a new normal that supports employee and business goals? Firms will need to continue to evaluate the effectiveness of their management systems to ensure they support the business outcomes of law firms as well as the wellbeing and careers of staff working flexibly.Issues that will require careful monitoring: project management data and file sharing and securityperformance management and recognition (including remuneration and promotion) mental and physical wellbeingdiversity, accessibility and equality continuation of non-core programs such pro bono, charitable giving, indigenous reconciliation consultation, engagement and communication around business strategy and program development Finally, while early, anecdotal information indicates flexible working is providing the benefit of more positive lifestyles and convenience to staff, the sudden change has left firms less prepared for the potential negative consequences of isolation on the workforce. The need to respond to the competing social and economic pressures of living in a COVID world, along with the emotional strain associated with the fear and uncertainty about the future, have added to the emotional stresses of a high performing legal practice. See more in the Mental Wellbeing section of this report. 26'