b'BACK TO NAVIGATIONThe percentage of women resigning or leaving a firm following maternity leave has been chosen by AusLSA as an indicator of the effectiveness of flexible working and other support arrangements available to successfully balance their family commitments with their career. On average only eight percent of female legal staff from our reporting firms resigned during or within six months after returning from maternity leave, which is an improvement from fourteen percent in 2019.Challenges and OpportunitiesCOVID has provided an opportunity but also a compelling need to re-evaluate the future of the work environment. By the time most people regularly return to their offices we will have been living some level of imposed flexible working for at least two years. As we approach this time it is critical that we review the benefits and the costs and consider strategies to blend home and office-based environments in a way that preserves the benefits we have created and addresses the stresses and inequality being experienced.Each firm will have a bell curve of employee preferences for future flexible working arrangements. At one end there are some who want everything to go back to the way it was with very high office attendance. In the middle there is a large group who have experienced both the benefits of both remote working as well as working in the office. This group prefers a hybrid working week that is adapted to the needs of the employee and the needs of their work. Of course, there are also those at the far end who would prefer a life where they rarely attended a central office. 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. The COVID experience has shown that flexible working is effective and can be a normalised workplace behaviour. Now is the time to consult with employees to understand what they loved and want to keep versus what has been hard and is not sustainable. Firms need to understand what balance should be retained and how flexible working policies can enable a new normal that supports both employee and business goals. Of course, to address the 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. Early information suggests some firms were less prepared for the negative consequences 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. Firms will need to continue to evaluate the effectiveness of many 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 review includeproject 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 creating appropriate working from home environments 29'