• 97% of EMEA legal firms now expect to adopt hybrid working as part of their long-term real estate strategy, whereas 12 months ago 89% were still operating fixed desk policies
  • The office as a hub for teamwork will be prioritised: 78% expect to increase collaboration space in the next 18-24 months
  • 89% remain committed to city centre office locations

Government mandated work from home policies, introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, have triggered a rethink of the traditional working strategies favoured by EMEA legal firms, according to a flash survey[1] by global real estate advisor, CBRE.

Hybrid working – where time is split between the office and remote or home locations - is expected to form part of long-term real estate strategies by 97% of those surveyed. This represents a significant shift for a sector which historically has favoured more traditional patterns of office occupation. In CBRE’s 2019 Law in EMEA report, 89% reported fully fixed desk working policies – where all staff have assigned seating – a strategy associated with very low levels of remote or home working.

This shift has catalysed the reprioritisation of various aspects of workplace strategy, with focus in the next 18-24 months expected to be concentrated on IT/ mobile connectivity (82% rate as more important than pre-lockdown), workforce collaboration (73% rate as more important than pre lockdown) and employee wellbeing (66% rate as more important than pre lockdown). It seems that, alongside an acceptance of a long-term increase in the proportion of work done from home, legal firms are also emphasising the importance of collaboration during those times when workers are in the office, and devoting more space to informal meeting and collaboration hubs than previously.

While remote and home working is expected to become more prevalent, no firms reported a preference for full-time remote working. The most popular option is for employees to work from home for two days a week (55%). This is seemingly in-line with employees’ own preferences, with CBRE’s recent Global Employee Sentiment Survey finding that 85% of those surveyed would like to work remotely two-three days a week.

Specification and location of offices remain important: 61% now consider WELL or Green certification as more important than they did pre-lockdown and 89% report no change to the importance of city centre locations in the next 18-24 months.

[1] 43 legal firms across EMEA surveyed between 8th-15th September 2020

For most sectors, the enforced ‘work from home experiment’ has served to accelerate hybrid working trends that were already taking shape. By comparison, the legal sector was still operating under very traditional principles pre-pandemic. EMEA lockdowns have fast-tracked law firms’ working strategies, delivering years if not decades of change in just a few months and bringing the legal sector’s agile working approach more in line with that of other professional industries.

The shift to mass home working initially lent itself well to the legal sector, proving that this is a viable option for law firms who were traditionally averse to remote working. However, as the possibility of secondary lockdowns approaches, legal firms, along with most businesses, are realising that full-time home working could be cumulatively detrimental to employees’ mental health and wellbeing, with implications for productivity too.

Our survey shows that the longer we remain constrained by COVID restrictions, the more law firms are appreciating the inherent value of an office environment in bringing people together. This is reflected in the support recorded for remaining in city centre locations over a dispersed suburban approach. COVID restrictions have undoubtedly triggered a sea change in legal firms’ workplace strategies, however it is plain to see that the office will continue to play a pivotal role in the future.
Frankie Warner Lacey, Head of Legal Practice Group at CBRE