Linklaters 'agile' working signals big changes for offices post-COVID

·Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
·4 min read
A worker arrives at his office in the Canary Wharf business district in London February 26, 2014. London's financial services sector created 25 percent more jobs in February than a year ago, new data has shown, indicating the industry may be recovering from the restructuring and redundancies prompted by the financial crisis. After a strong January, the City hiring market showed no signs of slowing down last month, with 3,220 new jobs created, compared with 2,575 added in February 2013, according to financial services recruiter Astbury Marsden. The data suggests London's banks and financial services companies are returning to growth after slashing thousands of jobs in the face of a lengthy recession and a series of industry scandals that followed the financial crisis. Picture taken February 26, 2014. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh (BRITAIN - Tags: BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)  ATTENTION EDITORS: PICTURE 03 OF 25 FOR PACKAGE 'CITY OF LONDON - LIFE IN THE SQUARE MILE'. TO FIND ALL IMAGES SEARCH 'RECRUITER KEOGH'
A worker arrives at his office in the Canary Wharf business district in London. Photo: REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

Linklaters, one of the world’s biggest law firms, has told staff they can work from home for up to half the time, a change that will remain in place even after COVID-19 restrictions ease.

The new policy is indicative of a broader step-change in how corporate leaders are viewing offices and productivity. Executives have been surprised how much staff can get done from home and are now considering giving employees more power over where and when they work.

As a result, companies ranging from banks to tech companies and even retailers are reconsidering how much office space they need — or whether they need offices at all.

Linklaters said on Tuesday it was adopting a new “agile” work policy, allowing staff to spend up to 50% of their time working remotely. Employees are also being encouraged to ask for more flexible start and finish times if they need them.

“The Covid-19 pandemic and our enforced remote working experiment has given us an opportunity to take stock and revisit how we approach agile and remote working,” Andrea Arosio, a managing partner of Linklaters in Italy and member of Linklaters’ global people committee, said in a statement.

“Our recent experience has demonstrated that, whilst we are a people-focussed business and collaboration is key, remote working has worked remarkably well and we can deliver high quality work whilst working remotely.”

READ MORE: How employers can make the most of remote working in the future

Linklaters employs 52,000 people across 30 offices in 20 countries. The new “agile” working policy will apply globally and is “intended to apply beyond Covid-19 restrictions”.

The shift to more remote working at one of the world’s largest law firms comes as other major corporates consider changing how and where they work. Executives are considering allowing staff to spend more time away from the office and planning to shift away from large headquarters towards more distributed offices.

On Wednesday trading firm IG wrote to its employees telling them they could work from home for the rest of 2020 if they want to.

“We recognise that this is a very personal choice so we are offering our staff maximum flexibility to continue to work from home or come back into the office,” a spokesperson said.

“Depending on the type of business, you may be working one week a month from home, or two days a week from home, or two weeks a month,” JP Morgan’s (JPM) investment banking chief Daniel Pinto told CNBC in an interview this week.

His comments echo those of Barclays (BARC.L) chief executive Jes Staley, who said earlier this year that packed offices could be “a thing of the past”.

“I think people will rethink their real estate footprint,” Jes Staley told journalists in July. “We are going to think about our real estate mix given the lessons that we’ve learned.”

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US retailer Recreational Equipment, known as REI, is planning to sell its custom-built Seattle headquarters before ever moving in, according to the Wall Street Journal. Instead, the company will focus on regional offices and remote working.

Amazon (AMZN) is also pursuing a regional office strategy. Earlier this month it announced plans to open new offices in six major cities across the US.

Some tech companies are going even further. Twitter (TWTR) made headlines in May when it announced that all staff would be allowed to work remotely forever.

The moves signal a fundamental reshaping of how people work in response to COVID-19. The changes are likely to create permanent change that may well outlast the pandemic.

At Linklaters, Arosio said offices remain important “hubs of teamwork and learning”. But they are unlikely to be the centre of work they once were.

“Being agile is essential to our business, meeting the needs of our people and our clients,” Arosio said in a statement. “We are committed to fostering our agile culture which encourages our people develop working arrangements which suit their needs along with those of the firm and our clients.”