In the past, most every law firm employee worked in an office - often in a tony high-rise. But the pandemic forced a reimagining of how and where everyone works. This challenge to the traditional arrangement had the effect of highlighting the very substantial economic impact — on both sides of working from an office.
From the employer’s side, a 10x10 foot administrative office space in a “Class A” office building could cost the employer more than $4,000/year in rent, on top of ridiculously expensive parking. These costs directly impact law firm profitability, since office lease expenses are commonly a firm’s second largest expense item.
From the employee’s side — over the course of a year — each two minutes of one-way commute time, translated into all of a waking day. In other words, an employee who had a thirty-minute commute to and from the office, spent the equivalent of more than fifteen waking days every year, sitting in their car. Imagine if employees could trade those days for weeks of vacation, or extra pay.
These observations are not intended to suggest that working from home is a panacea. From the employer’s side, working from home inhibits direct supervision, and may permit the employee to spend extra time on unproductive, non-work activities. (Interestingly, early research suggests that many employees are at least as productive working from home as they are working from an office.)
From the employee’s side, the convenience and reduced costs of not commuting are undeniably attractive. Simply not having to dress up for work can be a significant benefit (and perhaps, cost-saving) for some workers. But not all employees prefer working from home. For example, not everyone has an ideal, distraction-free work space in their home (think barking dogs, screaming kids, non-work phone calls and seemingly daily Amazon deliveries).
On both sides of the equation, some employers and some employees genuinely prefer “tele-commuting,” others can’t wait to get back in the office, and still others want the best of both worlds.
It is currently a “seller’s market” for employees, but the disparity in who “has the upper hand,” tends to shift back and forth. What is clear, however, is that — now and for the foreseeable future — both sides need to accept (if not embrace) the certainty that working-from-home has become a permanent part of the labor market.
The take-away seems to be that — going forward — both employers and employees need to be very mindful of what best serves their interests (personally, professionally and financially), and to accept a new paradigm for work arrangements.