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Reflections on lockdown – a year in

23rd March 2020 was the first day of full lockdown for the UK. At Obelisk Support, facilitating remote working is part of our DNA, so by this time last year we had already closed the London office and all our central team had moved to full-time home-working. Little did we know that a year on, we’d still be in lockdown in the UK, with many European countries on the brink of locking down again and the pandemic still claiming lives at home and around the world. We’ve stayed close to our consultants, colleagues and clients through the last 12 months, here’s what we’ve learnt.

“We have always been good at encouraging people to work around their families but now we had to reflect and adapt as life, not work, took precedence.”

Dana Denis-Smith -- CEO, Obelisk Support

We’re better together​

Working remotely has brought them closer to their colleagues than before.  For example, Jane, our Recruitment Manager, told us “I already worked flexibly and remotely so that wasn’t a big shift for me. But having everyone in the same situation meant that as a company, we saw far more of each other everyday through our daily Zoom check-ins”.  It’s a sentiment echoed by many Obelisk consultants, who have made remote work a core part of their practice over recent years. With the sudden move to enforced home working, clients became more accessible and legal leaders had a new found appreciation of the effort required to motivate and co-ordinate dispersed teams.

 

We’ve seen a new acceptance of technology

For years the legal industry has lagged behind other sectors in adopting new technologies, in some cases for good reason. Overnight, the old excuses were ripped away and suddenly, in the words of Rustum Rau, Legal Director for Americas and UK, BT Global, “Technology is no longer optional”. Whether it was for meeting clients, kids’ dance classes or a family Christmas, Zoom became part of our lives, enabling a closeness and sense of connection that was otherwise missing. The adoption of tools like Zoom has made the legal community more receptive to other technologies, with a rise in interest in contract automation, workflow and matter management and others.

 

London in lockdown

We’ve benefitted from losing the commute

For those of us who used to commute all or part of the week, we have between three and 10+ hours a week back to use for other things. “One of the great things about working at home is being able to down tools and go straight into family life”, one our consultants told us. Naz, Obelisk Technology Support Manager agrees, “You have a new appreciation for the remote working life, you’re saving money, you have a longer evening after work.” she told us. Whilst some still like to create some space between work and home life, perhaps by instituting a faux-commute, most of us appreciate being able to use this new extra time for activities that nourish rather than deplete.

We learnt to enjoy the small things in life

Looking at the dust-free leaves, glistening in the sun or looking up to the night sky and seeing starts – holding still has helped us seeing more in the things nearest to us. Being mindful and taking joy, finding small comforts that can help us to keep going. Having the family around has never felt more importance as we were kept apart; learning more about how our children learn and interact at school, enjoying family time have been the flip side of the coin as we were all thrown into one of the most intensive year’s of our lives. “We have always been good at encouraging people to work around their families”, says Obelisk CEO, Dana,  “but now we had to reflect and adapt as life not work took precedence.”

 

We’ve seen a greater appreciate of the role of legal

The pandemic has brought with it new questions and new risks for business, giving general counsel and their teams extra space to add value. Last April, we were proud to recognise some of the contributions different lawyers had made to the effort to fight the pandemic. More broadly, our clients and consultants report being brought into more areas of work across the business. As we move towards unlocking our societies and economies, demand for legal advice will only grow, in areas such as employment law and the lawfulness of mandatory vaccines and testing or commercial law and the management of supply chain risk.

 

We’ve learnt to keep going

Against a backdrop of loss – of life, of livelihood, of future prospects, of liberties – we have had to persevere and to draw on our individual and collective ingenuity and resilience. We’ve welcomed new colleagues into our central team who have seen their previous work disappear overnight. We have continued to place consultants old and new into fresh opportunities through-out the year. On top of that, we were proud to be chosen to receive funding from Innovate UK, to launch our new paralegal service and create extra opportunities for young talent. Most of our clients tell us they are busier than ever before, and looking for new ways to look after their people and deliver for their businesses.

We’ve learnt a new language

We throw around new terms such as “furlough” and “social distancing”. We debate the pros and cons of various vaccines and testing protocols. We track the “R-number”. More importantly, we’ve learnt to talk more to each other about our physical and mental health more broadly. Anxiety and depression have long been hidden in the profession, now the pandemic has placed greater emphasis on the importance of caring for each other and ourselves.  Whether “self-care” materialises through exercise, or, as in the case of our COO Will, building a Fender Precision bass guitar, we’re less afraid to share and more prepared to invest some time in ourselves.

 

We’ve grown more aware of inequalities

Far from being a great leveller, the pandemic has brought home how much work there still is to do to achieve equality of opportunity around the world. Institutional racism and sexism mean that BAME people and women are suffering disproportionately from the health and economic impacts of the pandemic. Events such as the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman and Sarah Everard remind us that the systems that should protect us all equally are failing to do so. There is hope, as we see many in the legal community take positive action as a result, yet there remains much work to do.

 

We’ve had time to think

For many of us, life in lockdown has provided a new time to think. For some, it has been the impetus to move into a freelance life, to embrace a new technology or to change the way their teams work. For others, it has led to a stronger appreciation of what they have. “I’ve really enjoyed the things that I used to take for granted, like playing games as a family, cooking all together and having film nights with my little brother”, reflects Obelisk marketing executive Brooke, “If it wasn’t for the pandemic, we wouldn’t even be in the same country.”

 

A Final Note

 

As we all reflect on this difficult anniversary, it is with mixed emotions. There is the grief we feel for the loss all around us, there is the hope that we can build a brighter future. There is a fresh impetus to do things differently, let’s not leave the lessons we’ve learnt behind as we move forward.

 

 

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