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When it comes to human resourcing models, there has been a notable mindset shift in the legal profession and other fields. More firms are coming to realise that remote and flexible working practices do actually work for them in practice. And there’s a growing willingness to either experiment with or fully embrace agile working in its various forms.  

Flexible working – the new norm?

Last year, the IoD surveyed around 600 business leaders and found that more than 60% plan to adopt hybrid working in their organisations, even after restrictions ease. Additionally, 63% intend to shift toward one to four days of remote working per week.

We find this encouraging as a company that specialises in placing flexible roles—and one that has been championing this way of work for over a decade.

We are also heartened by the UK Government’s growing support for more flexible working practices. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy recently released a report entitled Making Flexible Working the Default, which confirmed that supporting a “world class approach to flexible working” plays a key role in government’s ambition to “build back better”. According to the report, this means focusing on “all forms of flexibility – when you work as well as where you work – freeing employers and employees alike from the default 9-to-5 model in order to recruit and retain the talent we need.”

Another benefit of flexible working, as highlighted in the report, is its ability to foster greater inclusivity, diversity and equality in the workplace:

“For many jobs there are still invisible restrictions that hold people back – like the need to live in high-cost accommodation close to the centre of cities or maintain working arrangements that are very hard to combine with family or other responsibilities. We want to enable a high skilled, high productivity, high wage economy that also delivers on our ambition to make the UK the best place in the world to work – whoever you are and wherever you live.”

So, what is flexible working exactly?

There is no universal definition and approaches continue to evolve. Often, it is explained by the fact that flexible working is not the traditional 9-to-5, Monday to Friday work week based in a fixed workplace.

Thanks to recent experience, we all understand the concept of work-from-home. Let’s unpack some other flexible approaches:

#1 Staggered hours and flexi-time

These systems allow workers some discretion in setting the time when they start and finish work, often within prescribed limits. For example, some team members may work 7am–3pm while others work 10am–6pm. The difference is that staggered working hours, once agreed, tend to remain fixed; while flexi-time hours can vary at the employee’s discretion, provided certain core hours are worked each day (e.g., 10am to 4pm).

#2 Compressed hours

With this model, employees can work their normal contracted hours over a reduced number of days. A common example is the nine-day fortnight, where employees are invited to work their two weeks’ worth of contracted hours over nine rather than 10 days. This means an extra day off every fortnight.

Another way to approach this is the four-day work week. A 2019 Study by Henley Business School found that a four-day working week on full pay could not only improve people’s physical and mental health, but also elevate their performance at work. Among the UK-based businesses following this model, 78% said their employees were happier, 70% were less stressed, and 62% took fewer sick days. Furthermore, 64% reported improvements in staff productivity. All in all, the study found that a four-day working week could save UK businesses around £104 billion annually.  

And that was before the pandemic changed our worldview! We look forward to seeing the results of the four-day week pilot programme being run this year by the Autonomy think tank and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College. This six-month trial will involve 30 firms that allow their employees to work 32 hours per week with no change to their compensation or benefits. A growing number of companies in the UK are signing up to give it a go: most recently, a telecoms firm, video game developer and training company.

#3 Job-sharing and part-time

These forms of working have been around for some time but may now be viewed in a new light. Job sharing enables two employees to voluntarily share the responsibilities and duties of one full-time job (with pay, benefits and leave allocated on a pro rata basis). In the UK there were 122,000 employees on job-sharing contracts in 2021 – up 3,000 from 2020 (but still down from a high of 185,000 in 2013)

Part-time work, on the other hand, involves working a reduced number of hours. In the UK, there is no specific number of hours that makes someone full or part-time, although a full-time worker typically works more than 35 hours a week.

#4 Hybrid models

This aims to combine the traditional in-office approach with the work-from-anywhere model that so many companies were forced to adopt during the pandemic. Terms can be negotiated to suit the employer, the employee, and the nature of the job, which could mean anything from working remotely one day a week to coming into the office just one day a month.

More choice for legal teams

The rise of flexible working and the growing acceptance thereof gives legal teams more choices when developing their resourcing strategies. Having the flexibility to pull in trusted and experienced legal consultants creates new opportunities for teams to manage increasingly demanding expectations and growing pressure to keep costs down. It also enables them to bridge skills gaps and access new capabilities that may be needed for specific projects, helping them to efficiently build a more responsive legal department or law firm.

Importantly, a more flexible resourcing approach gives general counsel more cognitive space. With legal consultants taking care of routine or additional workloads, in-house professionals have more freedom to focus on core or critical projects. Also, with extra support during busy periods, legal teams are not under constant pressure to work late into the night. This affords them more time to exercise, socialise, spend time with family or simply just get enough sleep—with a positive impact on the overall health and wellbeing of the team.

3 ways Obelisk Support can help you tap into these advantages

At Obelisk Support, we have been delivering flexible legal work for over a decade. We keep talent in the industry by matching clients to a community of thousands of highly-experienced legal professionals.

Here are three ways in which we can support your legal team, business or law firm:

1. Part-time “virtual” team:
Legal consultants available for an agreed number of hours each month to support your business through a period of growth or a period of transformation

2. Interim counsel:
To cover for parental leave, sick leave, holiday cover and so forth.

3. Flexible resource:
General counsel, barristers, lawyers and paralegals who are on hand to manage a spike in workload, specific projects or specialist work.

Whether you need hours, days or months of support, we’ll talk through your needs, explain how we can help, and recommend a service model. We are open to various arrangements. Whilst many of our consultants work remotely, we can also provide you with consultants who work in your offices or work their days across both locations.

To ensure you get the skills, level of experience, and cultural fit you are looking for quickly, our unique matching technology will help us resource your project from our network of thousands of skilled lawyers and paralegals. We oversee your service delivery and regularly check in to make sure that your work is being delivered to the highest standard, according to your expectations.

As long-time champions of flexible working—and the many ways this can benefit the legal profession and society at large—we look forward to the role we, our consultants and our forward-thinking clients will play in reimagining the way work happens to promote progress in our industry.

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