25 May 2020

Norton Rose Fulbright lays out post Covid-19 office-working plans

Peter Scott

Peter Scott: 'Unsurprisingly, there is a correlation between people being relatively or very relaxed about returning to the office in those countries where Covid-19 has been better contained'

Firm will only re-open offices gradually amid shift to permanent flexible working model

Lawyers at Norton Rose Fulbright across the world remain cautious about returning to the office as the firm starts to plan its long-term working arrangements in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Peter Scott, the firm’s managing partner, said only 12% of its workers are very relaxed about returning to work, according to a survey of its staff in Europe, Middle East and Asia. The firm said it is only planning for a gradual and phased return to office work.

Scott said: “Unsurprisingly, there is a correlation between people being relatively or very relaxed about returning to the office in those countries where Covid-19 has been better contained, such as in Asia and Germany. Also, where people depend on public transport to travel to the office, people are understandably more cautious.”

In the UK, where the pandemic has claimed the lives of at least 36,000 people, more than two-thirds of Norton Rose Fulbright staff are cautious about returning to its London office. By contrast, in Germany, only 6% of its staff say they are very cautious about returning to the office.

Scott said the plan for a gradual return to office working will be dependent on government recommendations in the relevant jurisdiction and only when its staff are comfortable returning. In the short to medium-term, any return will mean restricting the number of people allowed in the office, limiting use of meeting rooms and providing face coverings for staff. Business travel will also be discouraged.

The firm said it plans to implement a more flexible working model given that almost 80% of its staff have a positive or very positive view of remote working, adding that productivity has not been negatively impacted.

Scott said: “Our firm’s transition to full remote working in response to coronavirus, and this level of support for greater flexibility to work from home has made us evaluate the future of how we work. We are currently mapping a blue print for a more flexible working model.”  

He added: “We recognise the importance of ensuring that people working from home enjoy the same experiences and benefits they would get from working in an office environment; that home office arrangements will need to be upgraded; and that any new arrangement must work from the perspective of our clients and our business.”

On 2 April, Norton Rose Fulbright relaunched the flexible working scheme it adopted during the financial crisis, asking staff to reduce their working hours by up to 20%. Similar schemes have subsequently been adopted by numerous UK and US law firms.

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