Looking at the “recall campaigns” by companies to get their employees to return to the workplace on site, it seems an impossible endeavour to get the released genie back into the bottle. The future forms of work have also arrived in law firms and legal departments. The consulting and service industry is challenged to find new ways in the working area.

Aspects of future work
The future of work is, amongst other powerful drivers, particularly marked by an ongoing transformation through automation and the integration of technological innovations (#digitalization, #AI), flexible working models (#workation, #remote work, #home office, #parttime work, #job sharing, #top sharing), lifelong learning (#executive education), and a changing workplace culture (#diversity, #inclusion, #collaboration, #gig economy).

Considering human beings remains key
When we look at the work environment, we should keep in mind that there is a key element: the #human factor. And the fact that despite all mankind’s technological achievements, we still react like #cavemen. This is also relevant for the legal sector. Lawyers often forget that providing correct legal advice is of course key – for them (#liability) – but that the consulting industry must still be seen as a people’s business (#service). To establish and maintain a close relationship with colleagues and customers, we need to accept that it is not sufficient to meet each other in Teams or Zoom.

This shows the sheer impossibility of the situation lawyers are stuck in, i.e. to simultaneously please all stakeholders. This reveals the core problem: lawyers, customers, and CFOs (#lease optimization, #cost reduction) want to benefit from the new conditions in their own working environment (#freedom). However, our human nature and needs are diametrically opposed to this (#proximity bias). How can we harmonize the conflicting interests?

Starting is more important than perfectionism
The key ingredients for future work are the same: amount of work, flexibility, and remote working. However, there is a huge grey area between working as a farmer, or as a worker on the assembly line, or as a (knowledge) worker who is now being completely released from work due to being replaced by AI. This does not make it easy to find the right solution for a company. Of course, we can apply the wellknown Swiss compromise: we permit employees to work remotely for two days if they want to and if their work allows for it.

Why is it important? Employees want to be heard, and the recruitment market needs a signal that an employer is flexible and open to adapting to new possibilities, at least within limits. Such a compromise seems a good beginning to provide some security to the market and subsequently to apply a trial and learning approach. We need to accept that this is a journey we have just embarked on, and that this can no longer be argued away. We had better embrace it somehow rather than fighting it (#war for talent, #motivation, #productivity).

Recommendations for managers
What does change for managers? I think not much, except for the fact that they lose direct “access” to their employees (#control). They should have more confidence in them (#trust), and they need to be successful in managing this process (#change). The wellknown leadership rules and styles continue to apply in the future work situation. Employees still want to have a meaningful job. And what now ensues in addition is the challenge that more employees want to work for a company and industry which is important for society and creates a positive #impact (#purpose).

My recommendation is to #empower employees, to demand more #accountability and more #ownership for their areas of responsibility. This has an additional side effect: it will also increase employees’ satisfaction and the meaningfulness of their work.

Furthermore, managers will need to become a bit more relaxed with regard to physical presence and place trust in the skills we learnt during the pandemic. However, we also need to keep a critical eye on the next technological temptations; just because something is (technically) possible does not automatically mean that it is good and should be blindly implemented as a matter of principle.

What is left? We haven’t yet addressed the question as to what work will look like in the future. Will work still play an important role in the future? Will there be any work left to be done at all in the future if AI really might relieve us of this burdensome activity, as the doomsday merchants will have us believe?
I am curious to see what the future will bring. And we shouldn’t forget that even if we can’t control everything, we can control some of it ourselves.

About the author(s)

1 Bruno Mascello UNI SG PORTRAIT 0112222287 INTERNET

Prof. Dr. Bruno Mascello Director, Academic Director Law & Management

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