Tag Archives: office space

Yahoo Revokes Work-From-Home Policy, Should You?

It’s rare when conversations about real estate don’t focus on the financial crisis and toxic mortgages. But, today, our real estate debate is about a different type of risky asset—office space.

Shockingly, it’s no longer a given that businesses will have a physical office. Technology has opened up the professional world to more flexible work environments and hours.

A 2011 study by Telework Research Network found that working remotely increased 73 percent from 2005 to 2011 in the United States. And, in the field of law, numerous advertisements by firms seek telecommuting legal professionals.

Forget that stodgy nautical décor, and set sail for new horizons in law firm practice.

But before you jump on board, not all experts are so progressive about office space and flexible schedules. Brian Tannebaum in his article, “The Practice: Moving Offices,” for Above The Law, doesn’t understand this new virtual office trend..

“If you have an office, you spend a lot of time there. People visit, whether potential clients, actual clients, vendors, or solicitors,” Tannebaum points out. Working from home makes this impossible. Working from a cramped, un-presentable office space is perhaps worse.

“You may be a great estate planning lawyer in your city, but for those who don’t know that, when they see your crappy office that’s a mess and in a part of town that makes them hope their car will be there when they leave, that’s their first impression.”

First impressions are important—especially in law, which is essentially a service industry job.  “Try thinking of the ‘office space’ as ‘marketing space,’” counters Tannebaum.

Renting an impressive-looking office space a way to attract new clients and entertain (and retain) old ones. Not only that, you’d be surprised, according to Tannebaum, how little a person truly saves by forgoing a formal space.

“Understand that being around different lawyers, in a different part of town, or having to spend less time in the car getting to the courthouse, are all things that can make you money. The increased rent is merely an investment, not an expense,” explains Tannebaum.

Layers who skimp on poor location, amenities, or décor may save in the short-term, but they will lose the long-term benefits of many spillover effects.

For example, “It’s not just that the aesthetics are better—that clients will be impressed with better floors, nicer elevators, or a bigger office—it’s that if you are in a better location, you have a better opportunity to build your practice because you are in an environment of like-minded people.”

Many lawyers who have started their own practice now operate in shared offices with other lawyers. When you have a quick question, it’s quick and convenient to pop down the hall. If you think a quick call or e-mail is just as easy, you’ve clearly never tried to phone a lawyer.

At least one company, Internet search provider Yahoo, agrees with Tannebaum’s assessment of the importance of physical offices. Recently, Yahoo announced it was ending its work-from-home policy.

Although the company publicly stated, “”This isn’t a broad industry view on working from home—this is about what is right for Yahoo right now,” the overwhelming response to Yahoo’s decision was a disapproving one (via CNN).

Soon, other company representatives chipped in. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, quickly posted his opposition to Yahoo’s policy, voicing his opinion that a big part of successfully working with other people depends on, “trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision,” (via CNN).

In the end, what conclusions can we draw from this debate?

First, having an office space doesn’t exclude the possibility of telecommuting workers. In fact, firms can save money if lawyers share offices and come in to work on alternating days. This way, you keep the attractive office space, but scale down its overall cost.

Second, telecommuting and virtual offices are becoming less niche and more normative—even in the legal world. So, if you decide to revoke your policies surrounding work-from-home, be ready for a negative backlash.

Finally, if you don’t trust your employees to be productive at home, ask yourself, is this really going change if you force them in an office?

-WB

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Why Feng Shui In Your Office Will Boost Employee Productivity

Feng Shui, simply translated from Chinese, means “wind” and “water.” Together, the words represent harmony and balance.

Feng Shui can be traced back 6,000 years in ancient China, when the art first found its roots in the dispersion of energy or “chi,” which was thought to flow through the universe and influence our daily lives.

“Through the knowledge of Feng Shui, people are believed to be able to make themselves more compatible with nature, their surroundings and their own everyday life, so that they can make an impact on their finances, health, and emotions.”1

In the office, moving furniture and other objects to conform with Feng Shui practice is thought to make employees more productive, happy, and energetic.

Although you may not be sold on this ancient Chinese practice, studies have shown that physical aspects of the office do, in fact, alter employee performance. And, although these studies do not specifically test the success of Feng Shui, they can help law firm managers improve employee efficiency through a few, related workplace changes.

First, employee performance has been shown to fluctuate with air temperature. A study by Alan Hedge, Ph.D., CPE, and Cornell University, found that when office air temperature dropped from a comfortable 77 degrees to a chillier 68 degrees, typing mistakes increased by 74 percent and typing output decreased by 46 percent (via Ergonomics Today).

So, the next time your employees complain about hot or cold, take them seriously. And, look to rent office space that has floor-to-floor (or room-to-room) adjustable thermostats.

Second, in a different study, experts discovered that 80 percent of participants preferred working at adjustable workstations that permitted them to alternate between sitting and standing positions throughout the day. More importantly, these workers scored higher on productivity measures (via Ergonomics Today).

“We found that the computer workers who had access to the adjustable work surfaces also reported significantly less musculoskeletal upper-body discomfort, lower afternoon discomfort scores and significantly more productivity,” explained Hedge, director of Cornell’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory, in a press statement reported by Ergonomics Today.

Therefore, when it’s time to replace those dingy old office desks, look for adjustable options. Include standing space for highlighting or hole-punching briefs, and then include sitting room for those moments when lawyers need to buckle down.

Finally, not only do employees benefit from a few aesthetic changes around the office, but the firm’s bottom line improves as well.

It turns out, law firms can save money on office rent by simply using existing space more resourcefully.

For example, according to the Wall Street Journal, a law firm in large U.S. cities pay as much as $1 million to $2 million a month in rent to house 300 attorneys. Yet, in reality, many agree that attorneys are given way too much office space.

“It’s such a big line item,” says Greg Nitzkowski, managing partner for Paul Hastings LLP, a major U.S. law firm (via WSJ). “It’s a natural place to look for efficiency.”

So, as your lease comes up for renewal, think about downsizing lawyer offices or doubling them up.

Also consider the productivity implications of close proximity. When the international law firm Allen & Overy LLP moved to a new London office in 2005, the firm looked for a generic floor plan with mixed windowed offices and cubicles. But, at the least, everybody in the firm had soundproof glass walls.

“You can wave at someone going by,” said Edward Mackaness, associate director of business services for that office (via WSJ). “But they can pull the door… if they need the quiet they can create the quiet.”

If your firm can’t afford glass, consider an open-plan office to facilitate peer-to-peer communication. This will help less experienced first-year associates find help when needed. Close proximity of junior and senior attorneys will also create a forum for mentorship relationships.

In an open-plan office, no person works in isolation. And—like family-style dining—this close-knit seating makes more efficient use of office space, which saves your firm on rent.

One of the fundamental principles of Feng Shui is Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang is a representation of harmony and continual change. In the same vein, don’t let your office environment become stagnant. Change it up. If you do, you’ll watch as associates become happier, client work becomes more productively completed, and the firm checkbook becomes more balanced toward the black.

-WB

Read more in “Law Firms Say Good-Bye Office, Hello Cubicle,” by Jennifer Smith for the Wall Street Journal.

1. Feng Shui-The Ancient Doctrine of Feng Shui http://chineseculture.about.com/library/weekly/aa041700a.htm

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Ergonomic Office Chairs & Other Surprising Ways To Increase Productivity In The Workplace

It’s not surprising that a comfortable workplace is a productive one. But, what specific changes can a law firm administrator implement to increase the productivity of the office?

First, air temperature in the office has been shown to alter employee performance. In a study by Alan Hedge, Ph.D., CPE, and Cornell University, computer workers’ productivity was found to fluctuate with the room temperature.

The study found that when office temperatures dropped from a comfortable 77 degrees to a chillier 68 degrees, typing mistakes increased by 74 percent and typing output decreased by 46 percent (via Ergonomics Today).

Therefore, to ensure law firm professionals obey proper grammar rules, placing an “i” after “e” except after “c”, speak to your building manager about year-round climatization and temperature regulation.

Second, a different study—also focusing on the impact of employee comfort—found that 80 percent of participants preferred working at adjustable workstations that permitted them to alternate between sitting and standing positions throughout the day. In addition, these workers scored higher on productivity measures (via Ergonomics Today).

“We found that the computer workers who had access to the adjustable work surfaces also reported significantly less musculoskeletal upper-body discomfort, lower afternoon discomfort scores and significantly more productivity,” explained Hedge, director of Cornell’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory, in a press statement reported by Ergonomics Today.

However, desk height is not only factor to consider. Ergonomic chairs are another great way to improve employee comfort and productivity, simultaneously.

When purchasing office seating, consider the following factors (excerpt via Spine Health):

“Seat height. Office chair seat height should be easily adjustable. A pneumatic adjustment lever is the easiest way to do this. A seat height that ranges from about 16 to 21 inches off the floor should work for most people. This allows the user to have his or her feet flat on the floor, with thighs horizontal and arms even with the height of the desk.

Seat width and depth. The seat should have enough width and depth to support any user comfortably. Usually 17-20 inches wide is the standard. The depth (from front to back of the seat) needs to be enough so that the user can sit with his or her back against the backrest of the ergonomic office chair while leaving approximately 2 to 4 inches between the back of the knees and the seat of the chair. The forward or backward tilt of the seat should be adjustable.

Lumbar support. Lower back support in an ergonomic chair is very important. The lumbar spine has an inward curve, and sitting for long periods without support for this curve tends to lead to slouching (which flattens the natural curve) and strains the structures in the lower spine. An ergonomic chair should have a lumbar adjustment (both height and depth) so each user can get the proper fit to support the inward curve of the lower back.

 

Backrest. The backrest of an ergonomic office chair should be 12 to 19 inches wide. If the backrest is separate from the seat, it should be adjustable in height and angle. It should be able to support the natural curve of the spine, again with special attention paid to proper support of the lumbar region. If the office chair has the seat and backrest together as one piece, the backrest should be adjustable in forward and back angles, with a locking mechanism to secure it from going too far backward once the user has determined the appropriate angle.

 

Seat material. The material on the office chair seat and back should have enough padding to be comfortable to sit on for extended periods of time. Having a cloth fabric that breathes is preferable to a harder surface.”

In fact, studies confirm that work posture has a direct impact on worker productivity.

So, whether you’re opening new law offices or redecorating your current ones, brainstorm with your interior design architect about adjustable seating and reliable air ducting.

Although certain ergonomic furniture may be more costly in the short-term, your law firm will see benefits two-fold in increased productivity in the long run.

Ask yourself—what did you do to make the office more comfortable today?

 

-WB

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New Business Models: Avatar Lawyers Still Too Space Age For Today

You won’t find large office space, power suits, or even lawyers inside the Penn. Ave.-based bureau of the law firm Clearspire. Confused? Not President and CEO Bryce Arrowood, he is confident. According to Arrowood, Clearspire represents the pinnacle of a changing market for legal services.

Clearspire aims to “change the system,” with a new approach to client billing and legal services. At a typical firm, according to Clearspire, partner profits comprise over 30 percent of typical big law balance sheets. Office overhead accounts for another third. Only the final tranche of revenue—one-third of the billable rate—is earmarked for those attorneys’ salaries diligent and dedicated to client work product. Since October, Clearspire has worked to channel more firm profits into direct value for the client.

To accomplish this, Clearspire has a 1:2 ratio of lawyers to business managers—fodder for reflection on how much information technology and business administration, as opposed to actual lawyering, plays into the smooth operation of a law firm.   For those few Of Counsel at Clearspire, there is no dress code or FLEX schedule request forms. Most attorneys already work from home via high-tech software with virtual meeting rooms and virtual representations of each employee. The Washington Post, first to profile the firm, reports:

“One of the first things new hires do on the job is pose for three photos that become their online avatars—one on the phone, one too busy to be interrupted and one available—which allow their colleagues to begin conversations only when appropriate.”

Clearspire is not off track. Dan DiLuccio, a Principal at Altman Weil, is quoted as saying, “The current economic environment may be the tipping point that causes general counsel to finally demand real financial accountability from their law firms or start moving to firms that are more flexible.”

But Clearspire has chosen an extreme response. In the same way the e-book industry is slow to gain market share, the total digitalization and outsourcing of legal services is perhaps too much, too soon. Although Kindle and Nook sales are high, the general population has shown its preference for the feel of a new hard-backed book. Similarly, individuals filing for divorce or corporations facing high-stakes mergers, though dissatisfied with the current cost-to-efficiency ratio, would not attend a meeting with a lawyer in jeans. Or, for that matter, the avatar of a lawyer in jeans.

By founding Clearspire, Arrowood is trying to respond to clients’ growing frustration with high fees in the legal industry, especially for those lower-level employees. “These people are being billed at $400 at least per hour. And the clients are saying, ‘Why am I paying to train this guy?’”

Nevertheless, Clearspire seems predominantly focused on blue-collar lawyering. If firms only reward middle-level legions, who is left to train the first-years? And, what motivation would they then have to earn promotions to partner level—especially when there’s no partnership at all?

There are, of course, many positive aspects of Clearspire’s practice. For example, the idea that law firms, like any business, need administrators. Too many firms skimp on human resources, or consider themselves too boutique to follow a strict and proper budget. A lawyer is only as good as his paralegal. In the same way, a law firm is only as good as its structure. Administrators are the ones who contribute fresh ideas regarding bonuses, employee incentives, and bureaucracy that both attract new employees and retain the old.

Also, Clearspire’s clear priority on information technology systems, is, in fact, critical to success. If your firm’s budget is pressed for funds in today’s economy, it’s important not to skimp on computers, electronic discovery software, or case management programs. Law firms should embrace the technology revolution, or face a fate similar to Howrey’s, which failed because of its inability to evolve.

Finally, Clearspire is committed to flexibility on the part of its offices and employee schedules. Efficiency is achieved differently by different people. So ask your employees what motivates them, and implement changes accordingly. Remember, a system of monetary incentives does not make the best policy.

A step in the right direction doesn’t have to be a giant leap forward. Gradual but substantive changes will demonstrate to clients that your firm is committed to serving them capably and consistently in this new generation of law.

-WB

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How To Restructure Your Office To Encourage Teamwork

French investigators recently found the remains of the Air France plane that crashed into the Atlantic en route to Paris from Rio de Janeiro in June 2009. Both Air France and Airbus are facing charges of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the crash and the consequent death of 228 people.It’s not the first time an airliner has taken the heat for mass fatalities due to a plane crash. In December 1995, American Airlines flight 965 collided with a mountain just 38 miles from its final destination. Investigation attributed pilot and crew error to the crash, and American Airlines faced numerous lawsuits from family members of the 160 victims. At a critical point in the flight, the pilot and flight crew were discussing flight attendant duty schedules instead of discussing imminent arrival and descent procedures. The lack of situational awareness on the part of the flightcrew and their lack of knowledge of the location of critical radio aids were also key causes of the crash. Had the crew acted more decisively when the Ground Proximity Warning Alarm sounded, research shows the plane would have likely avoided the mountain.Lessons in teamwork make for a life or death situation in air flight. At law firms, lessons in teamwork can lead to the life or death of your case. As in air travel, technology has led to more autonomy on the part of professionals at the detriment of interpersonal dialogue. Email, computer database systems, and case management software, to name a few, have in some ways eliminated the need for personal contact, conversation, or day-to-day coordination among legal professionals. However, traditional values on team performance and leadership are still essential to a successful law practice and should be honed as often as other, more modern competencies, like understanding legal technology.            Work among teams is crucial, since teams are organic, dynamic, and flexible. Teams can be organized horizontally, or exist within a hierarchy—under an elected leader. The brainstorming process is key, and whether or not you realize it, often dependent on proximity. In an office environment, associates tend to seek the advice of the person closest to them. In many law firms, associates on the same hallway or certain floor bond together naturally and form ad hoc teams. It’s easy to seek the advice of a neighboring associate or suitemate by simply walking next door.Therefore, when designing the office, ensure the floor plan reflects a diversity of expertise and gender. Disburse the first-year associates around the office, as opposed to sitting them on the same floor. This will allow them to seek mentorship with older, more experienced attorneys. Make a concerted effort to equally distribute law firm managers, litigation consultants, of counsel, younger associates, and paralegals, rather than dedicating entire sections of the office to one department (or one age group). When it comes to conference rooms, try oval or circular tables so that there is no command seat. Associates will feel more apt to contribute if they’re made to believe their opinions are equal. Also, set seating placement during meetings often promotes power plays, rather than peer brainstorming.             Finally, teamwork can also be encouraged via training seminars and mandatory professional development time. The ability to work cohesively as a group will make all the difference at trial, when attention to detail and clear communication among the members of the legal team means more technical errors are caught in time—and quick decisions made unfalteringly—to save a crashing case.

-WB

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