Tag Archives: decor

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 Your Firm Should Throw Nautical Décor Out To Sea

Who doesn’t like a ship in a bottle? It turns out, most generations under the age of 65.

So, law firms are setting sail toward new contemporary decor, leaving behind nautical ornaments and outdated office accouterments.

Although some equity partners may shake their heads at the frivolry, the truth is, clients and employees care about the décor of an office. When clients enter an advertising firm, for example, the surrounds speak to the creativity and design of the team.

Law firms should strive to send the same message to their clients, that work ethic, creativity, and productivity levels—like standards for interior design—are high.

“Law firms tend to be bastions of Old World stuff,” Lauren Jennings, managing partner, Posternak Blankstein & Lund, said to the Boston Globe, “but if you walk into almost any other kind of service, from advertising agencies to even our clients’ offices, they aren’t fuddy-duddy like that.”

In a recession, careless décor can send the wrong signal to potential clients that the firm is in financial trouble. Enough oil paintings of eerie-looking ex-partners will send them running for the poorly-hung door.

Law offices do not have to emulate Google’s working-environment strategy, with ping-pong tables in the staff room and mohair rugs. But, they should eschew conventional mahogany desks and wood-paneled partitions that scream to new clients, “our firm partners, like our walls, do not embrace change.”

It goes without saying, however, redecorating should not be the reason why your firm stays in the red.

When it comes to décor choices, Mark Montgomery, founder of FLOthinkery and entrepreneur-in-residence at Nashville, Tenn.-based VC firm Claritas Capital, advises Entrepreneur magazine that companies should remain practical.

“When I go into a startup burning $300,000 a month, and they’ve got posh offices with great furniture, I immediately think the leadership team’s priorities are in the wrong place,” he said to Entrepreneur.

The idea is to make your office space reflect the attitude of your firm, not its accounting.

“We didn’t want anything that was going to make our clients walk in and say, ‘Gee, how much did I pay for that?’” Jennings said to the Boston Goble. Posternak Blankstein & Lund, a 55-lawyer firm, spent $53,000 on art.

“This modern look is more in keeping with who a lot of our middle-market clients are, and it shows them we identify with what’s going on in the world today, rather than with what the traditional law firm was 100 years ago.”

Boutique firms are most at risk, facing fierce BigLaw (with big bucks) competition. Luckily, clients enjoy the charm and detail-oriented nature of small firms, so it’s time to take advantage. If not during a downturn, then when?

“When you’re a boutique firm of 25 lawyers like we are, and you’re competing against the biggest and the best and the brightest, it’s important that you differentiate yourself,” Thomas E. Dwyer Jr. of Dwyer & Collora said to the Boston Globe.

Although your current budget may not support thousands of dollars of office decoration, every firm can afford to invest in innovative ideas. If unique art is what you’re after, commission a student at the local university to create a series of paintings. Or, ask the photographer son of a senior partner to provide a few themed photos to frame around the office.

Finally, look to your employees to contribute ideas on what environment encourages their productivity, as well as comfort. The best resources at law firms are the people roaming the halls.

-WB

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