National firm makes WFH arrangements a permanent option

By Jerome Doraisamy|15 May 2020
National firm makes WFH arrangements a permanent option

In the interests of wellness, remote and flexible arrangements will be made available to all employees who want it in a post-pandemic world at one national firm.

HBA Legal on Friday confirmed that it will offer work from home arrangements to every employee even after the global coronavirus pandemic has concluded, which it says is a first for large Australian law firms.

“In recent weeks there has been a chorus of workplace equality experts commentating on whether employers will ‘see the light’ and realise that working from home doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of productivity and subsequently shift their expectations in how their people work into the future,” the firm told Lawyers Weekly.

The firm has thus informed staff that the workplace wellness policy is being tweaked to give all employees the option to work some of their days from home if they so wish, post-COVID-19 and beyond.

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HBA managing director Brett Ablong said that offering flexibility and helping employees effectively manage their work-life balance take the firm’s approach to flexible work and wellness to a new level.

“We’ve always had a culture of flexibility and we have quite a number of people who have flexible work arrangements formally in place. But, in reality, it’s only really been working parents who have embraced it,” he said.

“We have not tended to have young lawyers, for example, without children, asking for this type of flexibility. But, now, we are proactively encouraging some work from home, as a permanent regular thing, because we think there are genuine benefits to an individual’s wellbeing.”

Moreover, even if the initiative is costly for the firm, Mr Ablong is adamant that the wellbeing of staff comes first.

“There’s no question there’s a significant cost associated with this decision because of the IT investment required to make it all work. But our people are our most valuable asset, so as far as I’m concerned, it’s money well spent,” he said.

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As such, HBA let staff know via a town hall meeting on Zoom that “anyone can work part of their time from home if that suits them”.

“We know it’s not for everyone. Some people like coming into the office each day for a whole myriad of reasons. But others can get real personal benefit in working part of the time at the office and part of the time at home,” Mr Ablong noted.

“In markets like Sydney in particular, this kind of flexibility can shave off significant commutes for people at the start and tail end of their day, and that’s time they can claim back for themselves and their own personal wellbeing. That’s a great thing.”

To this end, the firm has sent out a survey to employees asking them to nominate the days they would like to work from home, on an ongoing basis, so the business could start planning for their IT and equipment needs.

“We are making a significant investment in our people’s wellbeing. It essentially means everyone will need two sets of equipment, one for the office and one for home to ensure they are operating ergonomically,” he added.

“That’s really important to us: we don’t want people working from home staring down at tiny laptop screens causing themselves a neck ache.”

At this stage, there will be no change to the current working arrangements, Mr Abolong noted, with the entire HBA team continuing to work from home full-time in line with government advice: “Until further notice, everyone is at home full-time. We don’t expect that to change until we move to step three of the plan outlined by the PM recently.”

Last month, Lawyers Weekly reported that HBA had opted not to make any cuts to staff, their hours or salary as a measure to combat the economic impacts of COVID-19.

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National firm makes WFH arrangements a permanent option
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