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Do lawyers have to choose between working at home or the office?

Where to be, or not to be? That is the question for many legal professionals right now, writes Jeremy Hyman.

user iconJeremy Hyman 11 November 2022 Big Law
Do lawyers have to choose between working at home or the office?
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Perhaps the answer to where we best thrive, working from home or the office, lies in a little village called Ogimi on the island of Okinawa in Japan.

With a little over 3,000 in population, the island boasts the highest longevity index in the world, with a higher representation of people living longer lives and particularly their share of centenarians.

What’s their secret, you ask? According to research conducted in the village, social practices have a lot to do with it.


Villagers place importance on mutual support through “moai”. This relates to an intense focus on groups of people coming together, in person, with a shared interest to form a social bond.

According to the American National Institute on Aging, the health risks of prolonged isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness through social isolation is estimated to shorten a human’s lifespan by up to 15 years.

You may argue that technology has connected us more than ever, so working from home doesn’t amount to being pushed out to sea in a lifeboat for one.

According to a paper published in September 2020, titled Psychological Consequences of Social Isolation During COVID-19 Outbreak, “this pandemic will inevitably lead to redefining our relationship styles, which will no longer be based on proximity but on distance. Physical contact will be replaced by negotiated sharing, while the digitalisation of lives, already started with the advent of social media, technology, and virtual reality, will be further emphasised, thanks to medical-scientific legitimacy.”

That said, the paper also concludes that “human resilience is closely linked to the depth and strength of our interpersonal connections, including our involvement in groups and communities”. Can this really be achieved through Zoom, a small working space and presumably less physical movement and incidental human interaction?

The Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation (now Minds Count) Guidelines identify 13 essential workplace factors that are required for a psychologically healthy workplace. Certainly hard (at best) to achieve in the home study. Indeed, how does an apprentice learn their craft without time spent with the master craftsman?

Whilst workplace flexibility provides more time with family, less commute, more sleep (for those who don’t have young children) and less expense, perhaps there is a hidden cost in poor mental health.

Not to say one can’t strike a balance between home and office. Many law firms are advocating for a 60 per cent ratio of one’s week in the office. To me, this sounds about right.

Why can’t we have the best of both worlds?

Jeremy Hyman is a former board member of the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation (now Minds Count) and former chair of the foundation’s best practice workplace wellbeing guidelines committee. He is currently head of communications for Baker McKenzie’s Australian offices. Jeremy is currently working from home, as tonight he’s on duty with the kids so his wife can attend a new preschool information evening. He looks forward to catching up with his colleagues in person tomorrow.