Working Virtually Revisited

Working Virtually Revisited.

Lawyers are increasingly mobile – technology lets them work from almost anywhere. I suggested in The Future Law Office: Going Virtual
that lawyers could sometimes work at home or in satellite offices. Law
firms would save on rent and lawyers would save commute time. Two
recent articles offer another look at this topic – and reinforce my
conclusion that law firms should continue experimenting with working

The Business Week Take

From The Easiest Commute Of All
(sub-titled “the ranks of remote workers are swelling as companies see
the sense in freeing them) in Business Week (Dec 12, 2005, $):

and more, the creative class is becoming post-geographic.
Location-independent. Office-agnostic. Demographers and futurists call
this trend the rise of ‘the distributed workforce.’ Distributed workers
are those who have no permanent office at their companies, preferring
to work in home offices, cafes, airport lounges, high school stadium
bleachers, client conference rooms… At Sun Microsystems Inc., nearly
50% of employees can work from home, cafes, drop-in centers, a company
office, or some combination thereof – saving the company $300 million
in real estate costs… Today, every knowledge worker has the tools to
work from pretty much anywhere: a laptop, a mobile phone, and global,
high-speed Internet access that is becoming as ubiquitous as pay phones
used to be. Teams are increasingly transnational, warming undersea
cables with Net meetings, conference calls, and collaborative projects
involving large, far-flung groups. Increasingly, no one is sure of
where anyone else is anymore; what’s amazing is how little it appears
to matter… Sun says its virtual workers are 15% more productive than
their office-tethered brethren”

The Davenport Take in Optimize Magazine

Week raves about working virtually, supporting my arguments and then
some. A more sober analysis appears in the August issue of Optimze Magazine in Thomas Davenport’s excellent article on Rethinking The Mobile Workforce.

writes that “many pioneering companies have retreated from the
virtual-office concept” for several reasons: it is hard to monitor and
control workers; virtual workers feel career-stymied; lack of access to
on-site resources; and cultural issues. My article recognizes such
limits and suggests being virtual only a day or two per week. Davenport
reports, however, that “[e]ven if mobile work is done only
occasionally, there’s reason to be concerned about its implications for
social systems within organizations.” Essentially, there is no
substitute for personal contact with workmates. That said, he proposes
steps to manage occasional virtual work and recognizes the need for
experimenting (something I stressed in my article) and measuring


If Davenport
is right about social networking, then firms must think more carefully
about who sits where and how lawyers work across offices and time
zones. I can’t figure out how to apply his reasoning to multi-office
law firms where professionals regularly form teams across offices and
with clients and co-counsel.

So I come out closer to the
Business Week view and think that law firm managers should actively
consider virtual work. Of course, I may be somewhat biased. As a legal
technology consultant, I often work virtually, as I did for two
software companies. But when I look at my friends, many of whom do work
virtually, and at the ever increasing cost of and time for commuting,
it seems inevitable that more lawyers will work virtually, at least on
some days.  
[Strategic Legal Technology]

Leave a comment