I like a Kaleidoscope – how you tweak the tube and watch the coloured shards of light tinkle into a different pattern. I write this in November 2020 as we face the second wave of COVID and I wonder whether it’s time to give that viewing tube a really hard twist to find a new way of working in legal services. This is a call to action.

I have been working with several groups lately as well as individual clients. Fortunately, most of us have escaped the extreme ravages of the virus. Emotions are intense out there but the overwhelming feeling I see is one of tiredness. We are doing our best, ploughing on, trying not to drag each other down, but it’s exhausting – we have had enough of it now.

This much we know. In the knowledge industries, remote working is not the enemy of productivity. Remote working is here to stay. When we emerge from our dens it is almost inconceivable that we will return to working extremely long days, every day, in congested city centres. Great! In theory that bodes well for our health, our mental health and the health of our planet. However, reaping the benefit of flexible working for businesses and for people needs a careful plan and the thinking needs to happen now, before new soul sucking habits become entrenched and lead us into drudgery.

This is what I hear. Endless meetings. Zoom fatigue. Long, long days and sleepless nights. Work and personal life being so enmeshed that the boundaries have slipped away. Fears about being visible to colleagues and clients, being valued, being included. Inability to concentrate or to switch off so that there is a constant buzzing residue of attention on things left unfinished. Much of this is down to the pandemic and, of course, I recognise that people’s circumstances and personalities have a huge impact but we can spot common threads. The good news is that we can do something about it.

Here’s my challenge. What can you do in your organisation to achieve exceptional client service and meet your billing targets and, at the same time, maximise the potential of remote working so that your people are focussed and dedicated and build a grounded and satisfying home life around their work?? Easy!

And here is more good news. The situation in which we find ourselves is new to all of us. No one has all the answers and neither can they be expected to have all the answers. But lots of people in your organisation have some of the ideas and they are worth listening to. Business literature is littered with examples of where thinking was shut down and mistakes made because people didn’t listen: planes crashing into cliff faces, colliding on runways, surgeons cutting off the wrong limb, taking out the wrong kidney, all because those in charge didn’t tune in to what their teams were saying. Let’s not do that.

If you are a leader ask your team the question. Everyone, ask your team the question. And when people have ideas ask them to tell you more. How would that work? What are the challenges? What would you do if you were in charge? Use your experience to stimulate the quality of their thinking. Sit back and listen hard. And make a plan, big or small, to reboot.

For years we have noticed that talent drains away from the legal profession in its middle tiers, often because of the way we work and the perception that 24/7 commitment is the only way. Is there an opportunity to plug the dam?