Results of the 2020/2021 Edge International Global Remote Working Survey Part 1: The DataJonathan Middleburgh
Please enjoy the above 7 minute video overview
I am delighted to publish the results of the Edge International 2020/2021 Global Remote Working Survey.
This is the first part of a two-part review of the results. In this part I am sharing the results. In the second part, I – together with Gerry Riskin – will be suggesting some practical conclusions that can be drawn from the results, which should inform how leaders manage remote working post-pandemic.
This part of the article consists of this summary, which sets the headline results of the survey. The detailed results are available in a slide deck, which can be accessed by clicking here.
- The vast majority of respondents (87%) want to continue working remotely between 1 and 4 days a week post-pandemic. Only 6% want to work remotely full-time.
- Productivity and Motivation have held up relatively well during the period of remote working caused by the pandemic.
- For most, remote working has either had a neutral or positive impact on both physical and emotional well-being. However, for a significant minority it has had detrimental consequences.
- Almost half of respondents report that remote working has damaged the cohesiveness of their firms.
- For the vast majority of respondents, feelings of loyalty towards their firms have stayed about the same or increased.
- Most report that relationships with colleagues and with clients have stayed about the same or improved; however, a significant minority report that they have deteriorated somewhat or significantly.
- Only a small minority report less effective supervision of their work or management while working remotely.
- A high percentage of those with childcare responsibilities report that childcare issues impact detrimentally on their ability to work effectively while working remotely.
- A significant minority report a belief that remote working will impact negatively on their opportunities for career progression and promotion if they continue to work remotely post-pandemic.
- A third of respondents report that their remote working environment is less comfortable, far less comfortable or uncomfortable, compared to the office; likewise, a third of respondents report that their remote working IT resources are somewhat or significantly worse than those in the office.
Background to the Survey
Like other colleagues, I was struck last year by the lack of data available to help firms with their decision-making around remote working, both as the pandemic continued and looking ahead to a time when restrictions caused by the pandemic are lifted. I was concerned that some firms were beginning to make significant decisions without robust empirical data, in particular benchmarking data. It is for this reason that I designed the survey.
Participation in the Survey – Benchmark Data Set
An open invitation was extended in early December 2020 to firms to participate in the survey. The survey, which consists of 24 questions (several of which contain sub-questions), takes around 20-30 minutes to complete.
927 lawyers / law firm employees completed the survey between 12th December 2020 and 12th February 2021, at which point I decided to close the survey in terms of the benchmark data set.
The benchmark data set is made up of a spread of lawyers and other law firm employees (see Q3):
- 4% are senior management
- 27% are partners in their firms
- 37% are associates
- The balance are paralegals, interns/trainees, legal secretaries and business support of which business support is 11% of the data set.
In terms of length of tenure at their firms, 11% of respondents started after the onset of the pandemic, 39% have been at their firms for less than 5 years, 21% between 5 and 10 years and 29% more than 10 years.
History of Remote Working
The survey focuses on the experience of those who have worked remotely for a significant amount of time since the pandemic began (92% of respondents; the other 8% of respondents only answered Question 1 of the survey and were then taken to the end of the survey).
Of those who have worked remotely for a significant extent since the pandemic began, only 14% had worked remotely to a significant extent pre-pandemic. This is important, as the vast majority of respondents who completed the survey had not previously had significant experience of remote working.
Productivity and Motivation
Questions 6 to 9 focus on productivity and motivation. In terms of productivity, perceived productivity seems to have held up relatively well while working remotely, both in the early days of remote working, and as the pandemic has continued. For example, 81% of respondents report that they believe their productivity has either stayed the same or increased over the entire period since they started working remotely.
However – and this is an important caveat – a significant minority report that their productivity has decreased. Over the entire period 19% of respondents report that their productivity has decreased slightly or significantly. That said, only 3% report that their productivity has decreased significantly. These figures can of course be tested against actual productivity figures in many firms.
In terms of motivation, this too seems to have held up reasonably well while working remotely, both during the early days of remote working, and as the pandemic has continued. 78% of respondents report that their motivation has either stayed the same or increased over the entire period since they started working remotely. 22% of respondents report a slight or significant decrease in motivation (5% significant; 17% slight).
Being an Effective Resource for the Firm
One in three respondents report that they believe that they are a more effective resource for the firm when working remotely and a further 40% report that they are ‘about the same’ in terms of being an effective resource for the firm (Q10).
However, one in five (19%) do not believe that they are a more effective resource for the firm when working remotely. This chimes with figures on productivity and motivation and would suggest that roughly one in five employees believe that they are either slightly less effective or significantly less effective as a resource for the firm when working remotely.
Physical and Emotional Well-being
Question 11 focuses on the perceived impact of remote working on physical and emotional well-being.
58% of respondents believe that remote working has had a somewhat or significantly positive effective on their physical well-being (28% somewhat; 30% significant). 21% report remote working as having had a neutral effect on their physical well-being. Only 2% report remote working as having had a significantly negative effect on their physical well-being. However, 18% report that it has had a somewhat negative effect on their physical well-being.
Similarly, 53% of respondents believe that remote working has had a somewhat or significantly positive effective on their emotional well-being (27% somewhat; 26% significant). 20% report remote working as having had a neutral effect on their emotional well-being. Only 4% report remote working as having had a significantly negative effect on their emotional well-being. However, 23% report that it has had a somewhat negative effect on their emotional well-being.
These figures came as a personal surprise to me – I had not anticipated that such a high percentage would report remote working as having a positive effect on their physical and emotional well-being. The fact that a significant minority report remote working as having had a negative effect on their physical and emotional well-being was less surprising to me.
Further data points confirming the emotional impact of remote working can be drawn from the responses to question 20. For example, 21% of respondents report that they have experienced low motivation since working remotely, 20% low mood, 16% volatility of mood and 7% depression.
A very high percentage of respondents who have children requiring childcare report that childcare issues impact detrimentally on their ability to work effectively (Q13).
Of the 30% of respondents who have children requiring childcare, 60% report that childcare issues impact detrimentally on their ability to work effectively while working remotely. One in five of these (22%) report that childcare issues impact detrimentally to a large extent on their ability to work remotely.
Relationships with Internal Colleagues / Team Working
A number of questions explore relationships with internal colleagues and team working.
In response to Q18(A), 50% of respondents report that their relationships with internal colleagues have stayed about the same and 13% report that they have improved somewhat or significantly. However a significant minority report that these relationships have deteriorated – 27% report that they have deteriorated somewhat; 4% significantly.
In response to Q18(D), 60% of respondents report that their ability to work as part of a team has stayed about the same and 20% report that it has improved somewhat or significantly. Here too, a significant minority report a deterioration in team working. 14% report that their ability to work as part of a team has deteriorated somewhat; 3% report that it has deteriorated significantly.
In response to Q20, 43% of respondents report that they have experienced fewer opportunities to bounce ideas off colleagues while working remotely and 42% report fewer opportunities to brainstorm with colleagues.
Relationships with Clients
Question 20 explores relationships with external clients.
Just over half of respondents (53%) report that relationship with clients have stayed about the same. 11% report that they have improved somewhat and a further 4% report that they have improved significantly.
A small (but significant) percentage (11%) report that relationships with clients have deteriorated somewhat. Only 1% report that relationships with clients have deteriorated significantly.
Leadership actions / Management while working remotely
Question 22 explores a variety of leadership actions during remote working. A high percentage of respondents have experienced virtual team meetings (84%) and / or virtual social events helping them to stay connected with team members and colleagues (74%). A much lower percentage report one-to-one interactions with leadership – only 36% report that leadership has held virtual one-to-ones to touch base with them individually. That said, 69% report that leadership has demonstrated concern for their well-being.
Overall, respondents appear to be relatively satisfied with how they have been managed while working remotely. Only 10% of respondents report less effective supervision of their work while working remotely and only 8% report less effective management by their manager or supervisor (see Q20).
Preferences regarding remote working post-pandemic
The vast majority of respondents would like to spend a significant percentage of their working week working remotely, post-pandemic (see Q21). 87% of respondents would like to work remotely between 1 and 4 days a week once the pandemic is no longer the determining factor.
22% would like to work remotely 1 day a week, 26% 2 days a week, 21% 3 days a week and 18% 4 days a week. Only 6% express a preference for full-time remote working; 7% express a preference for full-time office working.
Firm cohesiveness / Feelings of loyalty
Just over half of respondents report that remote working has had no impact on or enhanced the cohesiveness of their firms (Q23). However, just under half report that it has somewhat or significantly decreased its cohesiveness. 40% report that it has somewhat decreased the cohesiveness of their firm; 7% report that it has significantly decreased the cohesiveness of their firm. These figures should be of some concern for senior leadership.
The responses to question 23 are somewhat difficult to square with the responses to question 24 which explores personal feelings of loyalty asking: ‘Have your feelings of loyalty towards your firm increased or decreased since you started working remotely?’
In response to this question only 6% report that feelings of loyalty have decreased. 58% report that they have stayed about the same and 33% report that they have increased.
Other important findings
Some other findings are as follows:
- 26% of respondents report a higher level of disruptions when working remotely than when working in the office (Q12) – however only 6% report a significantly higher level of disruptions.
- One in three respondents report that their remote working environment (as regards space, noise, desk, chair etc.) is either less comfortable, far less comfortable or uncomfortable compared to the office (Q14).
- One in three respondents report that their remote working IT resources are somewhat or significantly worse than those in the office (Q15) – however only 4% report that they are significantly worse.
- The vast majority of respondents report that they spend some or all of the time they save commuting on working (Q17) – 10% report that they spend all of it working and a further 17% report that they now work even longer hours than their previous working day including their daily commute.
- The majority of respondents report that the punctuality and running of both internal meetings and meetings with clients has stayed the same or improved while working remotely (Q18(B-C); Q18(F-G)).
- A significant minority of respondents report that their opportunities to enhance their professional skills (e.g. through formal or informal CPD) have deteriorated somewhat or significantly while working remotely (Q18(H)). 7% report that they have deteriorated significantly.
- A significant percentage (20%) of respondents report that they believe their opportunities for career progression and promotion are likely to deteriorate if they continue to work remotely post-pandemic (Q19).
Implications of the Survey
I, together with Gerry Riskin, will be exploring the implications of the Survey in Part 2 of this review. In the meantime, if you would like to discuss the survey with me, my contact details are below. Similarly, if you would like to consider having your firm take the survey – and receive a detailed report benchmarking your firm’s results against the benchmark data set – please be in contact with me.
Gerry Riskin’s Immutable Laws of Law Firm SuccessGerry Riskin
When Edge International was formed, I was optimistic that by this century, we could all make the following statement – and it would be true:
Dateline 21st Century: Most professional firms today and their practice groups are led by individuals who have not only mastered practice skills but are equally adept in organizational behaviour. They understand group dynamics and the art of facilitation. They conduct highly effective meetings, coach individuals to achieve their personal best performances, and create an environment in which professionals thrive. Managing partners are masters at “managing the managers” by ensuring that they are working toward relevant, well-defined and achievable goals. That is why most firms are highly profitable, achieve very high levels of internal satisfaction, and give exemplary client service. Turnover has dropped to nearly zero and clients are extremely loyal, thinking it absurd to even consider switching firms.
“Dream on” you say. Well, yes, I do dream on and as a perennial optimist I believe that what I have described is still very much achievable. The major ingredient missing in 99% of today’s professional firms is simply “The Will to Manage.”
The following 12 immutable laws represent my assessment of the most critically important components of successful firm management.
Law #1. The Managing Partner Must Be Willing to Manage: The managing partner must assist the partnership in achieving a clear vision complete with a describable, quantifiable destination. Firms cannot succeed with managing partners who were selected for their uncanny ability to ruffle no feathers and who discern the predominant direction of the firm and then run out in front to give the appearance of leadership. Management requires courage.
Law #2. Leaders Need Power: Most leaders are chosen because of their seniority, rainmaking prowess, and book of business. How does such a leader get influence over others who may outrank them on any one of those attributes? The power comes from understanding what the members of the group aspire to, and then helping them achieve it. This requires “asking” and “listening” — not “telling.”
Law #3. Leaders Must Coach: The art of coaching is to strike the right balance between being supportive and continually demanding. Talented, rich and famous athletes accept coaching, and when they see the benefits, your partners will also.
Law #4. Managing Must Yield a Financial Return: Unless a leader understands the mathematics of the return on investment that is realized as a result of the managing effort, the role may be seen as honourary and not critically important.
Law #5. Leaders Must Motivate: The only way to change a practice group is one person at a time, and the only way to motivate an individual is to find out what they want and help them get it.
Law #6. A Group Requires Shared Ambition to Function: You cannot move forward until you’ve got some sense of where you want to go together. Each individual needs to answer the question: “What can I accomplish in this group that I cannot accomplish alone?”
Law #7. Teamwork Requires Enforceable Rules: Your strategy is not what you aspire to; your strategy is what you are prepared to enforce. To have a strategy you have to decide: “What sensible rules are we prepared to establish for our club?”
Law #8. Profitability Comes From “Smarter,” Not “Harder”: If the way you are making more money is by working harder, you should take that as a sign of personal failure, not success. Profits come from being ever more valuable, not from working eight days a week.
Law #9. Build Skills and Foster the Sharing of Knowledge: Intellectual capital walks out the door each night. Too much of it is a heartbeat away from being lost to the firm forever. By ensuring that appropriate skill dissemination and knowledge sharing is occurring, a firm can create tremendous additional value and an insurmountable competitive advantage.
Law #10. Give Recognition and Celebrate Successes: Brilliant leaders have a knack of setting goals that are sufficiently stretching to be worthwhile — but achievable — and then fueling the behaviour by fostering encouragement and celebrating successes.
Law #11. Encourage Innovation and Remove Obstacles: The essence of having a competitive advantage is not waiting for others to pioneer the way, but to constantly ask: “What are other people not yet doing that we have a suspicion clients might like?”
Law #12. Differentiate With Perpetual Action: When virtually every firm has essentially the same strategic plan, the real competition is not about having a better idea; victory goes to those who are better at execution. Effective leaders help individuals break their objectives down into bite-sized incremental bits and then relentlessly follow up to ensure that progress is continuous.
Estée Lauder, the business titan, said in a television interview many years ago, “I am not famous for my ideas but rather for what I have done” (italics mine). Therefore the management game is ensconced in what I call Law #13: Get to your war room and start creating your action plan. What is your first small step… and then… and then…? Only by doing will you join the ranks of the greatest achievers and, like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Estée Lauder and whomever else you regard as heroes. People will wonder how you did it — or think you were just lucky. But we’ll know differently, won’t we?
What will you do to breathe life into these laws in your firm?
Note: Those of you familiar with the work of David Maister will see his profound influence on my thinking in this article…. I am forever grateful to him as a mentor and as a friend.