Working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the workplace. Workers have settled into new routines and adopted new tools. It has honed our business resilience and changed how firms do business. And it has improved personal and firm technology infrastructure and forced firms to participate in a new collaborative paradigm. Now, rather than just returning to work at the office, law firms have the opportunity to embrace a new and innovative business model called “anywhere operations.”
Anywhere operations focus on using technology to deliver business services anywhere by employees who can work from anywhere. It wholly embraces remote technologies for digital work and is a digital first/remote first approach that, according to a report from Gartner Research, can make for more efficient operations and improve productivity. In fact, in just three years, 40% of businesses from all industries will have implemented an “anywhere operations” model to ensure a seamless virtual and physical experience for employees and clients, according to the Gartner report.
A separate report from Forrester found that 53% of workers working from home because of the pandemic would like to continue with some remote work after a full return to the workplace. The number of remote workers at the end of 2021 will be three times pre-pandemic levels, giving firms the opportunity to continue to build on their 2020 experience to create a new hybrid work environment for post-pandemic operations. If employees can use their office as a business hub while working as efficiently from home (or anywhere) as they did from the office, they will drive anywhere operations to mass adoption.
Over the last year our communication behaviors have also changed, and these new remote collaboration skills will not go away. Even firms that have resources that remain 100% on-site will be impacted by anywhere operations. Clients will also increasingly want digital access to the firm as they embrace more remote anywhere operations. Indeed, some form of anywhere operations will become a necessity.
Anywhere operations vs. remote work
This concept of anywhere operations sounds a lot like the more familiar concept of remote work. Yet, it is important to understand how anywhere operations are different.
The anywhere operations model is a superset of remote work. It goes beyond just doing work remotely. It is a new way to embrace how the firm does business, where digital and remote solutions are emphasized first, and physical or analog solutions are enhanced where possible.
As to the Gartner report suggests, the digital first/remote first solutions should focus on several key components, including:
- Digital first
- — All work should be done digitally and virtually. This should be the default mode of doing business. Paper or analog solutions should be avoided.
- Remote first
- — The default service delivery model for the firm should be remote work. Technology choices should be primarily focused on remote solutions for workers and for clients.
- Digitally enhance physical spaces
- — If physical space or analog solutions are required, provide digital components to these services, if possible, to enhance the solution.
- Distributed business capabilities
- — As the firm seeks to deliver remote digital services and capabilities, it should be done seamlessly across both physical and virtual spaces.
Benefits of an anywhere operation
There are several distinct benefits to adopting an anywhere operation model, including:
Anywhere talent — A huge benefit for both firms and workers of adopting anywhere operations is access to a geographically expanded talent pool. Firms can benefit by having a larger group of potential talent and experience from which to choose; and workers will likely stay with or seek out firms that will offer flexibility in their workplace.
Manage from anywhere — Anywhere operations also mean having the ability to manage the firm and workers remotely, so firm managers don’t have to be on-site to work with a team and resolve problems. Still, firms will need to operate at the same scale and effectiveness across a myriad of roles and responsibilities, regardless of geographical location, and anywhere management can further that goal.
Unlock potential — If the firm can choose more qualified employees with high job retention and job satisfaction, this has the potential to positively impact firm earnings, increased client satisfaction and possibly allow the firm to outperform expectations. And if employees have greater choice and experience higher job satisfaction, this can result in increased productivity levels. This win-win can enhance the firm’s overall financial performance.
Business continuity is already in place — Embracing an anywhere operations model can mean a big advance in the firm’s business continuity planning. An anywhere operation can eliminate a lot of disaster recovery challenges that exist for a non-mobile workforce. If the firm is already an anywhere operation, then there may be no need for an alternative disaster recovery work site and no need to re-locate technology in an alternative site. The disaster recovery is already in place and operational. Additional money is saved as there is much smaller disaster recovery infrastructure that needs to be routinely tested.
Cost efficiency — Costs can potentially be reduced by eliminating the need for dedicated office space for each employee. Also, by leveraging the anywhere operations of both the firm and clients, the need to travel can be significantly reduced.
Embrace the cloud — As firms embrace placing their technology and infrastructure in the cloud rather than in a traditional on-premises servers, operations gain the ability to easily scale up and provide more diverse and remote operations as necessary.
Prepare for future growth — If the firm embraces the goal of digital first and remote first, with a distributed work force and a distributed infrastructure, the firm is simultaneously preparing to effectively meet future client demands and competitively encourage future growth in a world that increasingly demands remote operations.
Adopting an anywhere operations model obviously is not going to happen overnight. Firms will have to define goals and create a roadmap customized to their needs. They will also have to evaluate current solutions and any changes in technology, processes, and policies that will have to be mapped out.
The COVID-19 pandemic helped most firms rapidly adopt some form of remote operations; and as a result, some of the foundational requirements such as infrastructure, collaboration, cloud systems, and remote access solutions are already in place to provide a solid footing for firms to embrace the anywhere operations model.
Yet, there can be some hurdles to moving “anywhere”, including:
Disruption — Fear of change can be strong. Moving from more familiar in-person work to remote work can be daunting for workers as well as the firm’s social culture. Users will need training, support, and time to adapt.
Legacy or non-remote systems — These traditional systems can cripple a firm’s ability to adopt a “digital first, remote first” culture across the enterprise. Therefore, these systems need to be reviewed and either a replacement plan or a mitigation plan need to be developed.
Increased need for data protection — As more users — and the data they use — become remote, the need for correcting and enhancing data security becomes more critical.
Adapting firm technology and support staff — With anywhere operations, systems can be more complex and involve cloud infrastructure and applications, remote endpoint management, and new security requirements. The firm’s technology and support staff will need additional training and support to meet these increasing demands on their skills.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a rapid adoption of remote communications capabilities among firms, their clients, and their workers as multiple technologies combined to form new business capabilities.
The anywhere operations model is a prime example of a combinatorial innovative response to the future of how law firms can choose to adapt, operate, and interact with their clients and employees.
Opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which, under the Trust Principles, is committed to integrity, independence, and freedom from bias. Thomson Reuters Institute is owned by Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.
Don Philmlee is an entrepreneur, consultant, strategist and technology advocate with a broad range of experience finding and making useful technology work successfully. He founded and managed a hands-on technology consultancy focused on providing result-oriented solutions to professional organizations. Don provides strategic technology services including project management, technology management and implementation and security consulting. Over the past 30-plus years, his clients have included hundreds of law firms, associations, government and other organizations in the United States and Europe. He is also an author, teacher, lecturer, mentor and advocate on security trends and technology implementation and management. Don is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) since 2006 and a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) since 2003.