Just a few short months ago none of us had any clue that the world’s biggest home working experiment would begin as winter turned to spring in 2020. The next few weeks are going to show just how well set up our workplaces are to deal with this completely unforeseen situation.

Thinking outside the current scenario for a minute, in the last few years there’s been a cultural shift towards allowing more – or at least some – remote working, as businesses with historically office-based staff become more flexible about the hours or days spent on site.

And in law, like other sectors it seems to be a bit of a mixed bag in terms of policies for working from home and the ease of accessing and managing knowledge management systems when not in the office.

Many of the big international law firms, for example Clifford Chance and Slaughter and May, have rolled out remote working, with some companies now offering home working, flexible hours and more. Some companies have enabled employees to access files and email for the last two decades, but others are still unconvinced. But if they want to continue to attract the brightest and the best, sooner or later remote working is something they are likely to have to accept.

Effective knowledge management is key for law firms
Similarly, when it comes to knowledge management, some businesses are further ahead than others. Staying on top of information is an enormous task for any business, but particularly for law firms. While some have invested in their systems, making it easy to access, upload, organise and search for information, others lag behind. And sooner or later this will affect not just brand perception in the industry, but revenue and profitability.

Add remote working into the mix and inadequate knowledge management gets even more problematic. If there’s poor access, information on local drives is in danger of getting lost entirely; incomplete files could, later in the day, prove disastrous if there was ever a serious issue with a particular client. If servers are painfully slow or prone to glitches it also has a considerable effect on velocity and efficiency, not to mention the fact that it’s likely to greatly discourage many employees from taking their important role in knowledge management seriously. New knowledge management systems have to be equally accessible whether in or away from the office, but obviously also need high levels of security. They must be carefully developed, built around the business, its users and its culture, and a one-size-fits-all approach may not be adequate in such a complex field.

Encouraging knowledge sharing from afar
So how can you ensure that lawyers who are remote working – a great many at the moment undoubtedly – are still committed to effective knowledge sharing? It’s crucial to keep people fully engaged by acknowledging and rewarding their contributions. It’s also a good idea to have regular online discussions and action plans for all, so that levels of engagement don’t drop with only a committed few uploading knowledge in the usual way.

Law is a highly competitive field and no law firm can afford to be on the back foot when it comes to setting themselves up for successful knowledge management when staff are out of the office. No doubt some firms are realising there is much more that can be done to help their staff, with better technology allowing for more powerful search functions and filters. Getting the user experience right and then maintaining it through changing in times is essential to get everyone working as productively and efficiently as possible wherever they are.

Remote working isn’t going to go away and with law’s need for quiet concentration it’s one industry where actually it makes a lot of sense, as long as employees have access to the knowledge they need, with technology that makes access simple.

Saying that though, it’s fair to say that in a few weeks or months’ time, employees everywhere in every field are going to be absolutely overjoyed – for once – to be told they’re being hauled back for a full working week in the office.

BIO has worked with one of the world’s leading law firms to create a robust knowledge management platform built around the users. If you’d like to talk to us about your challenges please email our new business team at makesomething@thebioagency.com