Experts Weigh In on the ‘New Normal’ of Working During the Pandemic: Part 2

By : | On April 28, 2020 |

With health and safety top of mind for most these days, concerns related to work seem less vital. To help organizations effectively function, technology is essential now more than ever. I recently spoke with several subject matter experts about their thoughts on the anticipated return to a sense of normalcy in the workplace. As a follow-up to last week’s blog post, here are some additional quotes from experts in the field.

It’s evident from these expert remarks that all industry professionals are facing changes to their work environments as a result of the pandemic. Data governance obligations coupled with data privacy and cybersecurity concerns are driving decisions regarding the increased use of remote solutions. As more employees work from home, this phenomenon creates new data management challenges.

With organizational budgets expected to shrink as revenue forecasts are adjusted downward, businesses need to have plans in place for implementation when the crisis is declared over. Organizations may not have the financial resources, nor the human capital, to tackle technology initiatives that they know must be addressed.

Despite the breadth of this crisis, legal departments, law firms, and government agencies must strive to remain prepared to address existing obligations. Adoption of new technology and processes will assist certain organizations as new information management efficiencies are defined. In addition, risk assessments are needed regarding new forms of communication, and any technologies implemented must first be evaluated for any impact they may have on existing data preservation and collection obligations.

Business decisions regarding adoption of alternative forms of technology are taking place at a highly accelerated pace as organizations try to limit the disruption of dealing with massive travel restrictions. However, technology assessments from IT professionals, and from their legal professional counterparts, are often lengthy processes during normal circumstances. Rushing through an assessment to implement a new technology can result in unexpected consequences. The risk of data breaches, or the increased threat of data loss, are both threats with the potential for severely negative consequences.

Although challenges will be plentiful, there should be an opportunity for integration and expansion of technology moving forward. Included below are remarks provided to me by various subject matter experts in topics related to the use of information management technologies. The comments address a range of issues and provide some sage advice and predictions regarding both the short- and long-term future impacts of the current crisis.

Dr. Chase Cunningham, Principal Analyst, Forrester

The technology requirements that were the standard for enterprise security have been tossed on their heads. Organizations have had to, and will continue to have to, adapt their defensive posture to meet the new needs of a remote workforce. The security technology innovations that were supposed to take 5 years have had to become mainstays in 5 weeks. Also there has already been an exponential increase in cyberattacks and phishing against this new normal. As this plays out, those organizations that don’t adapt will be the ones that either die on the vine or take longer to rebuild their business after this scenario normalizes. This is not just a blip in time; the future of work is here and it looks like this. Security must enable that, or the business and the economy ultimately will suffer.

 

Lynn Molfetta, Information Governance Expert, MC Bernstein Data

Time and focus have always been essential factors in successfully managing an efficient, effective e-discovery process. But now, even more than ever, with the reality of nearly 100% virtual work environments, time and focus will be much more important.

There will be an increasing need to trust e-discovery tools, but the tools will require experienced, insightful, human input and guidance. That means focused and streamlined interviews with the right people, to create the right governance processes to produce the right results.

 

Eric Wangler, President, BigHand North America

We were very fortunate in that we had always supported home working for our staff, so when our offices closed we were not hit with some of the challenges other businesses and many of our clients were. As several of our software solutions are geared to supporting remote work, demand on our support teams went up in the first few weeks dramatically as firms began to push the boundaries of the traditional ways of working and the reliance on technology increased significantly. Thankfully, they worked through a 300% increase in support requests very quickly and diligently.

The term that seems to keep coming up is unprecedented, and I think that is what we are having to deal with. The uncertainty of the first few weeks of the crisis has given way to a (temporary) new normal, but quickly firms are going to need to solve longer-range challenges to their traditional working practices.

Many law firms had contingency plans focused on keeping attorneys working, billing hours and looking after their clients. What many missed was how do we keep the machine running, meaning how do our various support staff work in this new environment? No one can accurately predict what the next few months will bring but, most likely, firms are going to have to deal with regional nuances, additional stay-at-home orders, and limited staff in their offices. These challenges will be intensified with uncertainty around demand, pricing, and perhaps most importantly, collections.

Many firms are working hard now to ensure their systems and processes can support whatever their future working practices may evolve to. While we have seen some firms go into lockdown mode, many others have seized this opportunity to accelerate projects that support their lawyers and support staff to ultimately ensure that they continue to deliver client work effectively and efficiently as reduced demand creates additional competition in the marketplace.

Firms that formerly struggled with change-resistant lawyers or staff have suddenly found their teams very willing to adapt and actually embrace changes that enhance their ability to do meaningful work. The smart firms are putting the effort in now to ensure they do not get caught flat-footed again, can maintain or improve service to their clients, and can ensure security remains paramount — regardless of what gets thrown at them!

 

Jonathan Maas, Managing Director, The Maas Consulting Group

I am very positively surprised by the way in which the UK courts and judiciary have stepped up to the plate. I have had to eat my “they’ll never digitise the courts” words practically over-night! There’s still a long way to go, of course, but this just goes to what we can do when our backs are to the wall.

As we all scrabble through loosened roles, responsibilities, and expectations to try and continue with life as usual in the face of this pandemic, I find myself more interested in what the new normal might look like post-pandemic, once we are out the other side.

I think we’ll see more polarisation and more obvious polarisation across the profession: Big Law will continue its preening contest with large city-centre marble and steel offices to show, like peacocks, how bigly big and successful they are. Small Law will find that it actually can use the technology to reduce overheads and compete, and will continue to embrace it at growing speed in a continuous fight for survival.

Medium Law will try and be, well, medium with working hubs in town-centres and city outskirts, deploying as much technology and flexible working as suits their increasingly mobile workforce. Big Law will still expect their clients to come and worship at their totem poles, but everyone else will go visit their clients (what else, with little spent on pointless premises?) and focus on the quality of the service, not just the delivery of it.

We shall most definitely have broken the back of working from home and the use of video conferencing, though. Geographically dispersed teams will become closer as the video call enables regular team meetings rather than occasional (annual?) physical get-togethers. The stigma associated with “working from home” will largely have been knocked on the head and teams will become more relaxed in their appearance (clothing) and backgrounds. The meetings themselves will also become more relaxed due to the informality of attending from one’s natural environment and sharing what that actually means (pets, children, traffic, house mates).

Law is all about trust and empathy so I really don’t think “special” client meetings will be conducted by video, unless everyone agrees it’s appropriate. Trust is communicated in so many silent ways: body language, line of sight, etc., these are really best communicated in person. Likewise, empathy is to be found in shared gestures, nods, non-verbal responses. Yes, this can largely be communicated by video but this is no substitute for in-person meetings, especially in the emotional scenario of a legal problem.

Conferences have an interesting future. I’m looking forward to London’s Relativity Fest in May, which will be virtual, natch. How will it feel as an attendee? Is this the way forward? Attendance at international conferences could skyrocket and venue costs reduce to a mere drip in the virtual world. Would sponsors be charged cents rather than dollars? How would they market their products and services? Whither the swag bag, a vital vendor bait pre-pandemic?

There is certainly great opportunity in them there hills once we have crossed this plain. Organisations that survive the months ahead that then try and roll back to how they operated pre-pandemic will nose-dive. Organisations that recognise this enforced opportunity to adapt, modernise, and mature, and that continue to do so, will flourish in the new normal. I wonder: Is this what did it for the dinosaurs? Is this modern man’s Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event?

 

Elizabeth Anastasia, ESS Director of Technology Operations, Perkins Coie

The remote move for the firm went super smoothly. Perkins Coie was able to go fully virtual in 10 days. Dogs barking in the background notwithstanding, we’re doing a lot of teleconferences so that we can stay connected. I’m actually “seeing” teammates more through this process than I had when most of our meetings were simply audio-based.

 

Chris Bednar, Global Records Manager, Bain & Company

COVID has pushed us to remote working faster than we planned, but the planning was there. There’s a lot to learn and be concerned with when managing a multi-thousand person workforce from their individual homes — from home Wi-Fi security, to more frequent use of home devices to access company materials, to a likely uptick in new shadow technologies used by employees, to speed of transfer, and storage challenges. I am not looking forward to having to pull and produce subpoenaed materials via my home internet connection through corporate VPN to a file share in order to place holds on and collect multi-gigabytes worth of files. We IG practitioners have an opportunity to show our worth if we can quickly pivot to ensure the safety and proper management of confidential materials in this new environment as project teams start using new tools super-quickly.

A lot of what we learn will most assuredly carry over into our work environments when we are able to return to our offices. This could result in more frequent/continued work from home for many employees, cutbacks in office space, and reductions in in-office staff requirements in general. There will also be a renewed emphasis on disaster recovery and digitization efforts once firms realize how much, and which, paper files were critical and inaccessible during this time.

Joe Bartolo

About Joe Bartolo

As an Information Governance and Risk Solutions subject matter expert, Joe has over 13 years of experience providing consultative litigation support services to AM Law 200 Firms, and Fortune 500 corporations throughout North America and the EU. In addition, He was formerly a litigator, with over 7 years of experience as a practicing attorney in New York State.

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