Emma Sell

2015 has seen the “workation” make its way over to UK shores from the US, but what does it actually mean for companies and employees, and should law firms be embracing it and trying to make it work?

There are two types of workation: there’s the kind we’ll all be somewhat familiar with – working while on holiday; and then there’s the full fat version – going away with your colleagues. Both options appear pretty depressing on first glance!

The first form of workation is more than simply checking your emails from the sun lounger and scheduling a call or meeting when you’re back in the office; you would be expected to do a full day’s work, but from a more salubrious location, meaning that you could be spending your lunch hour in the pool, or heading off on safari as soon as the laptop is shut.

Government legislation has enabled employees to seek greater flexibility in terms of their time spent in the office and we are seeing a vastly increasing number of employees taking advantage of cloud-based technology to enable them to work remotely. However, is this workation a step too far?

There are a few practical points to consider: not least, where are you and where are your clients? Would your clients want to do an early morning or late night call to fit in with your plans? And what about all the paperwork? Law firms might be trying to embrace paperless offices, but in my experience there’s still a very long way to go. Unless you’re workationing in a business centre on a City Break, the chances are that you won’t have access to a printer or a scanner, not to mention the WiFi connection in the desert…

As someone who finds it hard to switch off on holiday, I am not averse to the idea of this kind of workation, providing the logistics can work; however, would it simply discourage employees from taking a real holiday and switching off?

Now: how would you fancy two weeks in the sun with your team, or possibly the whole firm? It adds a whole new dimension to work-life balance. We’re not talking a couple of days out of the office building rafts; this is breakfast, working, lunch, working, dinner, going out/team activities, repeat. You get time to yourself while you sleep.

I’m lucky in that I get on with everyone I work with (we’re a small firm!), but what if you can just about tolerate some people you work with, or worse? Imagine going away with them for two weeks, and who decides who shares with who? Is this going to cause divisions within the team?

Even if you could overcome the company, there are the same logistical issues for law firms. Creative industries, media and technology companies are able to work remotely with (more or less) just a laptop and WiFi. What happens when clients need urgent face to face interaction? A major client of the firm needs an injunction. “Sorry, we’re all in Mallorca”. Adios, client.

Some practice groups, the more commercial areas, may be able to make this work with careful time management, but the nature of litigation work would make this very difficult.

Then there’s the one, really large problem: what about family and caring obligations at home? If you’re a firm of singletons with no one to answer to, then great, but that’s far from an atypical workplace (again, more akin to creative industries).

Workations may be the end of family life.