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Modern legal work is less about optics

With the dust finally settling after the massive upheaval that was 2020-22, it is time to take stock. While some things seem never to change, there are others that have changed massively, perhaps none more so than how we work.

While being flung from our offices and suits to our homes, and occasionally track pants, is a change some are struggling to deal with, many of us regard it as a blessing, and a key part of that is the shift away from optics. For perhaps the first time in recent history, it is more important to be doing the work than merely looking the part.

“When you’re in an office, it’s obvious what time you sit down, when you’re taking a break, when you’re going for lunch, and when you leave for the day," says Inview Champion and General Counsel at Glowforge Megan Fouty.

"Managing optics was vitally important. Now accountability looks different, and people can't see your daily motions as easily. You could log on and have your Slack appear available, you could be scheduling emails, and no one would know what time you’re working. You could have appeared to have been online from nine to five and not done so, but it doesn’t matter as long as you're getting your work done.”

Fouty believes our new ways of working have the potential to massively benefit all parties. “There is much more of a focus on getting the work done. It’s great if you have a more flexible life. If previously you managed to fit ten hours of work into nine, now you have an hour back to go live your life. It benefits and incentivizes you to be efficient to get your work done, and to get your work done well."

It could be said that this shift has enabled work to be life enabling as opposed to life defining, especially for those who pride themselves on their ability to work efficiently and effectively. Not only is this a great incentive for individuals to focus more readily on self-improvement, but equally this culture is a fantastic retention tool for organizations looking to keep and attract top talent.

“You hire people because you trust them, so treat them like you trust them,” says Fouty. Where previously trust could be earned by just having your bum on a seat, this new working epoch is requiring both employers and employees to truly buy into that relationship and come to it with trust.

For Fouty, a key facilitator of trust is the focus on output. “I always tell my team to manage the output; that's what matters. If they’re missing meetings, if things aren’t being done, manage those things. It’s pointless to manage that they logged off at five; you wouldn’t care if they got everything done. And if you do care, you’re focusing on the wrong things because we all know being buttoned to a seat nine to five doesn’t actually measure productivity.”

As we begin to better understand the implications of our new ways of working and get past the initial growing pains, it is likely these changes will be seen as great leaps forward in both an individual's quality of life and the quality of work they are able to produce. An emphasis on life-enabling work as opposed to life-defining work will be a change which redefines organizations. From the work you do to the culture you uphold and, especially, the value you can add.

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