With vaccination programs underway around the world, there’s a sense of optimism that many aspects of life may soon return to normal. The big question for businesses in the UK won’t be about how to safely bring employees back to the office, but whether they actually should – or even need to – bring employees back.

Despite Boris Johnson’s claims that workers will return to their offices in just a few short months, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes. In the case of legal firms, many are starting to come to terms with the fact that all employees may not even want to return – at least not full time.

We’re already seeing this play out, with large firms such as BP announcing – partly as a cost-cutting measure – that UK-based employees will be expected to work from home two days per week.

Similarly, just this month, Ford has announced a global plan for its non-production workforce to move to a hybrid working environment rather than switching permanently to the office.

In an interview with US-based CNBC, Ford’s chief people and employee experiences officer, Kiersten Robinson, expressed what we’re all thinking: “If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last 12 months, it is that a lot of our assumptions around work and what employees need has shifted.”

Sweeping changes

What does all of this mean for law firms? In an industry where a lot of lawyers are already very mobile, we’ll need to ask whether support staff such as legal secretaries even need to be in an office every day. Will fixed desks be replaced by hot desks?

Will more companies go 100% virtual, eliminating the need for office space entirely? The short answer is that it’s going to be messy for a while, and that remote working will remain a reality for a large number of organisations.

Looking back at the past 10 or even 20 years, technology has come a long way to keep employees connected and productive. A large part of that success has been driven by the shift to SaaS applications and cloud-hosted data and services.

The pandemic certainly helped to accelerate all of this change, with mobility becoming an enormous driver of change throughout the IT space. Keeping employees connected and able to access corporate resources has been a key concern for many industries, but in the legal sector particularly, maintaining security has been just as important as offering convenience.

Start at the beginning

With the realisation setting in that, we may have a permanently distributed workforce, we need to ensure that we put more permanent, future-proof plans in place for our security and network technology roadmaps.

An agile workforce requires services such as unified communications, applications, collaboration platforms and remote access technology amongst others, allowing everyone to do their job regardless of location.

As law firms everywhere evolve and adapt to meet the demands of a different way of working, ensuring that their fee earners can seamlessly interact with each other and their clients is critical. 

“Even with all of our employees working from home over the past year, our IT team was able to ensure that the user experience for fee earners was as good as it could be. Working with Quiss and NetMotion, we’ve actually been able to enhance the user experience for our entire remote workforce. The performance of applications has been improved, and we’ve enabled split tunnelling while maintaining control and compliance. By partnering with Quiss and NetMotion, we can now proactively identify, diagnose and resolve connectivity and other network or device issues impacting employees wherever they are.”

– IT Director, Roythorne Solicitors

Prioritise security

Security must always be a top priority for any firm developing a remote working strategy for its employees. An agile, distributed workforce often won’t have the safety net provided inside a secure office network, making them the potential target of cyber-attack, and more vulnerable to risky URLs that would normally be filtered out by firewalls and other security devices.

This is where zero trust and other elements of a SASE framework become incredibly valuable. These cloud-enabled tools can be used, for example, to enforce strict policies about data encryption, and can evaluate every individual user request based on its own merits.

When compared to legacy VPN tools, this greatly enhances data integrity and ensures that hackers aren’t able to move laterally through a network’s resources.

Compliance matters

At the end of the day, much of these security and user experience improvements would be useless without compliance. On the one hand, organisations could face stiff penalties from their relevant regulatory body, and on the other, there are costs associated with reputational damage.

Needless to say, no organisation wants to deal with compliance issues resulting from its remote working policies. Ensuring that client data is secure must be a critical focus for any firm.

And that’s the crux of the argument for SASE-based tools; any security solution will come up short unless it allows employees to access internal systems and applications from anywhere, over any network, without the worry of being compromised.

The coming months will bring another wave of change to the workplace, but this time organisations such as law firms can choose to be further along the path to a SASE future. It isn’t a journey that can happen overnight, but it’s absolutely worth being prepared.