Lockdown lessons

lockdown

England is having a serious case of deja vú as, once again, the whole country enters another lockdown in response to the rapidly rising number of coronavirus cases.  

All non-essential shops, pubs and services are closing their doors once more until at least December 2nd. However, unlike the first lockdown, schools, universities and businesses that cannot work from home, such as construction, are staying open. 

While a large majority of the country is frustrated by the announcement, there’s certainly a sense that businesses are far more prepared for the month ahead compared to six months ago.  

The need to rapidly adapt over the spring and summer has left businesses much more resilient. Despite the inevitable difficulties November will bring, especially for SMEs, half of business owners are positive about the future, with 49 per cent saying that learnings from the first lockdown has helped them feel more in control of this second wave 

The same attitude applies to the legal sector. With more agility and flexibility already in place and a wealth of learnings under the industry’s belt, it’s the general consensus that firms around the country are much better prepared for the month to come.  

Working from home and confidentiality  

Confidentiality is of key importance to any lawyer; in the office, files are usually locked away or digitally encrypted, ensuring total security of sensitive documents. However, this level of security is not always possible when working from home, therefore putting confidentiality, and lawyer’s jobs, at risk.  

Learnings from lockdown #1 for employees: 

  • Ensure anyone within your household does not have access to your workspace or working equipment 
  • Do not allow photographs near or around files to be taken. This runs the risk of leaking sensitive data onto social media sites.  

Learnings from lockdown #1 for employers: 

  • Undertake working from home risk assessments. 

  • Check devices are suitable for the job and, if possible, add encryption technology. If they are not suitable, ensure you provide laptops/phones that lower any potential risk.  
  • Make certain that employee’s homes are covered within this risk assessment. Do they have the correct equipment to keep phone calls confidential or is there anything in their environment that gives away their address to clients or prospects on video calls? 
  • Provide full confidentiality training for employees.  

Mental Health in lockdown

One of the biggest problems faced over the first lockdown was declining mental wellbeing. According to LawCare, a mental health charity for lawyers, 42 per cent of calls taken from March to June had a COVID-19 element, with some quoting that they felt unsupported by their employer.   

Learnings from lockdown #1 for employees: 

  • Stay connected – take the time to check in with one another. If you can, take time outside of work to stay social online.  
  • Keep active whether it’s a walk, an online fitness class or yoga, daily exercise is crucial for both physical and mental health. 

  • Keep talking – ensure you keep an open dialogue with your employer and be honest with how you are feeling.  

Learnings from lockdown #1 for employers: 

  • Take the time to check in with your employees regularly. Their mental health and wellbeing need to be your top priority. This in turn will help keep productivity high and keep the business ticking over.  

Furlough rules aren’t changing 

During the first lockdown, there were many reports of furloughed staff feeling pressured to continue working, despite this being against the law. A third of employees were asked to continue working, with 29 per cent asked to carry out administrative tasks.  

Not only does this put the legal firm at risk of huge fines, but it also puts employees in danger of high anxiety levels, burnout and breakdowns in fear of losing their job if they don’t comply with employer demands.  

Learnings from lockdown #1 for employers: 

  • Do not break the law.  

Learnings from lockdown #1 for employees: 

  • If your employer decides that they are not going to abide by the furlough law, make sure you engage with the correct whistleblowing procedures to put a stop to this.  

What’s new for the industry this time around? 

While most of the original rules apply, one important element has been updated: 

  • Courts and tribunals will be able to operate fully throughout this second lockdown. This decision was made to help clear the backlog of cases which have accrued over the past six months. However, where possible, remote hearings are encouraged.  

We hope this is the last time we have to implement our learnings of the past months to realign ourselves with another lockdown but, for now, stay safe and keep well.