Initially, the prospect of working from home was incredibly daunting, as the nature of being a trainee means you are reliant on supervision and learning from those around you. I was concerned at how working from home could hinder my learning, what impact it would have on my development and if I would still have the same level of support and contact to enable me to do my job. Now, over a month into this new way of working, notwithstanding the challenges, I am happy to report that my fears have not materialised and I have learned to see this as an excellent opportunity to develop skills essential to being a good trainee, and lawyer.
While I have always understood the importance of using your initiative as a trainee, not having your team immediately around, forces you to work through things more independently and make use of a greater variety of resources in order to find the answer or come up with a solution. Gaining positive feedback from your supervisor because of using your initiative can be extremely rewarding, confidence boosting and makes for a better and more thorough learning experience. I appreciate that my colleagues have also had to adjust to new working arrangements (often with childcare/caring responsibilities), navigate through this period of uncertainty and grapple with changes to the law. In light of the increased challenges they are facing, I feel now, more than ever, it is imperative to be able to use and act upon your initiative as a trainee.
Having to adjust to an entirely new working environment and modify existing practices in light of COVID-19, has been a hugely beneficial on-going learning experience. Being adaptable and receptive to change is a vital skill for whatever stage of career or profession you are in, but is especially useful for a career in law. We live in a fast-paced, technology-driven world, which is continuously changing, and the law is in a state of constant flux and evolution as it struggles to keep pace. This means, in order to succeed, we need to be agile and responsive to change.
As a trainee, I am aware that the legal profession I have entered will dramatically change in the years to come. Technology and artificial intelligence will largely redefine the type of work that lawyers engage with and the nature in which they complete the work. Therefore, our generation of lawyers will need to be even more open and receptive to change.
It is undeniable that there are many challenges to working from home; it can be isolating and difficult to 'switch off', as there is not a clear boundary between work and home life. However, having this experience so early on in my career has helped me develop a sense of resilience and self-awareness. It has forced me to assess my health and well-being, considering how I work best and how to create a positive working environment at home, which is conducive to both of these.
One of my biggest fears about working from home was the thought of being isolated from my colleagues and communication inefficiencies meaning matters take longer to discuss and complete. However, this could not be further from the truth.
We are receiving regular updates from our leadership team, which are very reassuring in these unprecedented times. This situation has also brought me closer to my colleagues and I feel more connected as we are all going through this together, sharing our tips and experiences along the way. I love hearing about the mischief my colleagues' children get up to, the "joys" of homeschooling and seeing my colleagues' pets make an appearance during our video calls. I have noticed that everyone is making a real effort to stay in touch — from regular Microsoft Teams calls and WhatsApp check-ins, to end of week virtual drinks and quizzes.
Working from home also teaches you how to communicate more effectively and efficiently. It requires you to use different channels and platforms of communication which prior to this, you may not have considered or experienced. It sounds simple (and it is), but I now use the phone far more often in my communication, which not only saves time as matters are not discussed over protracted email exchanges, but it cuts down on email traffic, making for a happy inbox.
Finally, although this is not a skill, it is a benefit so worthy of inclusion. For me, one of the most significant benefits of working from home is the time gained from not having to complete a daily commute. I have chosen to utilise my spare time in the morning by starting the day with a yoga session and then a walk. This means when I log-on, I feel refreshed, ready for work and like I have already accomplished something - a great way to start the working day.
Making the most of working from home
Ultimately, we are living in difficult, unprecedented times, and we are all having to adjust and adapt to an indefinite new way of life and working arrangements. With so much uncertainty and things out of our control, the only thing we can control and have absolute freedom over is how we react to this strange new situation that we find ourselves in.
I am choosing to see 'opportunity in adversity' and use my time at home as a chance to develop and home in on fundamental skills, which will serve me throughout my traineeship and beyond.