As we roll into the second month of pandemic, many of us are slowly realizing that the crazy ad hoc schedules — with Parent No. 1 working 6 am through 10 am, then homeschooling junior while Parent No. 2 works, then swap at noon and so on — that we once viewed as stop gap measure may be here to stay as the pandemic shows no signs of letting up.  And even when states begin to relax shut down orders, once temporary shift work may transform into a permanent situation as employers try to limit the number or workers on site, or as employees still require accommodation to work from home to tend to children whose school and camp have been canceled.

Law offices that are thinking about reopening must be cognizant of changed work schedules – both for staff and for clients.  Some small firms must realize that even if they can accommodate staff on site with social distancing, separate offices and masks that many employees may not be able to show up due to home responsibilities.  The same holds true for meeting with clients who may not be able to trek to your office or make time for a Zoom call during the 9 to 5 workday.

For these reasons, as we emerge from pandemic, law firms must consider the very real possibility of operating in shifts  to reopen and effectively serve clients.  Shift work can work in a variety of ways depending on the goals.  If a firm simply wants to enforce social distancing practices internally, the firm might have half of its staff work onsite on certain designated days and from home the others.  Or, a firm could have employees work three longer twelve hour days on site, with two days off from home. The longer days would offer the advantage of being able to speak with clients who may be tied up with the demands of homeschooling by day.

Weekend work is another option – and one that might open opportunities for lawyers who are home full-time during the week because of a working spouse.  And again, weekend availability would allow firms to serve clients who may likewise be occupied during the work week.

Once you’ve decided to experiment with work shifts, it’s important to publicize your new policy to clients because it’s a service that can distinguish you from competitors.  So broadcast your firm’s new office hours on your firm website and Facebook page – and perhaps even send out a press release to local media to show what your firm is doing to serve clients in these unusual times.  Rather than being a hassle, shift schedules may also be a marketing opportunity to attract new clients.  

We live in a time when the 9-5 workweek may become extinct, and new work patterns will develop.  Lawyers can return to the way schedules operated beforehand but in doing so, they may lose employees and clients.  Or lawyers can get out in front of the change, and set their law firm operating hours to address the needs of today’s world.  What do you plan to do?