The COVID Diaries: Lawyer 2

The following interview is with an Australian-based debt capital markets lawyer. It was conducted on 15 May 2020.

Does your business have a timeline for returning to office working – and are you looking forward to it?

We have been working on our detailed return to work plans for some time. When I say some time, I should say three or so weeks – things are moving so quickly you lose track of time. We have offices around the country and each state has its own position on this but we are moving to open our offices up again, starting in Perth where the government has encouraged people to return to the office.

We are conscious that some people will be very keen to get back to the office for a variety of reasons, while others will be keen to continue their work from a remote environment – and we are more than happy for them to continue to do so. How people move about society will involve quite personal decisions and we need to respect the decisions people make about how quickly they come back to the office. Personally, I'm comfortable working from home and expect to do so for a little while yet.

What I expect to happen is that many office workers around Australia will be asked to come back to the office on a voluntary rather than on a mandatory basis, particularly those working in professional services. From a societal perspective, there is benefit in large organisations continuing to enable their staff to work from home where they can to ease pressure on public transport and other choke points.

The communication among the team has been excellent. We have been having daily team calls in small and large groups, coffee catchups and virtual drinks. We have people from all different ages and backgrounds at the firm so it is very important to keep up communication and in different ways.

You learn different things about your colleagues in these circumstances. But ultimately, you can't beat seeing the team in person so I will enjoy the day when we get the team back together.

Has your view of the crisis and the nature of the challenges it presents changed? It seems Australia has prioritised public health over the economy, at least in the medium term. How are you thinking about that trade off?

From a business perspective, the health of our team is the most important thing to us so we want to ensure they are returning to a safe work environment. More generally, there is a trade-off. We are all trying to find a new equilibrium in how we feel about the way in which we move in society.

I am encouraged by the return to more activity in the economy. I live on what was a busy road, and I can now literally hear the economy coming back through the volume of cars passing by. I am still of the view we need to ensure the health of the community is the number one priority at the moment until we get more of a handle on how this virus is going to react when we open the market a little bit more.

"You learn different things about your colleagues in these circumstances. But ultimately, you can't beat seeing the team in person so I will enjoy the day when we get the team back together."

Countries like Korea and Singapore are showing how difficult it is to eradicate the virus. How are you thinking about that in the context of restrictions being lifted here?

It is concerning to see what has happened in those countries as their economies have opened up. They all have their specific circumstances and the main protection we have is a very strong health system that ought to be able to cope with increased loads of cases if we do face them. This is reassuring.

But I am sure we can't continue the lockdown until the vaccine comes so we ultimately need to test opening the economy in different phases so we can operate with some level of normality.

How do you think things will be different when we get back to normal? What changes can you see to work practices, social changes and the economy?

They will be significant. A lot of people have enjoyed working from home and I think we will see some of them choosing to continue to do so to a certain degree in future. In our business, people have been really productive and it helps cast aside perceptions that working from home is inefficient.

We will see less business travel in the near and medium term, of course. But we will see more communication via video conferencing within and between businesses. We should also see less paper!

What is important is that we bring forward the things that have gone well for the past two months into the new work environment. We should resist the urge to revert back to work practices from before the pandemic but take advantage of what we have learnt and create our own new normal.

We have been asking people what they have been reading relating to the crisis but we think everyone has seen enough by this stage. What are your entertainment recommendations for lockdown?

I am a massive sports fan and I haven’t been able to watch any live sport so I have been watching replays! I’m a big basketball fan and I have been quite infatuated with the Michael Jordan documentary, The Last Dance, on Netflix.

A lot of people are wrapped up in that.

Yes, I am wrapped up in it and to the extent I have actually bought a biography of Michael Jordan, called The Life, written by Roland Lazenby – which is excellent. I have been reading it alongside the documentary. It is a detailed and interesting read that goes into his family as well, so if you are taken in by the documentary you may well be taken in by this biography.

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