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Legal departments resist virtual offices

Telecommuting can jeopardize promotions

I was wrong.

For almost 20 years, I had been predicting a true shift away from corporate headquarter (HQ) offices. I believed that virtual and home-based officing would become the norm for a majority of inside counsel.

The pros of virtual officing seemed so obvious to me: lower infrastructure costs, plus the multiple benefits of less commuting, such as more time available for work and reduced stress on the environment. Even the biggest con to telecommuting, lack of easy in-person access, didn’t seem so bad. More face time can lead to more politics, more meetings and less time spent accomplishing things.

For years, I heard the argument that technology was not quite up to the task, or that the technology required was too expensive. Nonsense. Secure networking, virtual meeting services and video phone options all make telecommuting viable and easy.

Virtual officing is common among sales professionals and consulting oriented businesses. For Fortune 500 legal departments, however, the continued preference for HQ officing is undeniable.

My purpose here is not to persuade anyone of the merits of telecommuting. I write this column to emphasize the victory of HQ officing over telecommuting, so that you can digest this topic when assessing your personal career and family needs.

Let’s understand why the HQ office model wins. I think the reasons go far beyond general aversion to change. Specifically, executives like to have their general counsel nearby. GCs are inclined to have a similar preference for members of their law departments.

Secondly, inside counsel do collaborate on occasion. Although technology enables certain kinds of collaboration, like document sharing, no technology can replace in-person teamwork, brainstorming and discussion. The need for that level of in-person communication is probably overstated, but the ability to do so remains highly valued.

Lastly, the view remains that telecommuters are less dedicated to the company. I realize that’s unfair. But the perception remains. So, even if your employer has a policy permitting partial telecommuting, understand the downside. Working from home on a regular basis, even just one or two days per week, can stall promotions. The trade-off may be worthwhile, as each individual’s needs are unique. I just want you to consider this reality check before you seek a telecommuting option.

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Mike Evers

Mike Evers recruits attorneys for corporate legal departments throughout the United States. Please visit www.everslegal.com. His...

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