Canadian Lawyer

July 2021

The most widely read magazine for Canadian lawyers

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4 UPFRONT NEWS ANALYSIS WHEN SARA FORTE purchased her new 4,000 square feet of office space in early 2020, she had no idea a pandemic was about to hit Canada. "It's been a big roller coaster of fear and uncertainty, especially in those early days, wondering 'Have I made a big mistake?'" says Forte, who practises employment law in Surrey, B.C. Forte's decision did seem like bad timing in the early days of COVID. But as it progressed and a post-pandemic workplace became a looming reality, Forte realized it was the chance of a lifetime to reimagine her new space. Forte spoke with everyone at her firm to understand what they would want when returning to the office. Her team wanted flex- ibility, but they were unanimous that they also wanted an open concept office to connect. While her new offices will have enclosed rooms for Zoom calls or meetings requiring privacy, most of the space will be for collabor- ation. She has also maximized outdoor areas for meetings. "Part of that is giving people some fresh air and nature in their day from a wellness perspective, but also there might be clients that are still nervous about meeting indoors," Forte says, who is looking forward to moving into the new offices in June. Dan Boram is the CEO at the design-build company AURA in Vancouver, B.C., which works with law firms across Canada. His company has interviewed over 110 Canadian firms and has noticed a dramatic shift in how they plan to use space. Before the pandemic, lawyers and their staff worked in-office around 70 per cent of the time, while 60 per cent now say they plan to continue working in a hybrid fashion. "The main reason why lawyers and staff want to come into the office is [for] impromptu face-to-face interaction," says Boram. Boram is helping law firms design offices with glass walls to retain an open feeling but still allow for private meetings and virtual meetings. "There is always a push for a smaller workstation, but when people return, and for the long term, they want to feel like there's adequate separation without having flimsy plexiglass between them," he says. Boram is also recommending ionizer systems in the HVAC ducting to lessen airborne contaminants. He says uniform office sizes are becoming much more common so that law firms can use corner spaces for collab- orative spaces. After surveying their staff extensively throughout the pandemic, Borden Ladner Gervais will be launching a pilot project in part of their Toronto office adopting what they call the "digital office concept." Staff will be able to book offices anytime, and the reserved space will be personal- "It's been a big roller coaster of fear and uncertainty, especially in those early days, wondering 'Have I made a big mistake?'" Sara Forte, Forte Law Corporation The reimagined office With hybrid work models now in vogue, the pandemic has caused law firms across Canada to revisit how they will use their space, writes Tim Wilbur

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