After my first seat in Banking, I did my second seat in Tax and Wealth Management, which I really enjoyed and thought was well-suited to remote working in a lot of ways. The workload was very manageable and even at the busiest moments I very rarely felt overwhelmed.
I started at around 8.30 to 9.00am each day and finished around 7.00 or 8.00pm. Large chunks of my day were dedicated to doing in-depth research and writing up my findings in client memorandums or emails. I also contributed to a lot of business development tasks such as updating client-facing brochures and presentations. While all this involved a lot of independent thought, my work-givers, and especially my supervisor always took the time to explain what was expected of me, and I felt comfortable asking questions where I was unsure of everything. My supervisor called me at the end of each day to see how I was getting on and to give me detailed feedback on the work I had submitted. I really appreciated the regular feedback as it helped me to feel confident that I was on the right track in terms of development, which can be difficult to gauge while working from home.
The culture was very friendly and open, and everyone seemed very aware of the challenges posed by remote working and the importance of maintaining a realistic work-life balance. I was able to overcome several of these hurdles by setting my own boundaries; for example by having a cut-off time for stopping work every evening, to give myself time to cook and eat dinner. Where it was absolutely necessary I sometimes logged back in later to complete any urgent tasks, but this happened very rarely.
Wealth Management had weekly team meetings where everyone discussed their ongoing matters. It was a good opportunity to learn by osmosis and get an idea of what everyone was up to. I made sure to keep an ear out for things I might be able to volunteer to help with. There were also monthly meetings for the Tax Disputes, Transactional and Transfer Pricing teams, where different people presented on recent case judgments, relevant stories in the media, and departmental wins. I was able to present several times, as were other Trainees in the department. I became much more comfortable presenting in a zoom format as I progressed through my seat and really enjoyed engaging in discussions on the content with the team afterwards.
Obviously there weren’t as many socials as there would have been if we were in the office, but the department tried really hard to organise some interesting events, like the festive themed food science session we had for our departmental Christmas party! A lot of the Associates also put regular coffee catch-ups in the Trainees diaries to make sure they met as many people in the department as possible, even if they weren’t working together.
There are quite a few positives to remote working that people have started to acknowledge. I can use the time I would have been commuting to cook and relax in the evenings, for instance. I think I spent more money in lockdown experimenting with new recipes than I ever did eating out! I also feel proud of myself for having risen to the challenge of working from home throughout my training contract, taking initiative where otherwise I might have waited for work to come to me, and learning to manage my time effectively. I know this will all be invaluable when I make the transition to Associate. In addition, I think there is much more trust placed in junior colleagues’ ability to work flexibly now, which I hope will be retained as things begin to get back to normal.
Of course, we also have to pay attention to the negatives too, and work to find solutions. People aren’t able to see when you’re busy in the same way as they would when sat by you in the office, so a lot more work requests come through. In my first seat I wasn’t as comfortable saying no when I was at capacity, so a few times I ended up feeling overwhelmed, though my confidence in this regard has grown as I’ve become more settled at the firm. Also, while I’ve enjoyed the additional time to myself and to spend with my partner through the workday, I have to admit I’m not as close to my new colleagues as I probably would have been in normal circumstances. Finally, there really is no substitute for learning by osmosis, so I look forward to when we can get back into the office at least a few times a week!
Ella Thackray, third-seat Trainee at Baker McKenzie.