Is Remote Work Making eDiscovery Employees More Productive?: eDiscovery Trends

Based on a recent article from Legaltech® News, remote work not only has improved productivity and work quality, but we may continue to see the remote work model indefinitely.

In the article Remote Work Made E-Discovery Employees More Productive. Will It Last?, written by Frank Ready, the author states: “E-discovery providers may be seeing unexpected productivity gains as employees continue to adapt to the remote working conditions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. But maintaining those gains in the long run will require companies to permanently rethink the way that they approach worker engagement, while also persuading clients that remote e-discovery work poses a minimal threat to security.”

Apparently, eDiscovery providers will be well-motivated to put in the effort. Shamus Flower, senior vice president at Consilio, noted that the company is seeing an increase in both productivity and work quality from employees in its contract review service. He attributes this to the flexibility that remote working affords employees who would otherwise have to spend time commuting to an office where they adhere to a strict schedule.

Rigidity isn’t necessarily a friend to the document review process. “Document review is not the most exciting task to perform. And to sit and to try and review documents consecutively in that fixed window is certainly draining. … From a human behavioral standpoint it’s just next to impossible to sit in front of a computer screen and just constantly read for that amount of time,” Flower said.

Remote working—especially on a flexible schedule that allows for longer breaks—may allow workers to refocus and recharge mental energies from the comfort of their own home. But while COVID-19 forced providers and their clients to sign off on those types of arrangements, once the virus subsides, will they still be comfortable giving employees a longer leash?

Mary Mack, CEO and chief legal technologist at EDRM, believes that many providers will choose to let remote working arrangements continue unchanged. She indicated that cybersecurity was one of the main concerns that kept more eDiscovery companies from fully taking advantage of remote working setups before the pandemic.

“There were thoughts that physical security was way more important and that it was almost impossible to secure the [employee’s] home. But I think that whole thing has been blown to smithereens because we had to do it. E-discovery companies had to secure the home,” she said.

Some eDiscovery companies may have begun taking steps in that direction long before the pandemic. For example, both Ricoh eDiscovery and Hanzo have been extensively deploying remote working setups for years.

David Greetham, director and vice president of eDiscovery sales and operations at Ricoh, said that because the company was used to working remotely (here’s a link to my coverage of an article where he discusses that), the arrival of the pandemic didn’t coincide with any internal changes in productivity. But the eDiscovery itself may be getting lighter on its feet.

“We have found that other services providers have become more efficient,” he said.

Once the pandemic is over, he does not foresee many providers longing to return to a more office-centric lifestyle—especially given that remote working can potentially eliminate the cost of commercial real estate from a business’ overhead. But while remote working may remain largely intact post-pandemic, the execution may not be exactly as it’s been the past several months.

For starters, eDiscovery workers could find hours becoming slightly less flexible. Greetham expects that workers will operate on a schedule, but with greater allowances made for employee work habits. He gave the example of an employee who doesn’t like to work between noon and 3 p.m.

“I think it’s going to be hard to say no because you’ve already done it, albeit during a pandemic. So that’s an interesting challenge, [but] I don’t think it’s an unsurmountable challenge,” he said.

As I covered in this post, almost three-fourths of companies in a recent survey (74 percent) expect to permanently shift some employees to remote work after the pandemic.  And, almost three in five (59 percent) of U.S. workers who have been doing their jobs from home during the coronavirus pandemic would prefer to continue to work remotely as much as possible, once public health restrictions are lifted.  Frankly, I’m surprised it’s not higher.

Of course, bandwidth challenges still remain for some workers, especially when it comes to video calls and web conference meetings.  And, cybersecurity and the potential of data breaches appears to be much more of a challenge, at least based on a report from Bitdefender (which I covered here) that noted that the total number of global ransomware reports increased by over seven times from the first six months of this year (compared to the same time period last year).  So, it certainly appears that some organizations are still struggling with at least that part of remote work.  Nonetheless, it appears that remote work is here to stay, within most eDiscovery providers as well as many organizations in general.

So, what do you think?  Has working remotely made you more productive?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by my employer, my partners or my clients. eDiscovery Today is made available solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Today should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

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