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Flexible and Agile Working

WILHK is committed to heightening awareness about this topic. As many corporates and international firms seek to implement agile and flexible working policies in Hong Kong, WILHK is at the heart of the debate,  addressing the challenges and rewards for employers and employees.

WILHK’s flexible working sub-committee includes experts from across the Hong Kong legal sector representing major corporates and firms as well as alternative legal services providers.

WILHK’s research piece, “Making the case for flexible and agile working in Hong Kong’s legal industry” was published in 2019 on the cusp of unprecedented times. The report found that implementing more flexible and agile working policies is necessary to attract and retain female talent and makes for more productive, efficient and happier employees. The benefits to working flexibly and agilely are not gender specific, although working mothers are hit doubly hard by not having flexible and agile work arrangements. Flexible and agile working is therefore critical for a gender equal workforce.

Survey Link

Read our new report, a first-of-its-kind study of the individual attitudes and structural biases preventing Hong Kong’s legal industry from adopting a better flexible and agile working model. Click here for our one-page snapshot.


Media release

19 June 2019

Workplace attitudes block Hong Kong legal sector's adoption of flexible and agile working

Better uptake could also tackle the SAR's legal female 'brain drain'


While Hong Kong's legal industry increases access to flexible and agile working, lack of management support and entrenched attitudes are slowing its uptake.


In a new survey by Women in Law Hong Kong (WILHK), respondents identified a lack of support from top management (71%) and entrenched negative perceptions (61%) as the two greatest barriers to increasing the number of employees adopting flexible and agile working.


Of those hesitant to apply for flexible and agile working, the top three reasons cited were: fear they would be judged as lacking commitment (22%), workplace stigma to such arrangements (21%), and employer preferences for physical over digital presenteeism (18%).  


"Half of Hong Kong's legal employers now offer flexible working, while a third offer agile working. Yet our survey found that a lack of support and entrenched attitudes are diluting effectiveness and sustainability," said Michelle Fung of WILHK, who led the report.


"In such a high-pressure industry, this poor uptake prevents improvements in work-life balance, mental health and wellness, and could exacerbate the profession's existing gender imbalance."


"We need to dispel the myth that flexible and agile working is bad for business and challenge the culture of entrenched presenteeism reported in the survey," said Anita Phillips, WILHK co-chair, who has worked flexibly and agilely since 2012. 


"Our research found flexible and agile working improves productivity, increases company loyalty, and helps slow the brain drain of female talent across the Hong Kong market. Critically, it improves the bottom lines of firms and companies that adopt flexible and agile working."


Notes to editors

  1. Flexible working includes flexible start and finish times, condensed work weeks or hours, work sharing, part-time, home working, freelance, etc. Agile Working includes working from home or other locations, hot-desking, unlimited annual leave, etc.

  2. Women in Law Hong Kong (WILHK) is a non-profit society providing private practice lawyers, in-house counsel and all other industry professionals a solutions-based approach to gender equity. WILHK is supported by many of Hong Kong’s leading firms and institutions and is one of the largest legal networks in Hong Kong. With 1,400 members representing all genders, the society encourages a diverse exchange of ideas and collaboration. 

  3. WILHK surveyed Hong Kong’s legal industry between September and November 2018, inviting anonymous responses from individuals, regardless of gender, who worked in any capacity related to Hong Kong’s legal industry. Nearly 400 men and women responded, from lawyers to support staff, and across private practice law firms, in-house legal teams and alternative legal service providers (ALSPs).


A raft of firms and organisations are supporting this event and report:


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Hong Kong Lawyer has published a piece on WILHK's report on flexible and agile working in the legal industry. Check out the overriding motivations, hesitations and societal factors at play, as well as the business case and what employers can do to improve the status quo.

Achieving work/life balance is now widely accepted as critical to a successful and sustainable career in law. But how do employers and employees 'walk the walk'? Is balance possible in practice? Flexible and agile working are often seen as central to the solution. 
Recognising the lack of data in Hong Kong's legal industry on implementation of policies, take-up and attitudes to flexible and agile working, WILHK is pleased to launch its own flexi/agile working survey. This survey will take approximately 10-15 minutes and will be open until October 18, 2018. 
We are pleased to be analysing the data collected from this survey in conjunction with Relativity and will publish a report in early 2019 to inform change and best practice in Hong Kong's legal industry. 
We encourage you all to participate in this short survey – men, women, lawyers, non-lawyers, those in private practice, those in-house, and those at other organisations. Provided you work in some capacity in Hong Kong's legal industry, we want to hear from you and we kindly ask you share this survey with your organisations and networks. The greater the participation, the richer the feedback and findings.

Thank you in advance for your time. Your views are important to us.    

Pattie Walsh of Bird & Bird, who has co-chaired WILHK's flexible and agile working sub-committee, has published a series of articles on flexible/agile working and related topics in the SCMP

At WILHK's most oversubscribed networking lunch to date, WILHK flexible/agile working committee heads, Pattie Walsh (partner) and Jeanette Tam (managing associate) of Bird & Bird, led a discussion on flexible and agile working in Hong Kong's legal industry. Pattie and Jeanette updated attendees on WILHK's plan to launch a Hong Kong-wide survey on flexible and agile working. This is to plug a clear gap in the research, which is dominated by experiences and trends in Europe and the US. It is hoped that WILHK's research will contribute to a much-needed conversation on flexible and agile working in Hong Kong's legal profession, as more and more firms and in-house legal teams attempt to make it a reality. WILHK's research, which will be co-led by David de Geest, a professor of organisational behaviour at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, will help highlight the benefits and challenges for men and women in Hong Kong.

The women@lunch session triggered valuable discussion on a range of related topics, from the need to depart from the traditional billable hour model in private practice (the culture of 'clocking in and clocking out' in many Asian jurisdictions was noted), to the fact that technology is driving de facto agile working. This in turn triggered a conversation about the need for digital boundaries (the phenomenon of being available from just about anywhere in the world can lead to burnout) and the value of top-down support for flexible/agile working to create an environment where it can work.

Freshfields - IWD Panel Discussion


To celebrate International Women's Day on 8 March 2017, WILHK collaborated with Freshfields to organise a panel discussion on Flexible and Agile Working in the legal sector.


WILHK Chair Stephanie Sheng was part of the panel and was joined by:

-Lauren Ellison, Supervising Counsel, Telstra Global

-Elspeth Renshaw, Global Diversity Lead Partner, Heads International

-Edward Braham, Senior Partner, Freshfields, London

-Georgia Dawson, Partner, Freshfields, Singapore/Hong Kong

The panel discussion was moderated by Richard Bird, Partner responsible for diversity and inclusion, Freshfields.


The panelists provided some thought provoking discussion on topics ranging from the definitions of agility and flexibility, the importance of collecting data to measure employees' engagement with flexible working policies, and the importance of staying "visible" when working out of the office. There was also time for some lively Q&A with the audience.

Head of Flexible Working, Pattie Walsh, was featured in Flux Magazine’s article with her thoughts on flexible working in the section, “Leading Virtual Teams”.  Flux Magazine was launched in the UK and builds on the work of the Executive Education at Cambridge with the Women in Law Leadership Programme. 

WILHK is working with David de Geest, assistant professor of the department of management and marketing at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. David has undertaken extensive research in the US on the benefits to employers and employees of flexible/agile working. WILHK is working with David and other researchers to expand this research to cover Hong Kong's legal industry. Read David's recent article in the South China Morning Post here

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