Sarah Foster, Managing Partner at Freeths LLP, explains how Freeths are adopting a new hybrid way of working.
It is incredible to think it was as long ago as 23rd March 2020 when our staff were last all able to be in the office together. I remember being on a call with clients agreeing to meet for coffee in a few weeks’ time once everything had blown over – more than 16 months and two vaccination jabs later, I am only now able to organise those coffees.
For businesses, a huge amount has changed over the last 16 months and one area of our lives that has changed significantly is the way in which we work and approach our working day.
I remember, not long after the first lockdown, having a discussion during our management board meeting about what we thought a return to the new normal for our employees could look like. It was during this discussion that we decided to involve our employees in the debate to find out from them directly what they would be looking for us to provide. With this in mind, we sent out a staff survey so we could gauge their views. From the responses, it was clear that with the aid of technology, a return to full-time office working was no longer an option and that agile working is what they welcomed as the new normal. To build on the responses we received from the survey and to better understand the practicalities of agile working, we held detailed discussions across a wide cross-section of Freeths, including within teams, our 12 offices, and we created a designated working group representing people throughout the firm looking at the various challenges and benefits of agile working.
From our engagement with staff, a few consistent themes came from the discussions and I thought I would share some of them with you in case you too were thinking of moving to a hybrid model of working:
Flexibility: The staff survey showed that the vast majority of our people were looking forward to working in an agile way and one of the key attractions is the flexibility this would provide.
Communication: From our discussions, it was clear that agile working would mean that communication would be more important than ever before. This would apply on a firm and team wide basis but also individually and on a one-to-one basis. Our focus would be to make sure staff would still feel part of a team even though they would be working from home but they still would have a feel for the firm’s culture.
Training: We identified a need to arrange training for managers across the business to help them understand the different considerations posed by leading a team in an agile working environment and to equip them with the knowledge and skillset to identify team members that could find that difficult, sometimes even leading to mental health issues. It is worth mentioning one of our successful initiatives implemented last year was to appoint Mental Health First Aiders in each office to help with any issues that staff were experiencing by working from home. I am currently being trained myself.
In respect of our staff based at the Oxford office, the debate was particularly relevant given that the lease on our Oxford office (which has housed over 130 employees for 15 years) was due for renewal in June.
Armed with the information obtained from the engagement with our staff, we have therefore decided to move to new smaller premises on the same business park that can both accommodate our newly-adopted hybrid model of working, together with providing areas where our staff can really work together in teams through collaboration by sitting in pods rather than on individual desks. Our new office has therefore been designed with both elements in mind with staff having the option of choosing which days they would want to be in the office, and where they would like to be when in the office.
The transition to agile working is obviously a journey that many businesses will soon be embarking on, with the debate ongoing as to how to best service the demands from staff for more agile and flexible working arrangements. What is certain, however, is that this will be a continually evolving landscape as we find what works best for us all.
If you are thinking of adopting a hybrid model of working and would like to find out more about the steps and processes that we have put in place to make this a reality for our staff, please do not hesitate to contact me and/or come to see me in our new office to experience first-hand a coffee from one of our new machines!
Sarah Foster, Managing Partner M: 07769 333 424 E: firstname.lastname@example.org