Our Head of In-house Member Engagement, Beth Anderson, talks to in-house lawyers to learn more about how they are responding to the Covid-19 crisis. Find out more about how you can join the discussion.
How are in-house teams are adapting to the coronavirus crisis? What new processes are being put in place? And what changes in working practices and priorities are there? These were the overarching questions we set for our first virtual roundtable for in-house counsel.
I expected these to prompt a tense discussion about the challenges and negative impacts of this extraordinary situation. However, I was both surprised and encouraged to realise that collaboration turned out to be at least one of the recurring themes for the session.
Don’t get me wrong, there wasn’t a wave of unending positivity from the group. There is plenty to be concerned about. There are plenty of uphill struggles to be fought. But if we begin from a position of increased collaboration, then surely in-house counsel are well-placed to help guide their organisations through this relentlessly unsettling time.
Working from home – not a straightforward reality for all
It’s obvious that the impact of the virus is being felt differently in different sectors.
While various members of the group (for example in the tech and financial services sectors) were able to share the relatively swift and efficient way in which their organisations had moved to home-working, others (particularly in leisure and property development industries) revealed an unprecedented drop in business and huge swathes of staff being furloughed as a result.
The camaraderie and connectivity that many in-house counsel had found through new or renewed focus on use of technology - Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Whatsapp groups, virtual townhalls - is undoubtedly difficult to achieve for others, when over 90% of their colleagues are all of a sudden absent.
Furloughing had clearly cut very deeply into the fabric of some organisations and there was agreement that there may be further waves of this to come. In-house counsel had been involved in this process to varying degrees. One member of the group had an employment focused role and found herself responding to almost daily changes in the law. Another commented that as there weren’t existing experts in this field, it gave in-house counsel a chance to get involved in an area they wouldn’t normally.
Connectivity through tech – too much of a good thing?
The variety and effectiveness of tech being used to keep teams and individuals connected was really reassuring. Not only for ensuring business as usual (or not so usual, in many cases) continued, but also in more creative ways - to keep the team’s energy and positivity up. However, one member of the group made the important point that colleagues shouldn’t feel pressurised to join this brave new world of the virtual Friday drink. A sense of ‘working from home anxiety’ could lead individuals to feel like they need to be in touch more than they would ever be at the office, when in fact so many people now have complex caring arrangements or other obligations to factor into their working day. A strong ‘tone from the top’, emphasising that health and family should be put above everything, is key to acknowledging the huge impact this is having on people’s lives.
Finally, focusing on the positives: one member of the group shared how her business was taking this time to consider what improvements they could make now and for the future. Poetically she described this as ‘when fishermen can’t get out to fish, they mend their nets’. Another had found that they’d got closer to more people across the business as so many were making a real effort to connect, share and provide support. And others still were already looking ahead to understand what changes they’d already been forced to make during this experience, that ultimately they’ll want to keep: more flexible working practices; better use of technology; and cost cutting exercises in terms of process efficiencies, being three that will likely resonate no matter the organisation.
Our next virtual roundtable for in-house counsel will be held on 22 April. If you’d like to join, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your details. More information on the event can be found on our events pages.