Our research has shown that organisations that get flexible working right will attract and retain talent. Both our Profile of the Profession report and the results of our Gender Equality Roundtables in 2020 gave considerable focus to the importance of flexible working to solicitors achieving work/life balance and staying within the profession.
This advice and information is intended to assist organisations looking to transition to flexible or agile working. It has been shaped by solicitors and others across the profession with experience of flexible or agile working in their organisations.
What do we mean?
Flexible working: this is an umbrella term incorporating a permanent contractual variance to a work-pattern and includes part-time hours, compressed hours, job-sharing, annualised hours, and regular scheduled home-working days.
Certain employees have a right to make a flexible working request under the Employment Rights Act 1996 and Flexible Working Regulations 2014. If you require any further information, the ACAS website is a good source of information: ACAS Employment Contracts
Agile working: This is about being able to work flexibly, with the flexibility being scheduled into your working pattern. This includes ad hoc variances in the working day or the working location, such as occasional working from home and flexi-time systems.
1. Trust is fundamental
Trust underpins effective flexible and agile working. It can be easy for managers to worry about how much work someone is doing remotely. Trust should be assumed until broken. Demonstrate that you trust your employees to get the work done.
Tips to build that trust:
Be clear on your expectations of what you expect employees to produce, to what standard and to what time. Also be clear on their contact arrangements: is working from home expected to be an opportunity for quiet workspace? Or is it business as usual?
Support employees to make it clear when they are working and not working and respect non-working time. This is important to those working fixed part-time arrangements – receiving urgent emails outside of their worktime can increase stress.
Ways to help:
- Clearly set out work-non work time in diaries.
- Use clear out of office messaging including who to contact in absence.
- Add work patterns to contact details.
2. Outputs over inputs
Flexible and agile working are a move away from working set hours in a set place. Move to focus on the outputs of employees rather than the time spent at their desk.
- Agree with employees the output you expect from them be that achieving a billable hour target or completing specific tasks. Ensure that those working part-time have commensurate targets.
- Managerial checklists can be a great tool to help managers and supervisors agree and record flexible and agile working arrangements. Checklists might cover allocation and review of work, scheduled catchups, communications, as well as matters such as health and safety, equipment etc.
3. Talking the talk and walking the walk
The first step is to have clear policies on flexible and agile working that are consistently applied. There’s little point having a brilliant policy that is never used by staff.
It is important that other policies, procedures and options available to your staff reflect your flexible and agile working policies. This will help embed cultural change.
Once you have developed a flexible working and agile working policy, ensure that it remains as a living document and is reviewed regularly to keep up to date. Seeking feedback from your staff, clients and other stakeholders can help to identify any updates needed.
Ensure that the flexible and agile working policies are explained and understood by all at your organisation. This gives leaders a chance to demonstrate they support the change.
Sometimes when there is a mix of working patterns some team-members can feel they are ‘’covering’’ for colleagues on certain flexible patterns. Including these colleagues in conversations and ensuring their concerns or worries are heard will likely help avoid misunderstanding, dispel myths and promote better team-working.
Training on how to have conversations about flexible working patterns and agile working for those in management may well be helpful.
Aim to hire flexibly. When developing job descriptions make sure that a flexible pattern of work will fit the requirements of the roles you are hiring for.
The Society has produced a set of hints and tips on Remote Supervision of Trainees, which can be used to inform how to supervise all remote workers.
4. Getting communication right is important
Encourage those who want a flexible working pattern to consider the challenges they may face to getting work done. Encourage them to consider solutions for them and the team e.g. if a team-member wants to work part-time ask them to consider are there any tasks that must take place on non-working days and how this could be addressed?
When working remotely it is easy for team-mates to become isolated. Think about a blend of proactive and reactive communications which might include a mix of the following:
- A daily call at the start of business
- A weekly longer call to brief/debrief and get updates
- Weekly wrap-up feedback sessions
- Weekly email roundups
- Group-chats between team-mates
You can find some additional ideas on this in an article by our Careers and Outreach officer Getting Colleague Communications Right During Lockdown
5. Speak to clients and stakeholders
Working remotely should not change the client experience. Technology should allow a seamless experience for clients – as we’ve learned during the Covid-19 pandemic it is perfectly possible to work remotely using VPNs, screensharing, and various videoconferencing and collaboration tools.
Managers need to think through how client expectations are managed when staff are working flexibly. This may mean training partners and senior associates to manage conversations with clients about flexible working (e.g. if a staff member doesn’t work Fridays it should be clear to the client in advance who is the first point of contact on those days).
Clients may well be working flexibly too – so having employees working outside of ‘’usual’’ business hours may be a great way of serving those clients.
6. Use technology to aid flexibility and agility
Consider what is the most appropriate form of technology for each situation. For example, if a supervisor is offering feedback on a drafting task, technology that allows for screen-sharing may be helpful (more akin to feedback received in the "real world"). Sometimes though a phone-call or email will be quicker and easier than a video call.
7. Focus on wellbeing
Remember the importance of wellbeing. It is easy when working from home to sit all day and not take breaks. You may need to be more alive to issues like isolation and stress, and it can be easy for mental or physical health symptoms to be masked when working remotely. A more proactive approach to checking in with wellbeing is recommended. A good starting point for wellbeing is our own resource: Lawscot Wellbeing
If you have any comments or want to discuss this advice and information please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org