Adopting Agile Working in Conjunction With Home Working
Large law firms have been historically reticent to allow staff the freedom to adopt agile working. Now that the situation has changed, how can firms best handle new working policies?
Alana Penkethman, chartered legal executive and Molly Dilling, trainee solicitor at Parker Bullen Solicitors, offer law firms their firsthand advice on increasing employee productivity through agile working.
Albeit brief, the general view of the adoption of home working is that it will be a force for good for many businesses. As a result, home working has also led many businesses to question whether other working practices and employment structures, many of which haven’t changed for over a century, can better support their employees and customers going forward.
Moving to flexible or agile working
Flexible and agile working are different concepts; flexible working is a variation to an employee’s contract which normally involves an atypical working structure agreed through formal procedure.
Agile working, on the other hand, focuses on the concept that work is an activity, not a place. It allows employees to work where they want and when they want with the premise that giving employees maximum flexibility with minimum constraints actually maximises their performance and produces better overall output for the business and its clients.
Client first – an opportunity to support employees and clients
When discussing clients, we are talking about both businesses in other sectors that need advice from employment specialists and also clients of the firm as a whole. The key is looking at all the issues holistically.
Having adopted agile working as a firm we have first-hand experience of the challenges and benefits. The good news is that it has been a success with all members of staff, from trainees to partners supporting the move. But it does take time to adjust and it will inevitably evolve.
Albeit brief, the general view of the adoption of home working is that it will be a force for good for many businesses.
If you are advising clients considering a similar move then the following should be considered.
Agile working appears to be very employee-focused and employers may be concerned that placing such a significant amount of trust in their employees could compromise their quality of work. Some of us are early birds, some of us are night owls and a standard 9-5 day only accommodates a proportion of employees. Our experience shows that you can actually increase productivity if you trust your employees to work when they are most productive.
Of course, employees should still fulfil their contractual hours. Agile working is not a contractual variation and employers can rescind an employee’s right to use agile working if they feel like their performance is being compromised.
Our experience shows that agile working encourages transparency, responsibility and honesty by employees. It also empowers them to take charge of their own work, admit when they are struggling (either with work or with their mental health) and deal with it. The trust placed in them by their employer can make them feel more valued, which is a key indicator of employee engagement and will ultimately lead to higher staff retention rates, better performance and overall job satisfaction.
What about the firm’s clients?
Ultimately, if your staff are happy and motivated, this is going to have a direct impact on the level of work delivered to your clients. Introducing an agile working policy should see a decrease in unplanned staff absences, increased staff wellbeing and an increase in fees received. From a financial perspective, a firm could make cost savings because it has fewer staff in the office.
All this is good news for clients, but many will be concerned that it could just mean it is harder to get hold of their lawyer. In our experience the opposite is true.
Ultimately, if your staff are happy and motivated, this is going to have a direct impact on the level of work delivered to your clients.
Research from Legal Marketing experts Find Get Grow showed that clients under the age of 44 wanted more ‘out of hours’ access to lawyers, in the evenings and at weekends, and those over the age of 60 were more interested in meeting at a place of their choice. Agile working helps address these issues much more than standard 9-5 working hours. A client’s team could, for example, be available from 7am to 10pm – an extra 7 hours of availability for clients.
Considerations for implementation
If you are going to introduce an agile working policy, you should ensure that your expectations are communicated to your employees from the outset. A sensible initiative is to hold workshops which explain the background to the policy, how it would work, and the expectations any law firm partners have in relation to it.
It should be understood by all employees that there will be regular reviews for both the policy and for the employees who choose to adopt it. A further recommendation would be for employers to implement effective performance management and time recording systems; for law firms, performance may be judged by amount of time recorded, fees received and client feedback.
Plainly, employers should be aware that presence does not equal performance. Just because an employee may be logged for 12 hours a day, this doesn’t mean their performance is good.
Expanding your geographical boundaries
In our experience agile working has allowed us to broaden our catchment as more flexible hours have enabled us to attract clients who previously considered 9-5 opening a restriction.
Another very important benefit is the fact that firms introducing the agile working policy can benefit from recruiting from a wider geographical talent pool. We, for example, have traditionally attracted staff within a half to an hour’s drive away, but this has recently expanded to new recruits joining from across the South and South West.
Agility without permanency
The key point about this style of working is that there is no permanency to it. Because there is no contractual variation, the employer has the authority to rescind it at any point.
There is every reason to trial it for a period of six months, to see how it works. At this point, you will need to get employee and client feedback to monitor progress.
Our view from our senior partner is clear: “Agile working gives your workforce significant autonomy which also recognises that employers trust and value what they do. So long as the clients are well served, where and when your staff carry out that work should be far less important. Your colleagues should be respected as being client helpers, and not clock watchers.”