Reeds Solicitors has been shortlisted for an HR Excellence Award following their “life-changing” flexible working scheme. To learn more about the HR Excellence Awards, the nomination and our flexible working scheme entry, we’ve interviewed two of our HR team; Faith Bartlett and Lillie Debbage.
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Tell us a little more about the HR Excellence Awards
Faith: The HR Excellence Awards highlights achievements within the HR teams across all industries throughout the UK, and it’s an opportunity for us to show the strides that we’re making, particularly in this category: flexible working.
Lillie: The category that we have been nominated for is the best flexible-working strategy. It’s a new category, and we’re really excited to see how it goes.
Faith: We’re really proud of our flexible-working strategy, and so applying for this award was a chance to recognise the impact and the contribution that everybody’s had to make it so successful.
How does it feel to be shortlisted for this award?
Lillie: It’s a great achievement to be listed for an HR Excellence Award alongside such big companies such as Blood Cancer UK, Deliverect and the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. Reeds is a small company. We’re predominantly legal-aid-funded, and there are a number of limitations for our staff.
Faith: It’s worth considering that we have to comply with regulations set by the SRA, the LAA and the Bar Council as well. So we’ve had to be particularly flexible in what different job roles can do, because solicitors are, for example, constrained by court dates, and the flexibility just isn’t there for them. So we’ve had to adapt around that.
Can you tell us more about your Flexible Working Scheme?
Faith: Where shall we start? Shall we start with before, or shall we start with now, after the pandemic?
We’ve wanted to try and implement flexible working for quite a while now, but post-pandemic, something really took off, and it’s been working for the last year really well. We offer lots of different types of flexible working. Some of those are very short-term-based for people, and some of them are considerably longer and involve a change to the terms and conditions of your contract. They can be geographical changes to people. Some of them are working-hour changes to people. Some are just about adapting to a change that’s happened in their lifestyle. So it’s a huge range of flexible requests that we are receiving, and we have been really lucky that we can accept as many as we can.
Lillie: Okay. So in terms of the scheme, we were actually looking into doing this pre-pandemic. We did a survey in July 2019 and asked our staff what kind of flexible working would be well received, and we had lots of suggestions about four-day weeks, nine-day fortnights, and TOIL systems, so time in lieu. So pre February 2020, we got the go-ahead from our board of partners, and we were just about to launch a…
Faith: A trial system.
Lillie: A trial system. And then we went into lockdown. So that was put on the back-burner slightly. However, around June-July time, once we had found our feet a little bit and people had settled into working from home, we revisited the flexible-working scheme and we started to write our policies, and we decided to offer it to all staff. So it took from there really.
Faith: It was quite lucky that people had come back from furloughs and were working at her home on their own time-scales anyway. So it naturally progressed from that.
What has the reaction been from employees?
Faith: The reaction from everybody has been overwhelmingly positive. A lot of people saw straight away the difference it would make to their daily lives, and the more people that started to work flexibly, it was like a ripple effect, and everybody else began to jump on board and try it for themselves. There have been pockets of, not resistance, but people who didn’t understand what we were trying to achieve, and they’ve been slowly won over, I think, because they can see the positive impacts it’s had on all the different types of roles that we have.
What has the flexible working scheme meant for the business?
Lillie: So one of the positive impacts on the business has been the reduction in sickness. We’ve seen a huge reduction in sickness across the business of all job levels. The flexible-working scheme has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the business. It has improved our equality and diversity and inclusion. We are able to offer roles to a wider range of people, lone parents, those with caring responsibilities, maybe those that are studying full- or part-time, and we are just able to reach a wider range of people than we ever worked before.
What was the hardest part of the implemention process?
Faith: I think one of the hardest parts of introducing the flexible-working program was getting buy-in from certain members of staff, although once they’ve seen that work for one person, and seeing it happen and the benefits that came with it, they’ve often asked us later on if they can try it, and it’s had a ripple effect throughout teams. That’s been really encouraging.
Lillie: Change management is a challenge in itself, and we have had some resistance. So it’s taken a lot of ongoing work from our HR team, and we plan to continue to put that work in and promote our flexible-working packages further, and we hope to see an even higher number of people uptake flexible working.
What’s your advice to other businesses who would like to implement a Flexible Working Scheme?
Lillie: So my advice to other businesses would be to be open-minded and give it a try. Don’t have any particular expectations or targets. Just speak to your employees, keep the communication channels open and see how things roll out. Nothing’s ever perfect, and it takes time to find the right fit, but you’ll get there eventually.
Faith: Yes, I think sharing those success stories and sharing those positives between different teams and different departments and just keeping the positive conversations flowing to share those experiences made a big difference for us.
Lillie: So one of the things that we did to promote our flexible-working package was to do spotlights within our monthly newsletter. So we would take a case study and we would talk about how it’s worked really well for one particular person in the business, with a view that this would encourage others in similar positions to give it a try.
Can you provide us a few examples of those helped by the scheme?
Lillie: So one of our employees who has a disability has said that the flexible working has been life-changing. She is able to continue doing her job from home, but not only that, she is also enjoying a nine-day fortnight, which gives her a little bit more flexibility around her personal life and family commitments.
Faith: We’ve also been able to accommodate requests for people who want to work in different countries and who need to travel around the UK for family commitments, or whatever reason, really. So we’ve been really lucky to be able to accommodate all sorts of different types of requests, and it’s been really nice.
Lillie: So one of the things that the scheme has allowed us to do is accommodate working parents, and particularly those with young primary-school-age children. One of our employees, she finishes work at three o’clock and is able to go and collect her daughter from school and then return to work at a later point in the evening that suits her. Others with older children are able to greet them when they arrive home from school, which cuts out lots of anxieties and additional care responsibilities, and this has been widely received by a large proportion of our workforce.
Good Luck to all those shortlisted for an HR Excellence Award!
Faith: I think it’s going to be a really exciting evening, and good luck to absolutely everyone who’s been shortlisted. We’ll see you there.
UPDATE: We were unfortunate not to win this prestigious award. However, we have also been nominated for a LexisNexis Wellbeing Award. Wish us luck!