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Oxford: Law firm transforms working practices permanently

By Jo Whittle
22 March 2021
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Leading law firm Reeds Solicitors, which provides family, crime, mental health and court of protection legal services, has announced plans to permanently shift towards more flexible working patterns. The firm, which employs more than 200 staff across 21 offices, said lessons learnt during the pandemic have encouraged it to fast-track existing plans to help maintain a ‘positive workplace culture’ and encourage ‘a more flexible and dynamic’ way of working.

Team members will now be offered a range of more flexible working plans to suit their own individual needs and working preferences.

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L-R: Faith Bartlett, Judy Matthews and Lillie Debbage

Head of HR Lillie Debbage said: "Staff can now choose to work a compressed week, build-up time in lieu or operate a nine-day fortnight. We started this planning pre-pandemic, but the governments ‘work from home’ directive and changes in our departmental caseload demands have fast-tracked our implementation of these structural changes. So far, the new hybrid working model has been welcomed by the team and we have seen a significant uplift in productivity across the board. We currently have over 80 members of staff who are working alternative patterns to the standard 9-5.

"Moving forward, teams, managers and individuals will work together to decide the working arrangements that would best suit their needs."

Alongside the ongoing changes to its working structure, the team has also worked hard to strengthen its remote well-being strategy. Group practice manager Judy Matthews, who has been driving the firm’s well-being strategy for 10 years, said that the pandemic has heightened the need to encourage a positive workplace culture and identify any potential wellness or mental health issues early.

“Since the first lockdown last March we have introduced a number of additional well-being initiatives including complimentary twice-weekly yoga classes via MS Teams, a company-wide ‘steppers’ group so teams can update their daily steps and activity levels, along with a dedicated team of mental health first aiders, whose purpose is to look after our team's mental health and spot potential issues before they happen.

“We encourage weekly teams drinks, quizzes and catch-up’s online, and have just launched our 3rd annual wellness month where we will be looking at a range of issues from nutrition to financial health, as well as the new concept of zoom fatigue.

“Another focus over the past 12 months has been communication within the firm. We now have far more teams and individuals across the business connecting with each other than ever before, including a new ‘buddy system’ we have just introduced. Thanks to this many of our teams have reported feeling closer to each other and less isolated, which is especially important now but will continue to benefit us even as we come out of the pandemic."

Matthews also went on to say that said the changes are part of a wider strategy designed to empower staff and encourage high levels of trust across the business.

“As the pandemic subsides many businesses will be focussing on commercial recovery but for us, this should go hand-in-hand with maintaining a strong emphasis on our employees’ well-being. Our practice management team have created a robust range of programmes and support activities to help keep our employees connected, happy and healthy and this is something we will continue to build on.”

On the back of its success, Matthews, Debbage, HR advisor Faith Bartlett and the 12-strong regional office management and HR support team are now in the process of launching its service externally. Aimed at small to medium-sized law firms, the flexible service will cover all aspects of training, development, HR, change management, staff welfare and practice administration support.

"Back in 2019 Reeds Solicitors became an LLP and at the same time we created an off-shoot business, Reeds Management Services. The initial idea behind this was to be able to offer real progression opportunities to our non-legal support staff. The company has been so successful it seemed an obvious next move to offer our unique portfolio of services to external clients."

Reeds Management Services is now working with a number of firms across the South East and looking to expand its portfolio across the UK.

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