Q&A with Linklaters: how are employers adapting their flexible working practices in light of COVID-19?
Published: 17 Jun 2020
Peter Bevan is Sponsoring Partner of Linklaters’ Family and Carers Network. To mark our #flextheuk campaign we recently caught up with him to find out how Linklaters – a Working Families employer member – is adapting its flexible working policies in the light of COVID-19.
How has Linklaters adapted its flexible and family-friendly practices as a result of COVID-19?
We recognise the particular stresses and demands that working parents and carers are facing during the Covid-19 pandemic and know that each of our people will be experiencing Covid-19 differently. Strong channels of communication are vital to ensuring that everybody is supported, as such, we have encouraged our people to keep talking to each other and their managers to discuss their day-to-day needs.
Furthermore, as social distancing measures were implemented, departments across the firm promptly set up weekly calls for working parents so we can share concerns, ideas and support each other through this difficult time. We have also been sharing resources through our Family & Carers Network.
This approach has been helped by the fact that we’ve been focussed on getting our people to develop an agile working mindset well before Covid-19: which is especially important for our working parents and carers in ensuring that they are supported, not over-burdened, and able to concentrate on their careers where they want to.
In January 2020, we introduced New Parent Leave in the UK, where any employee whose partner is having a baby, adopting a child or becoming a parent through surrogacy (regardless of gender or gender identity) will be offered twelve weeks’ paid leave which can be taken at any time during the first 12 months from the arrival of their child.
Furthermore, in 2019 we enhanced our flexible working policy so that any employee can request a formal flexible working arrangement, no matter how long they have been employed by the firm, and they will not be asked to explain the reasons for their request.
Will there be any permanent changes to the ways of working at Linklaters as a result of the pandemic?
We constantly consider and review our approach to agile working to make sure we are working in the most efficient and practical way possible, meeting our client needs and our people’s expectations; the pandemic presents us with a unique backdrop to continue those conversations, as it does for all businesses.
We are, and will continue to, engage with our people to work out what the post Covid-19 landscape looks like: it is important for us to work as a global team to identify any changes we may want to make. Our Senior Partner has specifically asked all of us to consider over the coming weeks what we’ve learned from our remote working experience, and has shared his own thoughts, so this conversation is very much underway.
Our approach to agile working has put us in a good position to react to changes that the future may bring – with flexibility and openness as integral components to the way we work.
As a parent, what has surprised you the most about your working life in lockdown?
It is a challenge to balance work and parenting without lock-down measures but it takes it to another level when the two are happening in such close proximity!
Being aware that everyone is juggling the demands of their home responsibilities during the lockdown has made it easier to take that into account in setting work expectations and we mustn’t forget once people are regularly back in the office that, just because we can’t always see it, they may still be dealing with that juggling act. One colleague’s young child was asked what mummy did when she was working all day. The answer: “She watches men on her computer”! Not a bad description of most video calls.
The support of my colleagues has been invaluable during this time – knowing that, although no two situations are ever the same, everybody is experiencing similar challenges, sharing those experiences and working through them together, has been a rewarding experience. The feeling of teamwork, connectedness and “pulling together” has been fantastic to see and experience.
The legal sector has a reputation for long-hours cultures. How can law firms move away from this ‘always on’ mentality?
There is no doubt that working as a solicitor in a city law firm is highly demanding. The key is helping our people to build a sustainable career in this context.
Agility in working practices means, for us, considering how, when and where our people work. Giving our people choice, control and input in these three areas allows us to support them in building a sustainable career with us, while maintaining excellent client service. We value our people’s work on the basis of their outputs rather than through presenteeism.
Particularly during this period of remote working we are trying to help people find a way to make a distinction between being “at work” and “at home” even when working from home, as there is otherwise a risk that you really do never get a chance to switch off. For example, putting away your laptop means that even if checking emails on your phone late in the evening you do have the sense of a different level of expectation.
Consistent with our culture of promoting the good health and wellbeing of our people, we are a signatory of the Mindful Business Charter. The Charter is a collective commitment from a wide range of businesses and law firms aimed at addressing avoidable working practices impacting upon employees’ mental health and wellbeing – promoting healthier and more effective ways of working.
Employers – a Working Families membership will give you the tools, guides and policies you need to implement flexible and family-friendly business practices. We also offer coaching and business support. Our online shop sells a range of resources to help employers of all sizes – from all sectors – attract and retain the best talent by creating flexible, family-friendly workplaces.
For more information about your flexible working rights as a parent/carer, call the Working Families helpline on 0300 012 0312 or use our advice contact form.