Wills And Probate Teams Urged To Embrace “Smarter Working”
Management consultancy Journey4, has released guidance on how businesses can implement ‘Smarter Working’, following lessons learned by businesses in the wake of coronavirus.
Director, Stuart Pearce, outlines some key research findings and what this could mean for Private Client practitioners.
There is no doubt that the pandemic and lockdown restrictions caused companies and staff to work under very different conditions since lockdown was implemented in March. Staff have had to evolve different working techniques, often juggling family demands that were equally hit by the restrictions.
Companies have had to change their business models to accommodate not only their staff working remotely but also implementing new methods to communicate and interact with clients, which would normally have taken place face to face.
The guidance is based on research undertaken by the consultancy which has a strong resonance with law firms and wills and probate practices as they adjusted to new forms of service delivery to maintain continuity in the face of difficult market conditions. It also provides some pointers to how firms should embrace these external shocks and adapt their business models to cater for new safe working practices and client preferences.
Use the Opportunity to Transform
‘Smarter Working’, a paper produced by management consultancy Journey4, has looked at how people and companies have adapted to the changes and what lessons have been learned which can be taken into the future.
“We believe that businesses should not revert back to how things were and should use this period to transform their business models and harness the benefits identified whilst learning from those things that didn’t go quite so well.”
From using video conferencing technology and virtual workshops, working together with 20 businesses over 13 sectors in the UK, the group has identified four key themes on where to focus discussion:
- Leadership and culture
- Work life balance
Each area was then further split into ‘Stop’, ‘Start, and ‘Continue’ actions that may be used to improve and work smarter in the future.
The group reported that “the strongest sentiment” picked up was that:
“people don’t want to go back to the old ways of working, for a range of reasons, such as personal well-being, flexibility, effectiveness / productivity and environmental impacts and instead, want to be involved in the transition to a ‘new normal’.”
Through the discussions, key considerations were identified, such as businesses needing to adopt an employee driven approach which would work around individual needs and circumstances, enabling the business to find flexible solutions.
Building a Practical Toolkit
Four core principles emerged from the Smarter Working group, which business leaders are encouraged to embrace:
- Trust – business leaders should trust their people to work effectively from home, in hybrid business models that allow greater flexibility
- Employee engagement – employees should be engaged with and involved in plans to shape the future business models. The group states that this “will drive business transformation for those companies that really embrace it.”
- Leadership – business leaders should allow their management teams to manage, show real empathy and understand the impacts of the recent changes on them and articulate a clear vision and purpose for the future.
- Confidence – employees seek confidence in the future vision of the company from their leaders, setting out to transition to the ‘new normal’.
These key considerations and core principles have allowed the group to create a “practical tool kit”, which can be deployed by managers and their teams;
- Vision and strategy review
- Employee engagement workshops
- Employee engagement tools
- Target operating model development
- Re-mobilisation planning
- Policies and procedure updates
- Productivity reviews
- Technology and training
- Assessment / diagnostic tools
This set of tools includes assessment and diagnostic tools which are both existing and subject to current research.
The group felt that “engaging with your employees and adopting a user-centric approach will be key to managing a successful transition and lead to a more productive and competitive business.”
Embrace External Change and be Flexible
For Private Client teams, the traditional face to face appointment model used in many high street locations was already under pressure from customer desire for more online delivery and accessibility. The pandemic has now accelerated this trend with many legal services consumers that were less digitally-savvy becoming more native – forced to switch online for regular things like food shopping, and finding it far less daunting and easier than they thought.
Practitioners teams need to think about what this rapid acceleration to online means for business development, client on-boarding and its impacts on critical compliance issues like Know Your Customer and fraud/money laundering prevention.
Since the Ministry of Justice announced in July that wills backdated to 31 January 2020 could be witnessed virtually, this has opened up a whole new world of efficiency and accessibility for clients.
There had been instances during lockdown where getting two witnesses in a room together, given some may have been shielding, was a key challenge. Now, with some adaption to increasingly familiar tools like Zoom, these hurdles can be overcome and from September, changes to the 1837 Wills Act will cement these into more general acceptance and practice.
Equally, firms need to look at their operating and business cultures. They need to be open to embrace the external changes in demand for consumption of legal services but also be receptive to and flexible with the demands and needs of their employees.
The pandemic showed us how we can maintain business continuity with video and collaborative tools from home and firms must think flexibly about their offices, employees’ locations and meeting changing patterns in demand and access for wills, probate and estate work.
In our next piece, we will look in more detail at what firms need to consider as they re-mobilise their workforce back into the office or off furlough to meet some of these challenges.