We recently caught up with Head of HR & L&D at DMH Stallard, Amanda Smith, and Senior HR Advisor, Cassie Thompson, to discover how the law firm adapted to remote working back in March 2020, how their employees are finding the remote working model one year on, and what the future holds for them.
How has the pandemic affected recruitment in the last year?
At the start of the pandemic, we were expecting a recruitment freeze and that activity would be quiet, but in fact, it was the opposite. The job market has been a lot more buoyant than expected. We’ve seen that people have had the confidence to change jobs which is great.
However, we have found in certain areas, such as real estate, people aren’t moving between jobs as much. We suspect that the stamp duty holiday has something to do with that – they will have been so busy, they probably wouldn’t have had time to look for new jobs.
“The job market has been a lot more buoyant than expected.”
How was the transition to remote working back in March 2020?
It was good – we’re lucky as we have a very strong leadership team. They’re very open to listening and quick to react after weighing up all the options which is a massive help.
From a survey we conducted last summer, our employees told us that they were very happy with the speed in which we have reacted to situations.
Do any of your employees work from the office at the moment?
We have key members of staff, such as office services, who work from the office. Office services take care of things such as opening the post which needs to be kept on top of.
In order to keep these staff members safe, we don’t allow anyone else into the office unless they have a valid reason to be in.
Will you continue remote working when everything goes back to ‘normal’?
DMH Stallard has always been a flexible working firm. Even before the pandemic, we regularly had people working from home. We don’t exactly know what the future holds just yet but we expect there to be a 50/50 split, in and out of the office.
It’s important that we don’t become a virtual law firm and that we maintain the company culture. We have a brilliant working culture here at DMH Stallard, even if I do say so myself!
Maintaining that can be difficult when people are working from home, but it’s really important for us to keep the brand going – this will help us to continue attracting key talent.
Due to the pandemic, we’re looking towards an even more agile working environment. This will probably start with our London office; we’re having the office space refurbished to provide a more collaborative way of working for employees and clients.
“We have a brilliant working culture here at DMH Stallard, even if I do say so myself!”
How do you think a 50/50 model will work?
We’ll probably come up with a hybrid way of working whereby we advise that employees must have some presence within the office. It won’t be fully remote but it will be flexible.
When recruiting, does remote/flexible working help you to attract key talent?
I think if firms aren’t offering remote working, they will lose a lot of key talent. You need to think about how you can attract the best talent. Not everything is about the financials; having a good work-life balance is equally as important these days.
We’ve already seen that our talent pool has widened, particularly at a senior level. What we are seeing is that people are looking to move out of London and into the regions.
Even if people are further away from our office, they don’t seem to mind a slightly longer commute if it’s only 1 or 2 days a week. If it was 5 days a week working from the office, it wouldn’t even be an option for some people.
Are you planning on reducing your office space?
We’re looking at all options at the moment but even if we reduce our office space, we would still have areas where our employees can meet with clients. As I said, we don’t want to become a virtual law firm.
“We don’t want to become a virtual law firm.”
Post pandemic, will you continue to hold virtual meetings in some instances?
At DMH Stallard, we operate within different sectors of law so its practicality can vary. For example, for those working within real estate, a Zoom call fits perfectly.
For our family and private client departments, we would still need face to face meetings with clients. If our client is elderly and looking to make a will, they probably wouldn’t want to do that over Zoom.
In the future, I think Zoom meetings will only take place where it is appropriate, convenient, and the client is happy.
What’s the biggest challenge when dealing with a remote workforce?
One of the biggest challenges is not having that face to face interaction. We’re just in the process of putting in well-being calls to everyone in the firm to see how they are coping.
How has the feedback been so far?
We’ve had a mixed bag really. Remote working is working really well for some people, some people would like a split between home and office working, and some are desperate to get back to the office!
When the schools were closed, a lot of our employees were also home schooling, which obviously came with its own challenges. That made remote working a lot more difficult for them.
Also, as it’s been a full year now, we’re finding that people are a bit more keen to get back to the office. We have daily catch ups within our individual teams but people are missing the interaction from colleagues within the wider firm. We are a friendly firm – it’s one of the reasons why DMH Stallard is a great place to work!
“We are a friendly firm – it’s one of the reasons why DMH Stallard is a great place to work!”
Why are some employees desperate to return to the office?
We’re finding that some employees are struggling to find a healthy work-home balance. Pre-pandemic, when you left the office, you left the workload and went home. Now we’re finding that some employees are working into the early evening.
In tandem with that, we’re also finding that some of our clients expectations have changed. Because there is no ‘shut off’ of office hours, some clients have become a bit more demanding in terms of responsiveness – some expect a response in the evening and at weekends!
We advise that our employees need to have regular breaks, and to switch off from work at a reasonable hour – all the things which you would do if you were working in the office. We don’t want our employees feeling like they have to work until 9pm at night because it’s not healthy.
How have trainees/new starters managed with remote working?
At the start of the pandemic, we put in steps to supervise existing trainees as they would if they were in the office. We have also recruited quite a few people in the last year.
One of the challenges we face is to make sure they feel included and part of the firm. Even though Zoom is great, we appreciate that it can be difficult for new starters as they are trying to integrate into teams who they haven’t physically met yet. We work really hard to make sure that they don’t feel left out during this period.
What’s your focus for 2021?
Our focus is to keep listening to our people, to hear what they’re saying, and to make sure that the needs of the business are met. Well-being is a key focus; we want to make sure that everyone is coping and not feeling overworked.
“Well-being is a key focus; we want to make sure that everyone is coping and not feeling overworked.”
What will be your biggest challenge in 2021?
Change! The transition back to working in the office will be a change – and a challenge – for everyone. We’re very aware that we may need to adapt things as we go along. If things don’t turn out as we expected, we may need to make more changes.
The biggest challenge is to support our team through these transitions, and to make sure that they have the tools to help them through this period.
Who is DMH Stallard?
DMH Stallard is an award winning South East law firm with offices in London, Brighton, Gatwick, Guildford and Horsham.
DMH Stallard has grown rapidly since it was established in 1970, and continues to maintain its focus on building long term relationships with clients to help deliver their goals and objectives.
Discover more about DMH Stallard by visiting here.
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