By Tim Scott, Director of People at Fletchers Solicitors

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic banning all non-essential travel, Tim Scott, Director of People at Fletchers Solicitors, takes a closer look at the increasing value of social events in boosting morale, maintaining a strong company culture and keeping remote teams happy and engaged.

Estimates suggest that remote working has increased three-fold since the beginning of 2020, due to strict government measures around the COVID-19 pandemic. For the legal sector, this has been a dramatic shift in culture and people management, having traditionally been a profession known for its long hours at the desk.

Although testing was already in place at Fletchers Solicitors for more flexible working, this was rocketed forwards following government guidelines to avoid unnecessary travel and work from home where possible.

Although we have grown exponentially in recent years, our roots as a family-run law firm have always instilled a personable culture, where our team members are a part of that extended family network. A sudden shift to home working meant that it was even more important to create a sense of togetherness – albeit through digital channels.

The complications of remote working during a global crisis

In normal circumstances, there are many benefits to remote working. Increased flexibility, and the removal of the daily commute, would generally pave the way for an improved work-life balance. This was one of the driving factors behind the testing of our remote working facilities, and the plan to roll this out over the course of several months.

However, the majority of our team members are unaccustomed to home working – some being office-based from the inception of the business back in 1987. For all of us, the social aspects of office life play a pivotal role in our routines. We quickly found therefore, that a catch up over coffee, a chat at lunch, and the general camaraderie that comes from working closely with your peers, became sorely missed during this extended period of mass remote working.

As leaders, it was important to consider this, and also to consider the individual circumstances of our team members. Some might have found themselves isolating alone, or forced to juggle home-schooling with busy working days. These are not the usual circumstances of remote working. And far from instilling a healthy work-life balance, for some, these additional stresses and strains further added to the mix.

At Fletchers, we take the mental health of our team members very seriously. As such, we had to consider what impact the enforced lockdown would have. In a time where boosting morale and maintaining a strong company culture was even more critical than usual, it was key to develop a social calendar of activities to ensure our team members continue to feel supported, engaged and motivated outside the traditional office environment.

The camaraderie of office-based working, for a mass remote workforce

One of the first initiatives we introduced was a daily meditation session, which encouraged Fletcherians to take a few minutes of their day to reset and recharge. We also wanted to encourage conversations across teams, ensuring that we could continue to learn about one another and maintain smooth operations across each department. To achieve this, we introduced virtual coffee breaks, whereby team members would be selected at random and given the opportunity to share some face-to-face time with their peers. This sparked new introductions that may not otherwise have happened in the sometimes-rigid confines of a defined office space.

Support for parents was another key measure. Many of our team members had been thrown into new and uncharted territory as a result of the government lockdown and were left juggling complex legal cases with times tables lessons. This meant that working hours had to be adapted to suit family life, and this of course came with its own challenges.

To combat this, we created a support network for parents where mums and dads could share home-schooling tips, craft ideas and generally provide some much-needed advice for one another when it was most important.

As well as the mental health of our team members, we were aware that physical health has the potential to be affected by government restrictions. During the height of lockdown, we were restricted to one outdoor exercise session per day, and so we wanted to support Fletcharians in making the most of this time. We did this through online fitness groups, where members shared motivational tips, pictures of running routes and general encouragement to those who might have been taking up exercise for the first time.

Of course – the usual quizzes, team huddles and one-to-ones continued as par for the course, but these additional measures have proved to be invaluable in keeping Fletchers staff happy and engaged during these very challenging times.