Remote working – Casting an eye back to 2019, before the coronavirus outbreak, less than 30% of the working population reported that they worked from home. Now, almost overnight, businesses all over the UK were propelled into the new norm of remote working.
For Paris Smith, various existing support systems proved invaluable to the teams such as our trained mental health first aiders and our employee assistance programmes. Technology of course was crucial to ensure teams could communicate regularly and continue to provide service to clients.
HR Director, Paula Al-Yousif said; “Remote working was very much on the people agenda before the outbreak and, there was indeed a draft Agile Working Policy in place for the firm. The COVID situation has forced homeworking upon everyone and it could be said, this has enabled us to pilot some aspects of agile and flexible working and will certainly help us to look at key considerations for the future. What has become evident however is the importance of good teamwork, good communication and having good support mechanisms in place for everyone.”
Various members of staff have given an insight as to how they have found remote working since the Coronavirus lockdown.
A day in the life with my family during lockdown
Naomi Williams, Team Leader, Property Finance
Like many others, about 4 weeks ago life started to change drastically. I watched with concern as the serious nature of coronavirus was revealed each day on the news and the worry set in about how this was all going to impact my everyday life. I work full time at Paris Smith where I run the Dual Representation Team in the Property Finance Department and have three children and it became apparent that our usual routine was about to be severely disrupted! Within three days, I found out that my children’s school would close, the country was to enter the first phase of the countrywide lock down and I was required to isolate for 12 weeks as a result of suffering from chronic asthma. I am sure like lots of people who experienced so many changes in such a short space of time, it all seemed very overwhelming.
Having to settle into a new method of working and running a team solely from home as well as ensure my children were continuing their education and feeling comfortable and not overwhelmed by the events all around us seemed like an impossible task and the last day of school for the children was a true reflection of how we all felt. There were tears as a result of separation from friends and family, worries about being able to work and learn at home mixed with some excitement of having to all be home together each day. A new home office appeared, as well as a special space for the children to sit and learn and have some alone time. Engaging the children in the process of deciding how their new days would be at home bought enthusiasm and a flurry of wonderful and creative ideas. The huge mountain we thought we would be facing began to seem more manageable and we were all ready to face the challenge together and get into a new routine and way of living.
My working day still begins at 9am with the children for company who always start the day with some school work. I had big dreams of a structured day of school work but it became apparent quickly that an hour of quality work for them at home is a real accomplishment. There is a perfectly timed 10am snack break for the kids (one of many a day) which allows me to then be a part of my daily conference call with the Property Finance Team. This call allows the whole team to make contact and discuss anything important related to our current work but is also allows us to continue to socialise and maintain the great friendships we have all built in the office. A morning call is not complete with a carefully selected tune sung by our Partner Stuart which always means the call ends with smiles all around!
With the children having some free time, I can continue to run my team and ensure I am offering the continued best service to my clients. Like in the office, my phone does not stop ringing and the emails are in full flow. Clients are more concerned which means having to ensure the right level of support is given to them and sometimes this has just meant a friendly chat on the phone, and to be a voice of reassurance. There is no better feeling that completing a deal for a client and in these uncertain times, the victory seems even greater. My surroundings may be different, and coffee breaks and walks around Winchester Cathedral may have been replaced with snack breaks and exercise with Joe Wicks but each day I am still reflective and happy with what I have been able to achieve and proud to be part of the team at Paris Smith.
For me it has been paramount to still remain so connected with the firm and my colleagues and the fun WhatsApp groups, dance challenges, virtual coffee mornings and weekly messages from the Managing Partner have helped me feel like the spirit of Paris Smith remains. This routine that seemed so daunting, has now become enjoyable and bought so many positives to my life, which truly shine through. I get so much more time with my children, I get to continue to do the job I love and excel in new and exciting ways and to top it all off I still get my end of month drinks with my team, albeit by video call but we all still raise a glass together ready to face another month together!
How I support my team during lockdown
Elizabeth Power, Head of Tax and Estate Planning
We are all trying to adapt to the new world we are currently in and I am no different. In January I was Partner in the Tax Estate Planning Department (T&EP) responsible for a small Team of lawyers from our Southampton office and today I am Head of Tax and Estate Planning responsible for lawyers and support staff all of whom are remote working. Like many parents I am also trying to help with my son’s remote learning for a term devoid of the GCSEs he has for so long been building up to.
Whilst supporting my staff has always been a very important part of my role as Team Leader and latterly as Head of Department its importance has grown significantly during the period of the lockdown. Regular communication is key as people are missing the reassurance that comes from their usual office interactions; the support of a friend, the second opinion of a colleague, or a shared frustration. To this end I am in regular contact with members of my Department both individually and as a group via WhatsApp, Facetime and Zoom calls, as well as the customary email, and encourage conversation about work (of course) but also of areas outside work, whether that’s about a BBQ or a shopping delivery or anxieties over elderly parents or children.
What the lockdown has emphasised is that the Department is an extended family and each of us looks out for the other; each of us has a voice and an opinion that is important and deserves to be heard.
I think positivity and an optimistic outlook are very important, particularly in these difficult times, and so I start each day with an email to the Department which I hope strikes this note! My pride in each member of the Department is immense and they have made my life as a new Head of Department that much easier with their support and contribution, and for which I am very grateful.
Positivity in the world of litigation
Helen Brown, Partner, Dispute Resolution
I believe that most litigators are early birds, and so it is a bonus being able to start work half an hour early after a short commute down the stairs in my house. It’s great not to have to be “suited and booted” every day, especially being able to ditch the high heels. Everyone is the same height on a Zoom call!
Although I resisted the temptation to conduct my recent telephone Case Management Conference in my pyjamas, and I did even put some shoes on, it was more comfortable not to have to conduct the hearing in a suit. The Courts have adopted a more flexible approach – adjourning, relisting and moving cases on the ping of an email.
I believe my opponents (the lawyers at least) have been kinder and more empathetic. There is a real “Dunkirk” spirit, of us all being in this together in contrast to the “every man for himself”. My recent client meeting with two new clients took place in a Zoom call – no need to journey down to a stark Boardroom and organise tea and coffee for my guests. I am sure they were also delighted not to have to travel into the centre of Southampton too.
There is no more of the dreaded filing of loose pieces of correspondence – I have gone paperless overnight. The view from my “office” is an improvement on the grey streets of the city – a weeping willow tree and a field of sheep. And I haven’t sacrificed fast broadband to enjoy this bucolic scene – I still get 30 mbps.
I have learnt new IT techniques – not just the delight of Zoom calls, but more useful tools like scanning from the Notes App on iPhone. And at the end of the day, I am “home” in two minutes, not 30, and therefore quite amenable to taking some gentle exercise (practicing social distancing of course!).