Freeths is a top 50, full service commercial law firm with 13 offices across the UK and a staff of almost 1000. Lucy sees the positives that lockdown has offered her as being time to reconnect with contacts and offer guidance on real estate matters and the wealth of knowledge of Covid issues that is available in a firm the size of Freeths. It can’t have been the ideal start to a new role, so how did she find settling into a new job, with her new colleagues and clients, in a world where everyone is having to adapt their working practices.
Well, it has been a little strange. I’d been on gardening leave for a little while prior, then lockdown happened and I was suddenly home schooling my daughter looking after a 2 year old– then starting a new job. It’s been interesting to say the least. But Freeths have been fantastic in ensuring I had everything I needed to make me feel welcome and part of the team I undertook virtual on boarding which went very smoothly. Online meetings helped me get to know everyone, both in terms of work meetings and social gatherings, and in a way, it breaks down a lot of barriers when you’re ‘invited’ into someone’s home environment, and you feel comfortable very quickly.
Because of the current situation, I think the pressure is off to a certain extent. It’s a very challenging time and for that reason, I have been able to start my new role without lots of pressure to start dealing with a full case load. I have been able to reconnect with people and engage with new clients and start to build relationships, offering an ear, providing context. None of us have experienced a situation like this but through using the internal and external networks we have and with our team of experts we’ve been able to share our experiences and then use this to talk to others. Facilitating round table virtual chats with sector clients and referrers has been key to us understanding the issues being faced by our clients and helped us adapt our ability to help. Freeths is a national firm with 13 offices and nearly 1,000 staff. However, each office is allowed to act independently and is encouraged to be entrepreneurial, responding to the local market. So you have the benefits of being part of a large firm but supporting the local market in the way that a smaller more agile firm might. Of course I’m looking forward to getting out and meeting my clients and prospective clients when the time is right but for now, it’s more about finding my feet and settling in and allowing my workload to pick up gradually over the next few months.
Historically, a lot of firms, including some law firms, have been nervous of remote working. That was maybe due to a lack of trust either in people or in systems, or because they feel that teams need fixed office interaction. Due to the immediate effect of lockdown, businesses were forced into a new way of working and there has been a realisation in lots of service led businesses that you can actually create something that works better for everyone which should lead to a more flexible working environment for the future. While I don’t think that we work in an environment where everyone works from home, I believe there will be a shift in working practices, where businesses feel they can be more flexible but understanding at the same time the need for a business hub to bring people together, that can’t be underestimated, the ability to create a community where the teams can work together and have those spontaneous moments are really important as business and culture develops. Working remotely doesn’t make this easy.
The long-term effects on the property market remain to be seen. There is going to be a lot of renegotiation to do for both Landlords and Tenants as they look towards the future. The decision though for the services sector will be measured and not kneejerk. Businesses may feel they don’t need all the space they had before and therefore negotiation with Landlords will be key. If the ability is not part of the contractual arrangement, then it could be that landlords will need to be prepared to be flexible. The balance of power may well shift in the short term, when tenants decide they don’t need to be paying premium rents for space and want to negotiate. Milton Keynes has a large number of professional services firms and there’s been a great need for office space, but a lot of companies will want to readdress their property needs as the new normal becomes reality. A lot of help has been provided for the short term, during lockdown, giving tenants protection against landlords demanding rent or threatening eviction, and that has been extended for another three months, but at the end of this period the real work is going to start on bringing landlords and tenants together to find the best solution for everyone. Government help has been important during the height of the pandemic, but when it is withdrawn, people will have a lot of decisions to make.
I think what they have experienced during COVID-19 will make firms think about the way their businesses are structured. That might be things like whether they need all their staff in the office every day; or a positive view of the environmental effects of what has changed over the past 3 months, the need for less commuting and possibly they may need fewer parking spaces, businesses may take this opportunity to reassess their carbon footprint. In general, I think a lot of people have realised the way businesses have traditionally worked are not sustainable in this current climate. The immediate nature of Covid19 has forced business to adapt to a situation they couldn’t control and family and well-being took centre stage. The local business community locally has always been very supportive, and over the past weeks have really reached out to one another in support commitment to Milton Keynes, its future and with the hope that we will come through all this and be stronger together. Freeths is ranked 57th in the Sunday Times Top 100 Best Companies to work for 2019 and reached 46th place in The Lawyer’s magazine’s Top 100 UK law firms 2019.
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