I was recently asked to condense my thinking as to why we should embrace agile thinking into five points. Hopefully, these will prove useful to you no matter where you’re practising.
If the client comes first, then let’s put them first. Working on site with clients is one of the most amazing experiences. It feels good to watch your advice get put into action and hear how it plays out in the commercial decision making process. Working in the same place can inform and improve your advice. Which brings us to the next question: who is best placed to decide when you should work on the client’s site, or next to a colleague. The bad news for you is: this question is impossible to answer. The good news is: you get better at getting it right as your career progresses. In my view as a Chief People Officer, I think that, earlier in your career, you should expect to spend more time back at base camp with colleagues learning your craft and building your internal networks. As you advance with experience, you should branch out and spend increasing amounts of time client side. At Partner level, this becomes a fine balancing act of spending time with clients and bringing others on. The golden thread throughout your career is that you should always be part of the conversation as to where you’re best spending your time – whether you’re a trainee or a Partner.
If we trust our people, let’s set them free. If you need to travel to London to see a client, you can work on the way. We’ll do our bit to make sure that you can connect and use all your systems as appropriate in doing so. If you occasionally need to work from home and it helps you deliver client or project work, then so be it.
If you’re clear about where you are and what you’re doing, it works. There’s no rules at Burges Salmon as to how to make this work, but there are loads of ways in which you can make it work, including being well organised (having the right files with you and diarising what you’re doing when), ensuring your domestic IT equipment can support you and that you have secure access to relevant documents, that you can retain the appropriate level of confidentiality needed to conduct business, and that you actively communicate your whereabouts to your team. For some people, it’s as simple as putting a sign on your office door saying ‘I’m working out of the office, contact me on XXX’.
If you treat it as a normal working day, it works. There’s no getting away from the fact that the needs of clients and colleagues must continue to be met. If you’re agile working, no-one should need to provide any additional cover for you. If you start out allowing for that fact, then it’ll work out just fine.
Don’t confuse agile working with flexible working. The two are distinct. Agile is for temporary, one-off situations, flexible is a formally arranged policy which fits around your life on an ongoing basis. You may explore a long term option to work flexibly by starting out with agile working, but one key to its success is its informal nature.
Our approach has been warmly received internally because it entrusts our people to make the right decisions. I hope that this helps you make the right choices for you.
Robert Halton, Chief People Officer at independent UK law firm Burges Salmon LLP