workingmums.co.uk spoke to Dentons law firm about its hybrid working trial and how it turns the tables on normal ways of doing hybrid.
Global law firm Dentons has turned flexible working on its head by making senior directors and partners come into the office for two to three days a week while everyone else can choose where they work best, subject to guidance on what works for their team.
The firm has been running a hybrid working trial since last year and, unlike many employers who are now looking to return to the office full time, or setting in stone a minimum number of days they can work remotely, it has been letting its employees choose what works best for them.
Helen Simpson, Practice Partner for the UK and Middle East, says the rationale behind the trial was a recognition that the firm thinks that traditional, old ways of working are “both unnecessary and undesirable for the majority of people”.
The trial started in 2021, but was extended due to the various lockdowns and government policy changes we have all undergone in the past year. The policy, known as You Choose, is very flexible, allowing employees to choose where they work – which Simpson calls ‘treating people as adults’.
Interestingly, despite reports that senior managers are more likely to work from home generally, Dentons has taken a different approach. Partners and directors, who in the past had the greatest flexibility, have to come into the office two or three days a week. That means that those employees who do choose to come into the office know that they are coming into an environment where they will feel supported. A big part of the role of leaders, says Simpson, is to help build team spirit and to support junior members to learn.
Dentons has been monitoring feedback all through the trial on a monthly basis, although this will pause over the summer. Simpson says it has been broadly positive. “People have valued the flexibility and trust we have given them,” she says. One thing that did come through in the feedback was the need for clearer boundaries for remote workers between work and non-work life.
So the firm issued some guidance to clarify mutual expectations. While not dictating where people should work, the guidance says what sort of activities benefit from physical proximity, such as internal one to one meetings, team meetings, training, client meetings and socialising. The aim is to encourage employees to think about what they use their time in the office for.
“We recognise that there can be huge benefits to getting people together, for instance, for training and for learning by osmosis. Social interaction is the cultural glue of an organisation, but we are not imposing a central mandate. Local teams decide what works best for them,” says Simpson.
The guidance, she adds, is in addition to workshops and training for managers to help them develop the skills they need to manage in a hybrid environment.
This recognises that different people and different teams have different needs and ways of working. Some teams, for example, have hub days when everyone is in the office. The firm has also developed working protocols to help employees make the most of hybrid working, for instance, giving them permission to ask questions in online settings and suggesting new methods of contacting people in non-intrusive ways. Dentons uses Teams so that people can interact at the click of a button in just the same way as they might do in the corridor at the office.
Simpson says the important thing is to strike the right balance for all employees between different ways of working. Last year it piloted a working charter in one of its divisions with tips on how to strike that balance. It includes tips on, for instance, not checking your phone just before you go to bed and on countering digital presenteeism. This should be rolled out across the whole firm shortly.
The hybrid trial ends in December, but working practices will be kept under review as the world of work continues to change. Simpson is clear that, while Dentons doesn’t claim to have all the answers, it doesn’t think a move back to working full time in the office is what people want nor that it is necessary for the firm to be productive.