Making agile working the norm

Mitra Janes

 

DLA Piper has long promoted flexible working, but last year it wanted to take a different approach. So it rebranded and relaunched its work culture as agile working and made all its messaging about encouraging people to think about working in an agile way and about how it would support them to do that.

DLA Piper is one of three law firms to be members of the Agile Future Forum, a group of employers who promote the business benefits of agile working.

“In the past the language of flexible working legislation has been about ‘accommodating’ requests or ‘considering’ them. When we relaunched we wanted to encourage, support and facilitate agile working. We want to show that this is a win win, that it is positive for the firm and for individuals who work in it,” says Mitra Janes, the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Manager. “People who work in this way are usually more committed and motivated.”

She adds: “We wanted to stop this being just about mums and working part time. Lots of people who are not parents want to work in a more agile way.”

The agile working campaign, which was launched by the UK managing partner of the firm, has therefore showcased case studies of a diverse group of people who work non-traditional hours. These also include carers – DLA Piper started a family resource group last year to support the spectrum of care responsibilities employees might have.

Mitra says increasingly research shows younger generations want to work in different ways. “They are brought up on smartphones and technology. Why would they want to come to a central city location to email people sitting next to them all day?” she asks. “The whole model of how we work has to change.”

She adds that the firm understands agile working is not for everyone, but what they are trying to do, with senior support, is to open up the possibility to everyone. “We want our people to know that if they can make it work for them and for the firm then we will support them,” says Mitra.

Normalising agile working

The agile working policy led to the firm being shortlisted by Working Families for its employer awards for Best New Flexible Working Initiative. It is communicated openly, including to the recruitment agencies DLA Piper works with. While they have not yet adopted the Working Families happy to talk flexible working strapline in job adverts, Mitra adds that the firm is open to those conversations.

She adds that agile working is not seen as a barrier to career progression at DLA Piper and that normalising flexible working through creating an agile working culture can only ensure that there is a balance between career progression and working arrangements that suit particular individuals. “We have promoted people to partner who have worked flexibly, including part-time hours, and have promoted someone to partner who was just about to start maternity leave,” she says.

Mitra adds that she feels it is vital for women’s career progression for men to be encouraged to work in more agile ways. She adds that a number of senior men in the firm work flexibly on an ad hoc informal basis. The firm is also keen to promote shared parental leave and its SPL policy guarantees 22 weeks on full pay for both men and women. “We hope that longer term it will lead to better career progression for women,” says Mitra.

The firm is also exploring other forms of working, such as job shares, in recognition that the type of client-facing, fee-based work they do could mean working part time inhibits progression. It has been working with diversity and flexible working consultants Capability Jane on job shares and now has a couple of job share lawyers.

Mitra says preparation is key to making the job shares work along with communicating to clients how the job share will ensure continuity and full-time availability. It is working on a toolkit of resources, tips and support with Capability Jane which can be shared across the firm.

Senior leadership buy-in for the agile working rebrand has been vital, says Mitra. In addition to the managing partner launching the campaign, senior managers feature prominently in case studies. When the policy was launched the UK managing partner also wrote to all employees and partners to say personally that it was something that was open to everyone and that the firm was aiming to make agile working ‘business as usual’ rather than the exception.

 





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