When the UK went into lockdown in March 2020, we, like most other firms of our size (170 colleagues across England and Wales), were unprepared.
Overnight, we closed all of our offices and made the shift to working from home. The sudden need to adjust was challenging, to say the least.
But adjust we did with everyone from our client-facing teams to support colleagues, working together to ensure that our service was uninterrupted and our people were supported as we managed the transition.
Since then, we have been working pretty much exclusively from home. A step-change that has tested our agility and resilience but one in which we have maintained good levels of productivity, excellent client service and positive engagement and well-being amongst colleagues.
Through this time, the firm has certainly benefited from the strength of our culture and values, a key element of which is people’s willingness to help others, be they, colleagues or clients.
We have placed more emphasis on clear and regular communication from leaders, which, supported by consistent management, has helped the resilience of the firm.
Seeking regular feedback from colleagues, in a range of ways, has helped us to find pragmatic solutions to address the specific challenges and issues that working remotely can bring.
We launched an enhanced Employee Assistance Programme to provide people with 24-7 medical, legal and emotional support, a wellbeing portal and App.
Our team of Mental Health Champions regularly share wellbeing tips and signposts for external support on our staff intranet, along with business and video updates from our Chair, Ken Fowlie, on the firm’s performance.
One thing that has really resonated has been to provide an opportunity for colleagues to acknowledge the contribution of others; whether via a handwritten postcard, a gift, or a shout-out on our staff intranet – expressions of appreciation have been essential.
And to thank people for their ongoing commitment, the firm has sent out a range of gifts from virtual conference gift boxes, wellbeing gifts and the impending arrival of advent calendars and Christmas hampers.
Before lockdown, we announced a 3-year strategy for the firm: Stowe 2.0. An ambitious and challenging plan to treble the numbers of clients we serve, improve the experience of colleagues, and how we deliver our services to clients.
However, as lockdown hit, like many businesses, we ‘battened the hatches’ and took stock of the likely impact of the pandemic. Thankfully, by summertime, we were ready to re-activate our plan and take steps to implement it.
Since then, we have opened nine new offices, reflecting our commitment to support our clients in their local communities.
We are recruiting new lawyers and legal executives to support this growth, as well as colleagues to support our client-facing operations.
We have launched our first leadership development program and our first end-to-end technology-enabled workflow.
Like many businesses, we are now wrestling with how our strategy might need to change to reflect the dramatic shifts that have occurred in how we work and deliver services.
Two areas that demand our immediate focus are: firstly, how will our office network evolve to meet the future needs of clients and colleagues.
And secondly, how will we build on the existing technology infrastructure that has enabled us to operate during the past year with the future needs (and wants) of clients and colleagues in mind.
Both of these areas (and others) will require us to prioritise flexibility and choice in how our clients interact with us and access services and our colleagues.
With over 75% of our team wanting to combine home and office-based working post Covid19, a hybrid model offering flexibility and choice is at the heart of how we will operate as a firm moving forward.
2020 was a year like no other, and I am enormously grateful and proud of the Stowe team for the way they sacrificed and pulled together during these uncertain times.
I suspect, for different reasons, 2021 will be an equally dynamic year within our profession and certainly at Stowe.