For me, 8 April 2020 marks day 16 of working from home during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. 8 April 2020 also marks day 28 into my second seat in the Construction and Infrastructure team. Yes, that means just 12 days of ‘normal’ working in a completely new department and during a period of uncertainty in the lead up to a nationwide lockdown.
Remote working seemed to be just that. My initial concerns were that I would feel detached from my colleagues and that the usual resources and support mechanisms would be inaccessible. I quickly came to realise that employees all over the world - not just firm or nationwide - shared these concerns. It is natural to feel an apprehension or even resistance to change, but whilst many things are uncertain during this unsettling time, one thing is clear: stay home where possible. My colleagues at Ashfords have not only made it possible, they have also carved the way for a new style of working.
As a trainee, I must be ‘appropriately supervised’ during my period of recognised training. It is undoubtedly an unusual position for trainee solicitors to spend extended periods of time working remotely and the practicality of remote supervision has not been openly experimented, until now. However, the Solicitors Regulation Authority have adapted to these challenging times by allowing remote supervision and it is for each individual firm to create a workable support network for its trainees. In my short experience of working remotely, I continue to be supervised effectively. I am in regular communication with my supervisor (and other team members) and I am continuously provided with the resources I need.
I feel that there have been no barriers to communication as the Board have consistently delivered transparent messages firm-wide. Ashfords also offers various communication platforms (in addition to email) including Skype and Microsoft Teams. I now have access to a work mobile phone which means I can quickly communicate with my colleagues by audio or video calls and WhatsApp.
Ashfords have recently been highly commended in the Legal Cheek Awards 2020 as a top law firm for work/life balance. Fortunately Ashfords’ culture has not been lost in the pandemic. The firm appreciates that it may be harder to distinguish between work and home life when your living room becomes your office and you now share a desk with a family member! To make life easier, employees are granted flexibility to adapt their usual working hours to fit around other responsibilities (such as childcare). Employees are also strongly encouraged to ‘switch off’ over lunchtime, of an evening and at the weekend. This has been made easier by the various social events which have continued, for example, virtual drinks and quizzes. The firm has also shown a continued commitment to employee wellbeing by making benefits available online, including virtual yoga.
Moreover, Ashfords has an invaluable network of support teams whose hard work has been unparalleled. In particular, our IT colleagues have facilitated the entire firm (comprising six offices) to work effectively from home, meaning that we are still able to deliver a quality service to our clients.
It is commendable how the intrinsically traditional legal industry has adapted to the current climate and in particular, how Ashfords have so quickly enabled a smooth transition to remote working.