Askews Legal were ahead of many, with an efficient case management system and a variety of meeting and discussion platforms, not only for internal use between staff but which could be extended out to the client base, and other professionals.
Some of the team already worked from home or had remote access to the system, and with the imminent threat of lockdown, all staff were well equipped for home-working, days before this became a mandatory government requirement.
At all times, the focus was on the wellbeing of staff and clients, recognising the changing business demands and making swift practical changes to accommodate these. Although the staff were now all working from home, the atmosphere and sense of camaraderie remained ever-present in the WhatsApp and Team Meeting chats, if anything, strengthening links and the teams’ resolve to get through this and come out stronger.
The Partners made the pragmatic decision to temporarily close the conveyancing department towards the end of March, despite disquiet from a small number of agents and mortgage advisers. The reason for this? To have kept the department open - when almost all transactions were unable to complete - would have meant that, no matter how much work was done on a file, until lockdown was lifted the matter could not have completed, could not be billed and much of the work could potentially have gone to waste. Searches would have expired, mortgages would have been withdrawn (or not even been offered in the first place), and chains (unpredictable at the best of times) would not have been able to go through because the usual complicating variables would have been further exacerbated by the delays and unknowns caused by the virus.
Askews Legal decided to take the long-view, and in the spirit of the government and The Law Society advice, not bow to the pressure of those clamouring for exchanges and completions that simply could not have materialised; keeping the department open would have raised false expectations for clients, unnecessarily increased their costs and exposed the staff and the clients to serious health risks.
The temporary closure of the department was a measured and strategic response to unprecedented times, balancing business acumen with prioritising the wellbeing of staff and clients, showing Askews Legal, true to form, was thinking with its head – but also its heart.
Now with the machinations of lockdown-lifting finally underway, we can examine how these new ways of working and thinking over the last weeks may be able to benefit the firm, clients and staff going forward. Askews Legal was already a progressive firm before the lockdown. Let’s see where the green shoots of change now take it going forward.
Working from home
This new way of working was certainly an adjustment for the majority of the team, accustomed to a busy open-plan office. No more conversations at the water cooler or lunch time walks into town. Whilst this was confronting at the outset, the team spirit which Askews Legal prides itself on shone through. Everyone kept in touch using platforms such as Microsoft Team chats and the more widely recognised WhatsApp groups. This meant we could stay safe, without missing out on the social aspect of work, which was particularly important at such a difficult time.
Will office life change forever?
Considering that the firm’s infrastructure has evolved over the years, it has allowed its momentum to take the impact of unprecedented events, in its stride and not to be shattered by it. Staff continue to produce high quality work from the confines of their home. And although the firm’s employees had the ability to agile work prior to the pandemic, we may see this increase as staff have shaped their work around their home life. Initial qualms about managing work and providing continuity evaporated as quickly as they appeared, perhaps this was due to a downturn in work, but one thing is for sure, the office will never be the same again. The firm’s robust technological set-up encourages its staff’s ability to work agile whilst providing the highest client care.