How Hill Dickinson became a flexible working trendsetter long before the COVID-19 pandemic

Written by: Hill Dicksinson
Published on: 14 Oct 2021

Work life balance


According to a survey from Acas, after the country emerges from the pandemic, over half of employers expect staff to continue working from home or remotely for part of the week. As such, many organisations are focused on defining their new ways of working. The efficiency with which many professionals transitioned to home working – in line with government guidance on social distancing – has created a dilemma for more traditional firms, with demand for flexible working autonomy intensifying throughout the labour market.

Here at Hill Dickinson, we have not faced such problems – thanks, in large part, to our position as an early trendsetter in the flexible working space. As a firm, we have been committed to innovative working models for many years, blazing a trail regarding office attendance, technological investment and forward-thinking collaboration. This fundamental belief in flexible working underpinned our pandemic preparedness, allowing an effective pivot to hybrid operating practices that guaranteed business continuity.

That our firm thrived throughout the pandemic, posting increases in revenue and profit, was not an accident. Rather, such strong performances demonstrated the effectiveness of a flexible working ethos that has long led the way for similarly sized law firms. To truly appreciate the magnitude of those achievements, and to illustrate the success of our flexible working journey, here is a brief overview of the roadmap so far.

What is flexible working?

As defined by the UK government, ‘flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs.’ In practice, this means agreeing procedures and rules regarding working hours, start times, end times and locations on an individual basis, often deferring to the wider needs of employees.

Examples of flexible working include people working from home on a regular schedule; adhering to staggered shift patterns to accommodate childcare arrangements; and diversifying working hours to allow for personal needs. Such examples are not exhaustive, and flexible working can take many forms, depending on an individual’s requirements.

Indeed, all employees who have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks have the legal right to request flexible working arrangements. As such, flexible working is not solely reserved for parents and carers. Employers must deal with all flexible working requests in a reasonable manner, assessing the advantages and disadvantages of each proposal and issuing a decision.

As a formal arrangement, flexible working originated in 1960s Germany, with the UK, US and Canada adopting elements of the system from the 1970s onwards. The advance of modern technology and internet capabilities has gradually increased instances of flexible working to a point where 60% of UK jobs are now considered flexible, according to a 2019 study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Why flexible working matters to Hill Dickinson

Of course, those numbers have been impacted considerably by the COVID-19 pandemic, with remote working a temporary legal requirement – more than simply an organisational aspiration – in many countries. Our experiences throughout the pandemic have emboldened a strong belief in flexible working, in line with our company values of trust, innovation, collaboration and respect.

Peter Jackson, the firm’s chief executive officer, has led our ‘people first’ strategy throughout the pandemic. Along with senior management and firm partners, Peter has embodied an ‘all in it together’ mentality. This general openness, approachability and realistic approach to how people operate has been reflected in Peter’s regular video messages to employees, which have boosted morale and underscored the firm’s commitment to innovative working.

‘Be flexible with your workloads,’ Peter said in one such video message. ‘If there isn't an immediate deadline, then adjust that workload so that you can look after your children. You can help your relatives who might be shielding or isolating. And take some time for yourself. Get some fresh air. Watch Netflix. Whatever it is that keeps you sane, please do it.’

While it can be easy for companies to broadcast such sentiments, consistently delivering on them is quite another challenge. Here at Hill Dickinson, we have a proven track record of adjusting to suit changing landscapes – economic, social and cultural – without compromising the quality of our services nor the morale of our people.

How Hill Dickinson became a pioneer of flexible working in law firms

In 2019, we recognised noticeable shifts in working habits and created a roadmap to capitalise on such operating efficiencies. Investing heavily in technology and digital infrastructure – including portable laptops for all employees and stronger internal communication platforms – we outlined a vision for long-term sustainability that ultimately helped in our pandemic preparedness.

We have since seen continued increases in flexible working, reinforcing our commitment in this area. In 2019, for instance, 18% of our people worked on a formally flexible basis. By January 2020, before the pandemic emerged, that figure rose to 20.5%. Now, in the autumn of 2021, that upward trend is still in evidence, while 95% of our people work informally on a flexible basis, too.

Flexible working is now entrenched in our organisational culture and is promoted and implemented throughout the business. With this in mind, we anticipate these figures will increase as we continue to focus on creating an environment that encourages smart working and ensure line managers are trained to support and manage flexible working arrangements.

In 2020, we were named as the UK’s best employer for flexible working in the Working Families Best Practice Awards, beating off competition from the Civil Service, Pitney Bowes, the Royal Air Force and Zurich Insurance. In 2021, we were once again shortlisted for this award, reaffirming our market leading position in this space.

What are the benefits of flexible working on workplace culture?

Our annual engagement survey saw 79% of employees agree with the following statement: ‘Working practices within my team support a healthy work-life balance, eg agile and flexible working.’

We introduced such practices for this exact reason. Employee wellbeing and culture is of the utmost importance to us as a firm, and with flexible working we aim to support our staff in ensuring the best for their mental and physical health. By implementing flexible and agile working practices, we empower our employees to fulfil their roles in the ways that best suit them.                           

This enthusiasm for flexible working is not something that stem solely from employee demand. As a firm, we recognise the benefits that flexible working gives us as an organisation, such as:

  • increased employee retention
  • increased productivity
  • reduced absenteeism and sickness
  • attracting new recruits

We urge organisations to promote both formal and informal flexible working practices to their staff. While straying from the traditional structure of office work may seem difficult, the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

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