Last week we sat down with Joy Vollans Chief Executive Officer of EMW. EMW is a leading law firm with offices in Milton Keynes, London and Gatwick. As CEO, Joy takes overall responsibility for the day-to-day operational management of EMW. In this interview we discuss office life during the pandemic and the law firms plans for bringing people back to the office post Covid.
Joy, EMW has always had a “Your work your way attitude” with its people. How was this of benefit to the firm as you had to introduce home working at short notice last year?
It was hugely beneficial as many of us were already working from home and were used to flexing our time in the office. We’ve always encouraged flexible working as we understand that there are things going on in our home life that may need time and attention during the classic ‘9-5’. As a result, the changes that we had to make when the “work from home” mandate was imposed were significantly less disruptive for us and our people than for many businesses. When our working parents then needed to shift their working patterns to care for their children who were ‘schooling from home’, we could do this from the get go with little to no disruption to our clients or our teams.
EMW has always been known for its close knit teams and collaborative working. Did the firm introduce any initiatives to keep this up during the crisis?
Absolutely. Working from home has meant that those “water cooler”, or in our case “Starbucks coffee” moments in our café, where we catch up with colleagues, disappeared. So we introduced Teams to enable colleagues to keep in touch with each other rather than relying solely on emails. This meant everyone could keep up the day to day discussions in more relaxed and efficient way and continue to feel part of their team.
We also hosted firm wide Zoom catch-ups to keep everyone updated with all things EMW, these included Q&A sessions, our annual conference and our red nose day catch up. It was important for us to do this as wanted everyone to continue to feel part of EMW even though we were all working from home.
We had a number of virtual team quizzes and get-togethers and when we were able to, met up in smaller socially distanced groups too for walks and catch-ups.
The offices of EMW have always been a great place for clients and people to visit, a real social hub. Will this continue to be the case post pandemic?
Of course, in fact we took the opportunity whilst everyone was working from home to refurbish the Milton Keynes office to enable us to have a more open and collaborative working space as with our offices in London and Gatwick. We think that the way in which office space will be utilised post pandemic is going to change, with time in the office being used more for team working and collaborating with colleagues than it ever has done. So our office space has to mirror that changed use.
The health and safety of our employees, clients and contacts is paramount and we will do all we can as a business to ensure our actions minimise the risk of COVID-19 to them as we start to return to the offices.
We’re continually reviewing and adapting our plans in line with government guidance as well as taking into account any local restrictions that may be put in place. Full risk assessments at our 3 offices have been carried out and we have developed plans to manage the risks of Covid-19.
Has EMW used the time of office closure to change, develop or improve working spaces?
As you can imagine, with Milton Keynes being our largest and most populated office space, it was always difficult to time an office refurbishment without causing too much disruption. We have used the opportunity that the lockdowns have given us to upgrade the space in keeping with our new way of working. Gatwick and London were both already operating more flexibly so we have brought Milton Keynes in line.
As the world starts to return to office space what is EMW’s strategy for bringing people back into the office.
We will continue to follow Government advice in relation to best practice and do not apologise for that. None of us want to see a return to the restrictions we have lived through and whilst each, small measure might not feel like it is worth it/doing anything, their collective impact has made a difference.
Further to a survey that was circulated last month to employees, it remains clear that there are mixed emotions about returning to the office and we are very sensitive to that, hence why this will be a gradual return after the expected restriction easing on 21st June.
We are hoping to see people more regularly in the office over the summer and going forward we would like commitment from people to be in the office for a minimum of 8 working days a month. We think that a minimum commitment of time in the office is crucial for a variety of reasons, not least to ensure that our more junior lawyers continue to receive the level of training that EMW prides itself in giving, as well as ensuring the collaborative spirit so crucial to ongoing success of EMW continues.
Would you say EMW has learned anything from this time and what do you think the firm will do differently as a result.
I guess the main thing is that we really do now understand how important physically seeing each other is. Our culture has always been friendly and informal so we have missed the conversations that go on in the office when we’re making a drink, meeting someone in the corridor or catching up over lunch in the café. Zoom and/or Teams just isn’t the same. Going forward, the time we spend in the office will have a much more social and collaborative focus.