The global COVID pandemic has likely forever changed workplace environments and the ways we interact with the work we do. Besides all of the destruction it caused, one of its few positive results was in helping shine a light on many specific needs that weren’t being met before for various people.
GoodCourse Co-Founder Chris Mansfield sat down with Helen Hodgkinson, Chief People Officer at TLT LLP, to discuss how the culture of this law firm has responded to the challenges of the pandemic, and ultimately evolved. This covers initiatives that directly respond to people’s physical and mental health and well-being, as well as foster an environment that best reflects how people want to work today.
TLT LLP is a major law firm with 1400 colleagues and 200 partners operating in Scotland, Manchester, London, and Northern Ireland. In my role as Chief People and Places Officer, I look after the whole of the people and estate strategy within the firm. We’ve purposefully put these two things together because the pandemic has taught us that how people operate and work practically is directly linked to the environment we create for them.
First and foremost, it’s because I’ve always cared about people and always genuinely wanted to make a difference in their lives. Work is a fact of life, and pretty much everyone needs to do it. It can be difficult having to leave your family eight hours a day to make money. So you have to feel like there’s a reason for it. My job is to make sure that reason really matters — that people are working with a sense of purpose. That they can know that they’re contributing and that they’re actually being recognised for it. I’ve always been incredibly values-orientated, and my job allows me to demonstrate that every day.
Before joining TLT, I’d been in professional services for many years, so I’ve had the real pleasure of experiencing lots of different businesses. But from the first moment I walked into reception to talk to TLT about working with them, through to everybody I met, I felt the culture here. There was just an absolute warmth, passion, and care about what they did. It’s a difficult thing to describe, but I could just feel it. And that’s what made me join TLT, and that’s why I still hold this job dear.
When does that culture demonstrate itself? The pandemic is a perfect example. When you have to face extreme adversity like that, that’s the moment you really understand how you do business and what matters. Every single decision we made as part of that was primarily about our people and keeping them safe. And post-pandemic, we’ve taken all of the stuff that we learned and brought it into the next chapter of TLT.
Now, how does that relate to retaining talent? Because, in the legal industry, we all do roughly the same thing: we give specialist advice. That knowledge is a given. But the way that advice is conveyed, and how we support our clients, that’s driven through our people and our culture. That’s what makes TLT really different. And that’s where we haven’t only attracted talent but retained it too.
We begin with routine analysis work — quantitative and qualitative assessment about what works well, what doesn’t. Data and stats alongside employee feedback can give you a really solid plan to work from, and that’s what we’ve been delivering on for the past three years.
One of the best things that has come of this as a result in recent years is our enhanced maternity and shared parental and adoption leave — what we call ramp up/ramp down. This means that if you’re due to go on maternity leave, you have an opportunity to gradually ease up on your workload. You can then gradually bring it back up when you’re ready to return. And you get paid 100% for that time. Similarly we’ve just introduced an early stage pregnancy loss policy. We also now offer free menopause testing for all women who are experiencing symptoms. This is in conjunction with a personalised, agreed process in which we discuss with each person what workplace adjustments they might need as a result. And these are just some of the examples.
Yes. In fact, the absolute jewel in our crown has been a concept that we call TLT World, which is our approach to flexibility. Now, this is where the pandemic gave us a gift. It taught us not only how to operate in a crisis but also that, if you trust your people, they will work really hard for you. During that time, we had our best-ever financial years. That is because our people worked in spades for us. As we began emerging from the pandemic, we debated over whether people should be back in the office, or have a hybrid or flexible schedule. We ultimately decided to give people the choice over where and how they work: in the office, from home, a bit of both, as well as the hours they choose to work. And the other aspect is about environment, hence the reason I cover estate strategy now as well. It’s all about creating physical environments that provide all the things that we miss from working from home and at different hours. This includes in-person collaboration, communication, and company.
This is where the pandemic gave us a gift. It taught us not only how to operate in a crisis but also that, if you trust your people, they will work really hard for you.
So we’ve recently launched our first concept office in Glasgow. We know now that people can do their cerebral, individual, and concentrating work at home. When they come in, they want an entirely different environment to be able to connect with colleagues in a meaningful, very human way.
You’re absolutely right. One of our greatest challenges is to get our teams to switch off, which they often don’t do without a push. And interestingly, working from home has exacerbated that. because it allows people to always be on. All of their work things are at home with them, so they continue to work. So what do we do? We keep a keen eye on our employees’ well-being, and we measure that in a number of ways. We take quantitative measures, and look at their workloads to make sure that they are actually normal and achievable. We also do surveys and studies. Through this, we’ve put together a robust program of well-being offerings, including physical and mental health support for everybody. We give permission and support for them to unplug and unwind. And what really matters is that this is led from the top so we’re very keen — sometimes encouraging, sometimes even cajoling — with our leaders to make sure they do the same thing. Because their behaviour sets an example for others.
And the flexible hours our people work now allow them the opportunity to go and do the things they want to do. Some of this is small margins, small gains. It’s those moments where someone can walk the dog, take a breath of fresh air, pop off to the gym. We actively encourage all of this. Gone are the days of having workplace gyms because you don’t need them. With flexibility, people can go and do their own thing when they want and need it.