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Peter Lamble, Chairman of Coodes Solicitors, reflects on how the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way the firm operates and considers what this could mean for the future.
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve had one or two crisp mornings, signifying the gradual onset of autumn and serving as a reminder of the change of nature. This feels like the right moment to reflect on the last six months – and what will undoubtedly be remembered as a significant time in Coodes’ 270 year history.
The world has changed quite a bit since 1747 and Coodes with it along the way. In an idle moment I googled the 10 worst pandemics in history and began to muse on the fact that since the firm’s birth Coodes has been through at least seven of those.
The change brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic has been unlike anything I have encountered in my working life. We’ve seen the South West business community demonstrate great resilience, though everyone has been impacted differently.
For our employees and clients, the pandemic has meant adapting to new ways of working and of caring for dependants. It has meant dealing with the impact of furlough, shielding and home schooling, along with a great deal of anxiety, not to mention the economic roller coaster.
However, in initially forcing us to work in different ways, the pandemic has also accelerated the delivery of many strategic developments which Coodes was already planning.
As a firm, Coodes has adapted remarkably well and our financial performance has been better than we’d anticipated back in March. Despite great challenges, we’ve been able to use the last six months as an opportunity to bring about positive changes in the way we work and do business, all of which we believe has made us more resilient to future challenges.
We are particularly proud of how all of our teams have stepped up to these challenges, adapting to new ways of working and supporting one another along the way.
Communicating with clients in new ways
Until March, Coodes was pretty traditional in the way it communicated with clients. If you wanted a meeting, the norm was to set something up face to face, usually in one of our offices and sometimes in the client’s home or premises. Of course, we also made use of phone calls and emails but, while we had video conferencing facilities, this wasn‘t something we tended to think of offering to clients as a matter of course. Prior to this we had taken the decision and begun to implement the use of MS Teams which some of us used for internal video conferencing with colleagues only.
When lockdown was introduced, we immediately replaced face to face meetings with video conferencing. The vast majority of our clients liked it, because it was still possible to see one another but it was a safer way of doing so. We concentrated on getting the technology right to make it as simple as possible for anyone to use.
The businesses we advise were perhaps more familiar with this technology, but making greater use of video conferencing has meant we’ve been able to give them more choice over how they communicate with us. There are considerable benefits to us all avoiding unnecessary travel and we are pleased to have been able to reduce our environmental impact over the last few months.
While we’ve gone back to facilitating face to face meetings where that’s appropriate and requested by clients, we now actively encourage electronic meetings when we can. In my view, there is a balance to be struck, but we know that many of our clients will want to continue to use video conferencing.
Great customer service is a driver in everything we do, so we’re delighted to have had such positive feedback from clients about how we have been able to provide our services during this time.
Accelerating the move to agile working
The biggest sea change for Coodes has been the accelerated move towards agile working. Through necessity, we’re offering our services in a slightly different way, which is less reliant on fixed office spaces.
Although we had already embraced flexible working, the rate of change since March has far exceeded anything we would have expected.
In the past, the fear among some employers was perhaps that remote working meant losing control as a result of not knowing if people were working or not. We’ve proved that it doesn’t really matter where people are operating from. Productivity has actually increased in most areas since we had to evacuate our offices in March.
Some of our employees are again working from our offices but gone are the days when everyone will simply rock up to an office desk every day. While we have no plans for a mass return to our offices, we know that most of our staff miss some of the benefits of being on site. We also understand that some feel safer and happier working from home. Our recent staff survey indicates that the majority would like a mixture of remote and office working in the future.
So our aim is to get to a form of agile working which suits our business and our employees, enabling us to have a good balance to facilitate efficient working. This could involve a rotation of attendance in offices. All of this will help Coodes to retain and attract the best people.
Looking to the future
It is too early to say anything meaningful about the long term impact of the pandemic on the South West business community. Generally, businesses have coped really well and have adapted in different ways. While the tourism sector, which is so important to the region, was especially vulnerable, the lifting of many restrictions in July enabled much of the summer season to go ahead. Had this not happened, many businesses would not have survived the year, although I suspect the recent change to the limits of the number of people that may meet up will impact the tourism industry once again.
Of course, we do not know how the situation will develop over the coming months. The next challenge for us and our clients will be Brexit, which again brings considerable challenges and uncertainty.
The unexpected events of 2020 have made Coodes more resilient. The move to agile working and the new ways we are communicating with clients makes us less reliant on fixed premises and better able to react to change. Getting the right balance between remote and office working will also make us a more attractive employer, helping us continue to provide our clients with the best legal expertise.
None of the changes we have made would have been possible without our employees, professional contacts and clients all pulling together. Teamwork is one of Coodes’ core values and I have seen this shine through since lockdown.