As the UK entered full lockdown in March 2020, Stone King - together with all businesses - faced the challenge on several levels: as an employer of over 250 people each facing their own lockdown challenges; as a firm striving to deliver uninterrupted services to clients, many of whom in need of legal support more than ever; and as a business determined to survive.
As we pull together a series of case studies on the innovative ways in which businesses are re-creating themselves in a changed world, we felt that we should include our own story and some of the lessons we have learnt.
- Adapting to lockdown
Aside from adapting to an unprecedented global crisis, in a practical sense Stone King was in a fortunate position at the beginning of lockdown, having launched smart working practices in 2018 to promote flexible working and many of our people already regularly working from home with the necessary infrastructure in place. We were also in the process of rolling out improved remote technology. This roll-out was accelerated, during a busy few weeks for our incredible and dedicated IT team, in time for the start of lockdown.
Our offices across six UK cities were already set up on video conferencing system Starleaf, with teams dialling in for meetings from meeting rooms across our offices, or individuals directly from home if working remotely. During lockdown these meetings shifted to all members joining from home, but business was able to continue as usual.
- Minimising client impact
Each Stone King team prioritised ensuring they could still provide all their client services, making necessary adjustments. For example, in our family team, mediation sessions for separated couples were moved online to support clients at a particularly challenging time. Similarly, for services involving essential physical paperwork, such as probate, some team members would arrange to visit the relevant office to process this.
Keeping in touch with clients was key. Alongside providing ongoing, regular and covid-related legal advice, we realised that many clients across our sectors of Education, Business, Charity & Social Enterprise, and Personal Law were finding it a challenge to keep up with daily updates from government and other bodies. To support them and provide some clarity, our lawyers quickly prepared FAQs and guidance that was regularly sent out in newsletters and one-off bulletins to our clients and anyone who opted to join our mailing lists, as well as shared with our followers on social media, to help keep them informed.
The result has been a 90% increase in visitors to our website in March to June 2020, compared with last year, peaking in April, which saw a 141% rise in traffic year-on-year and double the number of page views. This shows how much people were looking for support.
We also set up a schedule of free webinars across our sectors, open to all, to offer guidance and support and have so far welcomed well over 5,000 attendees to more than 60 free webinars.
- Maintaining firm morale
As everyone at Stone King adjusted, the firm’s Managing Partner Steven Greenwood prioritised engagement by sending weekly firmwide messages to share updates and forecasts on the firm, as well as offering encouragement and recognition of achievements under challenging circumstances. Alongside the firm’s Chair Alison Allen, he hosted drop-in online meetings, open to all for raising any issues and questions, and there has been ongoing firmwide consultation around returning to work.
The firm’s HR team has been extremely busy promoting wellbeing across the firm, sharing resources (such as for parents of young children) and – with support from partners - setting up non-work activities including a weekly art club. Mental health week saw a week-long campaign by HR on the firm’s intranet.
- Building a stronger business
Like many firms, lockdown for Stone King has involved overcoming challenges, perseverance and creativity. It has strengthened some areas and provided an opportunity to review and improve others, whilst ensuring our core values are at the forefront of all decisions. Supporting the wellbeing of our people has been a key priority throughout and we’re in a constant dialogue with our people about how and where they want to work, both in the medium and long term.
The restrictions have accelerated initiatives such as the roll out of regular webinars, which has led to substantial engagement and some new collaborations.
We have looked to support clients and other businesses wherever possible such as through our free webinars, newsletters and by sharing these ‘business survival’ case studies. Many at Stone King, particularly in our charity sector teams, have also been involved in charitable covid-19 response work.
The pandemic has also led to a re-evaluation of required office space with our environmental impact in mind, as well as a financial benefit.
As we slowly emerge from lockdown, our offices are stocked with reusable facemasks and sanitiser stations and we have learned how much can be achieved – and how quickly - by pulling together and being open to change.