In our latest quarterly meeting of Heads of HR / HRDs, we discussed the issues facing HR teams as they support their firms through the current pandemic. From holidays to remote working, we covered a lot…

COVID-19 hasn’t stopped us working and exchanging ideas. Last week, for example, we Zoom ‘met’ with Heads of HR / HRDs (from smaller to mid-sized firms) for our quarterly get-together and discussion, hosted by Totum Consultant Laura McNair and Nikki Leatherland, Head of HR at Peter and Peters. There was a real appetite to get together quickly and help each other during this unprecedented time for business. We now happily share the discussion highlights.


Everyone is adjusting their holiday policy to ensure business can run properly for the rest of the year. Many are encouraging employees to take some of their holiday allowance in the next few weeks, if they are in a quieter period, while stipulating limits on holidays later in the year, when firms may need to ramp up business as we all return to the office. In that context, all firms are agreeing that five to ten days can be carried forwards into the next financial year and taken any time (carried over holidays are quite often restricted to the first three months).

Wellbeing is also paramount. Although travel is prohibited and employees may not be able to go away on holiday as they wanted, firms are still encouraging / asking employees to take their holiday during this period. This new way of working is very tiring (and intense) if juggling childcare with working, so employees still need to be taking holiday. Other firms have advised employees to take half day holidays and extra days around bank holidays. Others are extending their flex benefits so employees can sell unused holiday.

Anticipating and managing both business needs and wellbeing issues now and into the future are important priorities.

Onboarding / remote contact

For those that have started new roles with firms, virtual onboarding seems to have been working out well. Laptops are being couriered, IT training is taking place by Zoom, and new joiners are enjoying virtual welcomes to the team. There are still a few areas to iron out but so far so good.

For others, induction programmes have been prepared and are ready to go out. Firms are utilising Webex training and lots of face-to-face chats using various video-conferencing apps. Everyone is doing their best. Other firms are providing instructions to new joiners’ buddies on how to maintain contact remotely and each department has keeping-in-touch engagement plans.

For right-to-work checks – passports are being screened via Zoom and copies sent. The Government is to update legislation in this respect.

Remote contact

Some HR teams have contacted a large number (all) of employees to ensure engagement and wellbeing. This has been time consuming but invaluable and has enabled them to highlight vulnerable employees. Practice leaders are also checking in regularly with their teams. Extra links have been added to intranets for Health & Wellbeing, including fact sheets and links to useful resources. Firms that have them have been utilising their Mental Health first aiders to keep in touch. Others have provided advice for managers on how to manage their teams remotely, which has been well received.

The most important advice is to stay in touch and encourage ‘face to face’ meetings.

Salary reviews / bonuses

It is still very early days but some firms are considering freezing salaries this year and discussing whether performance bonuses will be paid.

Working from home

Firms are encouraging a ‘best efforts’ approach. For those who are managing childcare they have been asked to inform HR and they are encouraged to manage their day with their partners or look for flexibility over the day. Output not hours has never been more important than now.

Some may take up flexi-work arrangements if it is proving too difficult with childcare. Managers will be able to continue to monitor their teams’ performance. Lawyers will still be using timesheets. Some secretaries are very busy but for others that is not the case. Support secretaries are managing resources. Resources and workload will be regularly reviewed.

Furloughing / restructure / redundancy

Some firms are looking to furlough obvious employee groups – and may ask for volunteers. In some cases modelling has taken place and matrices have been pulled together to see if under-utilised skills can be used in other areas of the business but this is still under discussion in most firms.

NHS volunteering

A Government Bill was passed next week where individuals can volunteer to support the NHS. Individuals will be able to volunteer for two, three or four weeks in any 16-week period but they have to take it in one block. Firms are currently writing guidance on this, their main concern is that employees do not burn out with other commitments.

As always, we would like to thank all of those who took part in the meeting and we look forward to seeing you at the next one.

The focus of these events is to provide a different perspective on topical issues, to encourage debate and knowledge sharing, as well as provide the opportunity to meet and share experiences with others at a similar level. We hope to bridge the gap between those established in senior leadership positions and those who, perhaps, are leading the function for the first time.

For any HR professionals from law or professional services firms who may be interested in attending our future events, please contact Laura McNair.

For more information on recruiting HR & operational roles, please contact Laura McNair at [email protected]