‘Agile’ has replaced ‘flexible’ working as something of a buzz word in the legal press recently. And a number of big named firms have seemingly been embracing agile working practices in an attempt, one presumes, to retain good staff and thereby gain competitive advantage.
But as a candidate wanting to enter into an agile working agreement – working fewer hours a week than your firm’s standard, working from a different location for part of your working week or any other combination of the two – what can you do to increase your chances of getting your proposal accepted? Here are some tips:
Research your firm’s agile working policy and follow those procedures
You may think that as a long-standing employee or as a new employee wishing to join a firm on an agile working pattern that informal conversations will be sufficient to cover most bases. For some, this might be the case. But without a formal, written agreement, you could be at risk of having your working patterns altered if management changes happen in the future.
Get any agreement on your working hours confirmed in writing, know if and when they will be reviewed, and be prepared to discuss them at those times.
Agile working, whilst gaining momentum in the legal sector, is still not the norm. Even firms that are advocating their cutting-edge agile working policies often only apply them to their fee earning teams – they are yet to reach business services employees.
So if you are putting together a proposal for your employer or future employer, be flexible. Yes, your ideal might be to have those long weekends each week, but if you find out a monthly team meeting falls on the last Friday of the month, then adapt your model to ensure you can be in the office on those days. Or, if you’ve been used to working three days a week and a new firm – the one you really want to work for – wants you to commit to four days, then try to find a way to do so. It is after all the firm you really wanted to join – and there may be the opportunity to review that arrangement after a set period of time.
Equally, when joining a new firm on an agile agreement, think about offering to work on a different pattern for a settling-in period to facilitate a hand over or induction process. Your employer might have agreed, for example, that you can work one day a week from home but would like you to work full time from the office for the first, say, two months. This is a reasonable request to ensure you settle in, learn the ways of your new firm and have time working with your predecessor.
If you have secured an agile working pattern for a new job or an existing one – be honest at the review times. Is it really working – and for both sides? Have you achieved what you and your employer said you would? Is it meeting your employer’s needs and yours? It’s no good if you feel an agreement is working for you because you can enjoy one day off a week but in reality you know that the to-do list is piling up. Keeping quiet may prove counterproductive come appraisal time when you have to face a conversation with your employer about meeting objectives. You never know, an honest conversation might mean an adjustment that works for you and allows you to be successful in your employer’s eyes too.
Agile working practices are becoming more widely available within the legal and professional services sector. Firms are proving more willing to consider the options and offer variations on the standard weekly working pattern. But it is still early days. As an agile worker in the legal profession, you have a critical role to play in showing your employer that, with a considered approach, it can work in practice too.