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We speak to Dentons law firm about its fresh new take on hybrid working.
Global law firm Dentons has turned flexible working on its head. Its approach bucks the trend, by expecting senior directors and partners to commit to office based working, while other team members can choose the working pattern that suits them best.
The firm began its hybrid working trial in 2021. While many organisations are now asking their people to return to the office or reduce their remote working, Dentons lets employees choose what works best for them.
Helen Simpson, Practice Partner for the UK and Middle East, says that the company recognises that rigid ways of working are “both unnecessary and undesirable for the majority of people”.
Denton’s hybrid working policy is known as You Choose. It is very flexible and takes the approach of simply ‘treating people like adults’.
Dentons’ policy is a stark contrast to standard practice. Generally, research suggests that senior managers are more likely to work from home than the teams they lead. Yet partners and directors at Dentons, who had the greatest flexibility in the past, now come into the office two or three days a week.
A real benefit of the approach is that employees who do choose to come into work know that it’s an environment where they will feel supported. Helen Simpson emphasises that leaders at Dentons are expected to help build team spirit and mentor junior colleagues – which can be challenging when working remotely.
Dentons monitored feedback on a monthly basis throughout the trial and it was largely very positive. “People value the flexibility and trust we have given them,” she says.
One area of focus that has been led by the feedback is the need for clearer boundaries between work and home life, particularly for remote workers. The firm has responded with guidance that clarifies expectations on working patterns.
While not dictating where people should work, the guidance explains how some activities benefit most from physical proximity. Internal one-to-one meetings, training, team meetings, client meetings and socialising are usually more effective face to face.
Generally Dentons aims to encourage employees to think about how they use their time in the office.
“We recognise that there can be huge benefits to getting people together – for instance, for training and to learn by osmosis. Social interaction is the cultural glue of an organisation, but we are not imposing a central mandate. Local teams decide what works best for them,” says Simpson.
The guidance complements manager workshops and training to help leaders develop the skills they need in a hybrid environment.
Dentons recognises that each team and individual has different requirements and ways of working. Some teams, for example, have decided to establish ‘hub days’ when everyone is in the office.
The firm has also developed protocols to support employees in making the most of hybrid working. Examples include making it easy to ask questions in online settings and suggesting new methods of contacting people in non-intrusive ways.
Dentons uses Microsoft Teams as a way of interacting at the click of a button. It sees this application as replicating how people might chat in the corridor at the office.
Simpson says that the priority is to strike the right balance for every employee. Last year Dentons piloted a working charter in one division, with tips on how to delineate work and home life. Its advice includes not checking emails just before bed, and avoiding digital presenteeism. The charter is now due to roll out across the whole firm.