Good internal communications remain vital as redundancies loom
Whilst the government implores us all to get back to the office, the reality is that for the majority of law firms, working from home for much of the week is going to continue for the foreseeable future. Covid cases are rising and law firms are in no rush to bring employees back to their desks – it is estimated that only 10% of City solicitors are currently working in the office.
Last month magic circle firm Linklaters announced solicitors will be allowed to work from home for up to half of the week, under a new policy to be applied indefinitely. It is clear that remote working is here to stay, for the pandemic and beyond.
At the same time, we are seeing the furlough scheme draw to a close and the economic consequences of the pandemic bite. Law firms are making redundancies and closing offices. Over the last month we have seen Ince announce a redundancy consultation with 40 roles at risk, Reed Smith lose 19 roles in its London office and BLM announce the permanent closure of two offices, with 89 jobs at risk.
In such uncertain times, internal communications need to work hard for your organisation and even firms that are weathering the storm well need good communications in place.
Pre-Covid, major restructures of your business and large scale redundancies would be best communicated face to face, with senior management talking through the changes and the rationale behind them, followed by smaller scale team meetings where each department explains what the changes will mean for their part of the business.
Even with some employees coming into the office, such briefings are not consistent with social distancing, so businesses need to ensure that other internal communications channels are being used effectively to inform and reassure.
If you are expecting to make redundancies or restructures, it’s important to involve your legal PR and internal communications team early in the process, working closely with management and HR.
Together you can carefully plan how to announce the changes, consider the impact on various groups across the business, get a timetable in place and agree on messaging that is clear and consistent, whether you are talking to staff, clients or the media.
Planning ahead will help you avoid rumours and speculation and prevent employees from feeling like they have been kept in the dark. If you have been communicating effectively since the beginning of the pandemic then announcements on redundancies should not come as a huge shock to those affected.
Well briefed line managers will be key to ensuring employees are informed and supported through the process. This is even more important given that in many cases news may not be communicated face to face, with written communications and Zoom calls likely to be taking their place.
In this context, ensuring employees have the opportunity to ask questions and voice concerns should not be overlooked. Listen to what employees are saying, ask managers to give you feedback on what they are hearing. Don’t be afraid to react and modify both the content of your communications and the methods they are communicated by if the feedback you are getting suggests things aren’t working.
Redundancy can have a huge impact on your workforce, even for employees who do not ultimately lose their jobs. Remember, staff talk to friends, family and contacts about their experiences, they use social media and can leak stories to the media. They will move to new jobs and might even become in in-house lawyer at a client business. How you treat your employees at this difficult time can have a long-lasting impact on your reputation so good support and communication is vital.