Hello legal industry colleagues.
I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to share our Firm’s approach to the Covid-19 situation, both reflecting on what has passed and what may be to come.
It is important to note that this is in no way a model answer or instruction guide, we do not profess to have a crystal ball. We believe in collaboration and shared experiences to help anyone who needs it in the hopes that our experiences might be of use to others.
With that in mind, I will be addressing the topic of ‘what next’ when it comes to Covid-19 from three perspectives – past, present, and future.
To begin with, I’d like to address our mindset when it comes to an event such as we find ourselves in at the moment.
Crisis management: the past
In my experience of crisis management and business continuity consulting, we are quick to throw around labels like crisis and strategy, when in fact we are really talking about something quite different.
Disaster recovery and security risk specialists would define a crisis in its extreme form of being an event which is unprecedented, having never being experienced before and therefore having had no way to plan to deal with it. By this definition technically these specialists would argue that Covid-19 is not a crisis in and of itself because we have previously had exposure to similar situations such as H1N1, SARS, Ebola, etc.
What is then the crisis event in this circumstance, is the subsequent global implications of complete shutdown of economies, travel, and strain on the healthcare system.
In corporate crisis management we use an escalating scale from business as usual; to issues; to incidents, and then; to crisis.
- Business as usual should be your way of operating day-to-day and should be covered in your Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). The Goal is always to return back to this state no matter what has occurred.
- An Issue is something you are able to identify which may cause risk. A loose floor tile that someone could trip on; an exposed cable that someone could shock themselves on; a vulnerability on your website which may expose you to hacking etc. These should be covered by your SOPs and should be addressed as quickly as possible to mitigate the potential risk.
- An Incident (minor or major) is when an issue (identified or not) materialises, resulting in that person tripping, or shocking themselves; or your website being hacked. The incidents should be covered by your Business Continuity Plan (BCP), which should outline various scenarios relating to people, processes and technology, and whom within your organisation would deal with them. For example, how you would go about shutting down one of your offices and routing all calls to another while the situation is dealt with; who is responsible for contacting the paramedics; how to secure your server from a breach and revert to your redundancy and back up procedures etc.
- A Crisis is an escalation when the situation becomes unprecedented, and none of your plans actually address the scenario so you are adapting to what is in front of you. This would be the case with multiple major incidents occurring at once, an incident which threatens the organisations future, or an incident with no clear end.
The most critical element across all of this is communication.
Communication needs to be centralised so that there is a clear and consistent message going out to all in your organisation.
An issue you might face is having individuals in your organisations making decisions for their own team which are not aligned to the greater organisation. These are usually with the best intentions but will result in confusion and mixed messages.
Your organisation should have a set decision making hierarchy, and a clear communication channel. Communicate with your team as often and as consistently as possible throughout a crisis situation so that you are creating a single vision of the solution and direction you are taking.
Why is the above important?
I’m raising this theoretical position to highlight that we are indeed in the fourth category and those of you who are tormenting yourselves with questions like ‘what could we have done differently?’, and ‘why weren’t we prepared for this?’, the answer might well be that there was not much more you could have done, so don’t be too hard on yourself.
Covid-19: our steps
At CJCH I was lucky that we have such a progressive executive board and their primary challenge to me from joining the team was to make our firm ready for anything.
Over the last few years we have focused on migrating our infrastructure, operations, technology and business delivery to be fully ready for digital and virtual operations. We moved to Office 365 giving all staff access to the full web-based suite of Microsoft Office; our case management system is fully cloud based and accessible remotely; our fee earners all use laptops or mobile devices; we incorporated remote access secure log-in’s for our network, and we created on-site and offsite network back-ups, both physical and in the cloud. Our telephony system is VoIP, which means we were able to let our staff take their desk phones home with them and plug them into their home networks to continue making and receiving calls on their office line as if they were at the office.
“Even all of that preparation was still not enough”.
We still had challenges, and when we started preparing for full work from home procedures, the issues we had were:
- Most of our support staff used desktop computers and it was more difficult for them to get them home to continue working.
- We still had a reliance on physical mail which had to be rerouted.
- Our DX was delivered to a location which was also closed, and the rerouting process was delayed.
- Certain courts still required physical bundle submissions, and staff did not all have the printing and scanning facilities necessary at their houses.
Where we are now
This leads us to the present. We, like all of you, have still had to adapt to this new operating environment. Our board believe in a servant leadership approach where we focus our attention on our staff in difficult times to do everything we can to ease their burden.
What we’re doing:
- We rerouted all our mail and DX to two of our senior partners home addresses and they are personally processing, scanning and distributing mail as it comes in.
- We’ve set up weekly video check-in’s on Microsoft Teams so that our department heads have the opportunity to connect with the leadership team both from an operational and a human element. It is not easy working remotely for this period of time, and these check-in’s help to maintain the sense of teamwork and camaraderie.
- We are enabling staff to go into the offices for mass printing, but only individually so that we do not have multiple people in the office at one time, and they are communicating this with the rest of the team when they do.
- We have worked with all our service providers and suppliers to establish new procedures during lockdown. Cleaning services, for example, have been stopped, with the understanding that we will bring them back prior to our staff returning to conduct a deep clean of each office before staff start. Our stationary, copier, and hardware suppliers are delivering directly to the leadership teams home addresses where we are disinfecting items and then distributing as needed.
We also stopped to take stock of our engagement strategy as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.
We wanted to be empathetic and understanding as we’re all human and are all in this together but may be experiencing it differently based on personal circumstances.
This has resulted in a different way of engaging people across the board, taking these circumstances into account. In some instances, this means finalising a will for a client through their front-room window while wearing gloves. In other instances, it means being more patient with the other side to a matter when they are overwhelmed.
Using the term ‘the new normal’ seems reductive, but I would go so far as to say it is motivational. Many might have thought they would never have been able to do this, but they now have.
“I predict we will see the greatest shift in digital transformation and more efficient operating models across UK organisation as a result of Covid-19 than any other internal catalyst may have achieved.”
It is unlikely that our way of working will ever be exactly the same again, because we now know we need to be ready for anything, and that we can do it.
With this ‘new normal’ in mind, what is expected from us on our return to office life?
As I started out with, I don’t have the model answer for you, but I do have the approach we at CJCH will be taking, and I’m more than happy to share this with you.
We’re preparing for the possibility of a second wave
Any good business continuity consultant will tell you to plan for the worst and hope for the best. So, ask yourself this question, “What would we do if we all return to life as per normal and this sudden reintroduction of human contact results in a second wave of infections?” If we went into ‘lockdown 2.0’ in, say, September, do you think you would have used your learnings from this experience to be ready for that? The reason why I provided our general planning for business continuity and the challenges we faced during Covid-19 was to inform on this point.
As a result of this Covid-19 lockdown, we are now:
- Revising our procurement policy on hardware so that future purchase have home-working and mobility as a key factor.
- The mail and DX will be a challenge, but we will be speaking with the Royal Mail and the DX teams to find what different solutions could be easily put in place, if any.
- We had been working on a solution for online payments as part of our greater 2020 digital strategy, which was a project we were planning to roll out later this year. As a result of the lockdown, we brought it forward so now clients are able to process their payments via our website 24/7.
- We will be testing more regular work from home policies in our firm, to become the new normal rather than a unique situation.
- We are challenging each department lead to revise their annual business plan and operating model to become leaner and more efficient, with more reliance on digital content and virtual collaboration. Our teams have already been successfully conducting client engagements via channels the client might never have used before, such as virtual meetings and Facetime. My challenge to all for future working is, ‘Do you really need to have that in-person meeting?’
- Across the board, we will be using this experience to update our Standard Operating Procedures, Business Continuity Plans, and Disaster Recovery Plans as we now have new experiences to learn from.
Keep asking yourself and your leadership team the ‘what if’ questions and answering them honestly.
What if this happens again? What if it happens for a longer period? What if clients can’t use our services the way we provide them? What if we can’t get a physical signature? What if one of our team become ill? What if we can’t support our staff? What if we can’t recruit new staff? What if our server crashes with no one in the office to address it? What if there isn’t a Furlough scheme next time? Etc. Starting to take note of these answers will help you form your future approaches to similar situations.
Our approach on returning to the office:
- We’re starting out by approaching return to the office as if we are taking over a new office for the first time. The leadership team is therefore going to be conducting an inspection of each office as well as perform a stocktake of supplies.
- We will be having the water supply and electrical supply checked, as well as all our fire safety measures assessed.
- We will be pre-ordering all office and hygiene supplies for delivery prior to the first staff member returning.
- We will be bringing in our cleaning teams to each office to conduct a thorough clean prior to return to work.
- We will also be reviewing adjustments needed in each office such as protective gear/shields, changes to meeting rooms etc.
- We are considering return to work from multiple angles, such as phased return in stages, to allow departments/offices to return at different time or different days to allow support teams like HR and IT to assist with reintegration and setup.
- We will also be looking a social distancing for the office, and what precautions we can take within our workspace.
I do hope this is helpful to some, and those who are far more prepared than us, I invite you to share your planning with your community too.
“The most important things for us at CJCH are communication and root-cause analysis”.
We look at each challenge from a root-cause perspective to develop a solution that addresses the cause and not just the presenting problem, while ensuring we communicate the right message, to the right people, and the right time.
Remember, you can never be too prepared.