I recently hosted a series of Peer to Peer chats with GC’s and Heads of Legal from a wide variety of industries and sectors. The aim was to provide a forum for them to share their thoughts and concerns and to understand how to cope with the fallout from COVID for in-house teams. Here’s what we learnt.
1. The new role of Legal.
The business needs Legal now more than ever. If the GC didn’t have a seat at the table before COVID they certainly do now. A lawyer’s ability to deliver complicated information in digestible form to the rest of the business has always been a valuable skill. Now, it’s a necessity. We heard that the GC and legal teams are being asked to get involved in new areas of the business and to take on more responsibility than they normally would. This is a fantastic opportunity for in-house legal to cement their relationship as trusted adviser to the business.
2. Is my team really doing OK?
I had a client ask me recently “At what point is asking my team if they’re doing alright too much?”. It’s a tough balance to strike and many of us are going through a live leadership crash course. Health & wellbeing during lockdown is a concern. The lines between personal and work life are blurring with families and pets routinely appearing on screen and we literally have a window into people’s homes. Working hours are being flexed to make time for childcare, home schooling and self-care, but GC’s are concerned about how sustainable this is longer term.
3. The tech works but…
Tech is the one gift that keeps on giving. Over and over again, I’m hearing clients say it’s all worked so well. From remote working platforms to videoconferencing apps, it is the one area of our new lives that has not disappointed. But what does that mean for the way we now work and will work in the future? It’s been great to hear that many teams are being more productive because of reduced commute time, for example. But is productivity the only KPI to measure this by? While it can sometimes be frustrating, a morning commute allows many people to read, listen to music or a podcast and mentally prepare themselves for the day ahead. If this is no longer an option, should we be thinking of other ways to put barriers between our work and home lives.
4. VC fatigue (yes, it’s a thing!)
We heard that GC’s are feeling exhausted by the constant VC after VC after VC. Having back-to-back meetings with no natural breaks is not healthy. Many are adjusting diary meetings to 20 mins or 50 mins to enable a micro break (if only to grab a quick cuppa, say hello to the kids, or to take a comfort break!). There is also a feeling that boundaries are being removed. The fact that you are always available can quickly lead to unacceptable working hours.
5. What next?
We can clearly see the light at the end of the tunnel. Over the past few days, there’s been an audible collective sigh at the declining severity of this pandemic. So, it’s time to think ahead. Many GC’s are involved in planning for the return to the office and what that will look like in a world where fewer employees will want to return to work in an office 5 days per week. They have proven they can work from home and many will want to retain some of that flexibility. Another common concern from the GC’s we are speaking to is that despite legal having stepped up during this crisis they are facing significant budget cuts for the year ahead.
My top 3 pieces of advice:
- Build on the key role legal has played during this crisis and ensure this continues in your relationships with the business going forward.
- Give yourself a break (literally)! Carve time out of your diary to enable breaks between meetings.
- Start thinking about, and planning for, the world after lockdown.