Inside an award-winning flexible working strategy

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At Maddocks, 21.7 per cent of partners work flexibly.

So far, a change in culture where knowledge trumps ability, has meant that the firm has achieved 100% return rate from parental leave and a high number of male lawyers sharing care responsibilities.

About 12 months ago, the firm took a serious look at its flexible working policies.  The goal was to make working flexibly easier but at the same time not a burden for those who chose not to.

“We need to keep improving on what we’re doing and we ask them to give us feedback about what we’re doing,” initiative driver and partner Catherine Dunlop told Australasian Lawyer.

“I think it’s really easy to think you’re doing well with flexibility just because you have people working flexibly.

“But I actually think to do it well, you have to speak to the people working flexibly and try and encourage them and make their lives a bit easier.”

As the number of people working flexibly increases, Maddocks continues to review its policies.

All about attitude
An open and transparent attitude to when people are in the office and when they aren’t seems small but it’s important to have leadership, Dunlop said.

“The first thing we did was just be really positive about it,” she said.

“Because I think sometimes… there can be a little bit of guilt about working flexibly.”

It’s a feeling she knows all too well as someone who has taken time out of her career having children.

“We moved away from meetings as being the main way to pass on information and get ideas, so we made sure that we have one main weekly email update with everything that’s going on in the team, reminding people of who’s working, who’s not, who might be at capacity and what’s going on,” Dunlop said.

“You’re not relying on a meeting which half the people can’t make for various reasons.”

Monitoring work so that flexible workers are divvied up a fair workload also proved to be a successful step.

“They are really simple things but unless you actually talk about them, you don’t do them,” she said. 
This rigorous approach to working flexibly saw the firm win a prestigious innovation accolade at the 2016 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards this month.  The association views flexibility as the ‘new normal’ and said the Maddocks approach is an effective way to retain and attract talent.

“Meeting staff demand for greater work/life balance is a leading internal driver of change impacting Australasian law firms in 2016 and this is one of the few areas where the industry has been quick to respond,”  said ALPMA president and CFO of  Legal Lantern Group, Andrew Barnes.

“It is one thing to say you have flexible working arrangements – it is quite another to do this well.”