“The Great Resignation” – a trend that refers to record numbers of people leaving their jobs as COVID-19 restrictions end and life returns to ‘normal’.

As COVID-19 legal restrictions come to an end in the UK, businesses across the UK economy are experiencing disruption as, despite employers’ efforts to attract, recruit and retain the best talent, individuals continue to seek new career opportunities. After two years of enforced working from home for most, most businesses recognise that employees now expect and value flexibility – those who haven’t, maintaining expectations of a full return to the office, will find themselves in a losing battle with those organisations which have adopted a hybrid approach.

As a sector associated with long hours, stress and no regular work pattern, the legal profession is not generally highly regarded in prioritising mental health and wellbeing. The change within the Scottish legal profession over the last two years is vast, and continuous change is inevitable – particularly in the way individuals view their relationship with their career and profession. Like all businesses, law firms would do well to embrace blended ways of working.

Over the past 18 months, MacRoberts has embraced an agile working structure, putting both its people and the client experience at the heart of its strategic planning. Feedback from our people, taken during the pandemic, indicated that a hybrid of office and home working is strongly preferred, and a variety of initiatives have been implemented to promote the health and wellbeing of staff.

Connection and interaction with others is at the heart of MacRoberts’ hybrid working policy. Teams across the firm have adopted a structure of two or three days in the office and two or three days remote working. Decisions around which days employees come into the office are being taken by individual managers, who are in the best position to understand their teams’ work and when they need to be together.

In 2021, the firm moved to prestigious Grade A offices at 10 George Street, Edinburgh, which have been designed with a focus on agile working and collaboration between people and clients. In Glasgow, the firm already has open plan offices in the Capella building on York Street, which are conducive to the hybrid working model. Looking ahead, the firm plans to continue to develop its office environments to promote and encourage an atmosphere of discussion, in-person contact and interaction, connecting people within the business and enable meaningful collaboration with colleagues and clients.

At the forefront of all strategic decision-making is the wellbeing of the firm’s staff. Led by the firm’s Diversity, Inclusion & Wellbeing Forum, MacRoberts has introduced a number of formal and informal measures, including mental health awareness training, Mental Health First Aiders, online fitness classes, a cycle to work scheme, firm “away days”, CSR days, career breaks and access to a counselling service.

Underpinning this agile working policy is the firm’s commitment to ensuring all of its legal advice is consistently delivered to the highest standards. MacRoberts is the only Scottish independent law firm to hold four International Standards Organisation (ISO) certifications in Quality Management (ISO 9001), Business Continuity (ISO 22301), Information Security (ISO 27001) and Environmental Management (ISO 14001). The firm is also certified against Cyber Essentials Plus and compliant with PCI DSS. All of these accreditations are considered critical to the business’s operations and client satisfaction.

Two years since the start of the pandemic, it is clear that the hybrid workplace is here to stay. Successful hybrid workplaces must be proactive, innovative and transparent about decisions made, and wellbeing and equity need to remain high on the list of priorities. Good management and a healthy workplace culture are fundamental for any organisation – hybrid working or not.

More on the equitable workplace

Read more from Rupa Mooker, People & Development Director, on why employers should consider "structured flexibility" in trying to make working arrangements as attractive as possible in her column in The Journal of the Law Society of Scotland.

Insights from colleagues

Laura Wilson, Director of Marketing & Business Development:

"The move to working from home in 2020 brought various challenges, with teams having to quickly adapt to new ways of ensuring meaningful interaction, both on a work and personal level.

Embracing the hybrid model has generated a great team spirit across the business, with hard work recognised and rewarded across all departments and at all levels. MacRoberts is a firm that really cares for its people."

Marika Franceschi, Partner, Family Law:

"The pandemic has affected people in so many different ways and we have all been tested, some of us to our absolute limits at times.

Looking at this purely from a “return to office” perspective, I think some of the positives to take are that we have understood (a) how important it is to feel like we are not alone; (b) to feel that we are supported and trusted to work flexibly and still contribute as much as we did before, or more; and (c) that we need to spend time with other human beings, not just those we live with!

We have been able to test a different way of working and our priorities may well have changed.

For me, the realisation of how much it meant to my son to have me collect him from school more regularly and to host play dates at his house now and again was humbling and made me determined to keep this going post-lockdown.

For others, being able to keep up with a new hobby or project they took up during lockdown and have the flexibility to work around that might make the difference between their willingness to stay or leave their firm. I suspect everyone will have something they want to preserve as a positive from what has otherwise been a pretty difficult time for most.

I believe this is something MacRoberts does very well. Expectations of standards and contributions are high, but so are the levels of trust afforded to our people to contribute in the best way they can and we are encouraged to try and maintain a positive work/life balance at all times. I think this attitude is essential to us being sustainable and resilient."

Joshua Grieveson, Trainee Solicitor:

“Starting my legal traineeship in a hybrid working environment was a daunting prospect. I wondered whether I would get the same exposure and experience that trainees enjoyed prior to the pandemic. However, since joining MacRoberts in September last year, the firm has been supportive and proactive in its approach to agile working. In particular, my experience in my current department (the Construction team) has been nothing but positive in this regard, with regular team catch-up calls and in-person meets where possible.

Whilst I understand that agile working is likely the ‘new norm’ across many sectors, I appreciate MacRoberts’ commitment to ensuring an element of in-person/office-based working, and the firm’s recognition of its importance in trainee development and good working relationships.”

Karen Craig, People & Development Senior Adviser:

"As a firm, we have made a conscious effort to support our employees’ mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic by encouraging Partners and Managers to keep in touch with their teams and to have regular catch-ups with them whilst working from home. We have also offered considerable online support by way of training sessions and links to online aids as well as keeping in touch with anyone who might appear to be struggling.

As a Mental Health First Aider, I confirm that our Mental First Aider Programme is invaluable to the firm. All the MHFAs are working together as a team to make the Programme as visible and accessible as possible to ensure that our employees have support when they need it and to promote the fact that mental health and mental wellbeing is not a taboo subject."

Craig Smith, Information Services Assistant:

"My first ever job was at MacRoberts through an apprenticeship. A lot of my friends didn't have the most pleasant introduction to the world of work, but I can't say the same – my experience has been very enjoyable, and I look forward to continuing to progress in my role at the firm. I've learned a huge amount since joining, and there are always new tasks and projects to be involved in.

When the pandemic hit and we moved to working from home, I like to think that we were pretty well-prepared from an IT perspective. Now, two years on, there is a good mix of working from home and in the office which has brought numerous benefits and a better work-life balance."