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Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance

Responsible Business Insights

Working towards a sustainable future

The impact of our global shift to agile working

Asia Pacific was the first of our regions to face an unprecedented shift to extensive agile working, both as a result of the public demonstrations in Hong Kong and the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic. Partner Geraint Hughes and Communications Manager Pia Pialorsi discuss their experiences and what they’ve learned.

As the coronavirus pandemic began to unfold in your region, what were your first priorities?

Geraint: We acknowledged that the best way to handle this unprecedented situation would be to form a Steering Group of lawyers and business professionals to co-ordinate our response to the unfolding events. This group is inclusive from a gender, ethnic, age, sexual orientation, and home environment perspective. Each of those diverse voices is valued and the collective input leads to better decision making - including establishing the three principles that would guide all of our future decisions. We also wanted everyone to feel empowered to challenge decisions.

Pia: Our three guiding principles were: prioritising the health and wellbeing of our people, preventing the spread of the illness, and continuing a high level of support to our clients. These have formed the basis for all policies, protocols and decisions we have made since. Every time we have a question about how to proceed, we go back to these principles and usually find the answer.

What were your greatest challenges and how did you navigate those?

Pia: Every jurisdiction is different, so understanding local context across our Asia Pacific offices was very important. Alongside our regional Steering Group, each office had its own Incident Management Team, which would come together on calls to raise questions or discuss certain challenges they were experiencing. Collectively though, the Steering Group would come up the best way forward, guided by our principles. These forums provided useful foresight and reference for our other offices about similar  scenarios they may face as the virus began to spread.

Geraint: We also needed to understand challenges on a personal level. Because of our earlier decision to shift to agile working to protect our people during the Hong Kong demonstrations, some of us had technology and home-working setups in place before the pandemic, which gave us a precedent and helped others follow suit. But of course, we were constantly assessing: how were people managing in areas where a tiny living space is standard? Were people supported enough? What were our clients saying? Keeping lines of communication open and conducting pulse surveys were really key to understanding all these issues. We had to build scenarios and test and re-test as the situation evolved.

Staying on the topic of communication – this is crucial to both of your roles. What was your approach to staying in touch with your teams as events unfolded?

Pia: We felt it was very important to help people feel safe, connected and supported. Maintaining a balance was really key, both in tone and frequency. We wanted to keep people well informed, but not overwhelm or alarm them unnecessarily. We also put a lot of thought into the channels we used, being respectful of working hours, and how often we would communicate. For example, we found that regular communications on the same day every week provided comfort to people, which was an important piece of learning to pass on to other regions as they faced up to the virus.

Geraint: Yes, and again, our guiding principles were really fundamental here because we had clarity on our business priorities. We were able to communicate with empathy and in a way that we felt was in the best interests of our people and our clients. We engaged with our teams through a variety of channels including virtual townhalls, videos and even old style floor walking, where possible, to check in on people. As the situation progressed, we realised that one of our greatest strengths as a firm is our sense of community. This shifted much of our communication focus to personal situations and staying aware of how our people were coping, particularly in light of balancing responsibilities and home life.

You touched on learnings that you were able to pass on to other regions. How else have you been able to offer advice to others, particularly as the pandemic spread? Geraint: It became clear, very quickly, that our teams are very resilient, which coupled with our ability to stay agile were key to navigating our business successfully during times of crisis. But for me, this comes back to community and encouraging the different perspectives that give us a more rounded view of how events are impacting the different populations of the firm. We remain in very close contact with our people, and I believe this has strengthened our position enormously.

Pia: I agree, and while our experiences have served as a useful model for other regional adaptations, an important point I’d like to underline is that support from the top has been fundamental to this resilience. Geraint championed our principles throughout, which in turn made it easier for function leads to do their job, advise others and issue the most efficient and helpful guidance possible. I think this is my biggest takeaway from our experiences this year.

Finally, as we look ahead, what do you think these experiences have taught us about ourselves as a firm?

Pia: Our people rose to the occasion, I really believe that. I think across the firm and certainly among our leadership, we’ve demonstrated a strong moral centre that enables us to act with integrity when faced with entirely new challenges or times of hardship. I think this says a lot about the sort of firm we are, particularly as we consider what else we can achieve together in the future.

Geraint: Absolutely. I’ve always been proud to work for the firm, but never prouder than now. I think our people have shown us their true character. We’ve continued to support our clients on fantastic deals, we’ve supported those more vulnerable in our local communities, and we’ve supported each other. Of course we’re hoping for better times, but for me, it’s important that we now reflect on everything we’ve learned and consider carefully what the next normal is going to be.

2020 Responsible Business Report

As we try to build a better, more sustainable future, it is the fundamental principles of the law that guide us, as a responsible business: equality and fairness, access to justice, effective regulation and government, and the promotion and protection of human rights.

Our 2020 report demonstrates our commitment to sustainable growth and how it has endured and been strengthened during a period of uncertainty and change.

Explore our report here.