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From crisis management to communication

Kingsley Napley won People in Law’s Best Organisational Response to Covid-19 award thanks to its considered approach to communications and employee-centred approach to support during the pandemic. 

Like most firms, Kingsley Napley was forced to go into crisis mode in March 2020, just as the first Covid-19 lockdown loomed on the horizon. Days before the Prime Minister formally announced that offices and non-essential retail would close, managing partner Linda Woolley began sending out daily email communications to reassure staff of the firm’s plans.

“It was such an uncertain time,” she remembers. “We decided to send an email after the daily government press briefings each day to sum up our response. We explained that we would stay within the guidelines but also do more.” This level of communication and reassurance continued, and Woolley estimates she has sent more than 100 such emails since the start of the pandemic. It was one of the actions that led People in Law’s judging panel to name Kingsley Napley ‘Best Organisational Response to Covid-19’ in its 2021 awards.

“Linda did the job of filtering out what was important to employees, telling them we would not take measures without talking to our people first, so nothing would come as a surprise,” explains Jemimah Cook, the firm’s HR director. The office closed a week before the ‘official’ government lockdown, and before this Cook and Woolley communicated with the most senior partner of each team on the logistics of switching to remote work and how they could support their colleagues.

Support hub

The firm created a Covid-19 support hub on its intranet where employees could see the latest government news and guidance, and a scheme was set up enabling them to request additional IT equipment or office furniture for their homeworking set-up up to £200. By the start of April, firm members could access a bitesize Covid response training programme to support them with the change to their working practices. This included modules on effective remote working, leading remote teams, personal resilience and resilience for managers and leaders. Morale-boosting measures included a postcode matching initiative which encouraged colleagues to meet for local walks and funded team social events. The firm also held its inaugural Kingsley Napley awards to celebrate people who had lived up to its values.

Rather than making decisions on the fly, it was crucial to “stand back and look at what was happening”, adds Cook. “We needed to consider things such as what would happen to our facilities and reception teams if buildings closed, and they trusted those decisions because they were carefully considered.” Seventy-five employees were placed on furlough temporarily but were still an integral part of the firm’s communications and activities. “We were clear that they were still one of us in terms of the extracurricular things we were doing because work has been removed at a time of crisis and it’s a big part of their life.” The firm did not have to make any Covid-related redundancies and has even promoted 24 employees and ten partners internally over the past year.

Flexible working space

The firm had been planning an office move working in a more flexible way before the pandemic but the shift to more remote work has influenced how it will use its new physical office space in future and the technology and video conferencing capability throughout the building was reviewed. It is currently looking at a hybrid working model from the end of September, and the new space will include many enhanced facilities such as a wellbeing suite with an exercise studio and relaxation room and a cafe. “We have given employees a clear framework based on trust and what is best for the individual., their team and the clients.  We are not asking our people to come in unless it’s absolutely essential until September so that everyone has the opportunity to have received their second COVID vaccination,” explains Woolley. Maintaining regular communication with all employees is one aspect of pandemic working that will continue, Cook adds: “We will keep up our pulse engagement surveys so we can keep an eye on the data and while the emails are not as regular as at the start of the pandemic they have a broader purpose and look towards the future of the firm. You have to be more purposeful in your communications when people are working remotely.”

Looking forward, both Woolley and Cook feel that the organisation will be better prepared should it face future lockdowns or major disruptions. “In some ways I think having a workforce dispersed at home makes business continuity easier anyway. If you had a fire it used to be the case that businesses would go under in a couple of weeks,” says Woolley. “This is much easier to negotiate.” Cook agrees, adding that the firm’s hybrid working plans are flexible enough for the physical workforce in the office to expand and contract. Employees clearly appreciate the flexibility and communication: Kingsley Napley recorded its highest engagement score in the Best Companies awards since 2013 during the pandemic. Asked for feedback on what made working from home a positive experience, people mentioned more time for exercise, the chance to cook and spending more time with their family. One said: “The support provided by our management during the last year has been amazing. They have gone above and beyond to ensure all employees are supported during a difficult time for everyone.”

This consultative and supportive approach is business as usual at Kingsley Napley, concludes Cook: “It was crisis management at the beginning but because our culture and our people remain at the heart of decisions, it’s part of our structure. We’re constantly looking at what might change and the scenarios ahead and becoming more comfortable with that.”

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