Eversheds Sutherland’s international managing partner and executive sponsor for wellbeing, Keith Froud, speaks to The Lawyer as part of the Business Leadership Series about being more productive and adapting to remote working.

Keith Froud
Keith Froud

How has Eversheds Sutherland ensured its people are okay and supported during lockdown?

We built on our existing wellbeing strategy and initiatives which had already been a priority for us, with a focus on mental health, physical health and sustainable high performance.

We reacted quickly to provide specific support when the crisis first escalated and the business moved to remote working around the world. This included firmwide initiatives – for example confidential employee advice lines, guidance on wellbeing in a new environment (our wellbeing and remote working top tips are now on the Mind mental health charity website) and a new firmwide app, Open House, which signposts information but also helps our people to maintain important social bonds. Combined with a sharing of ideas generally – there is no monopoly on good ideas when it comes these issues.

We are now at an interesting point. People have realised that nothing will be normal (whatever that means) any time soon, and in fact will never be quite the same again. For some, the challenges of isolation will increase. For everyone the need to stay connected and fresh ideas around that is/are important. A return to the office, as appropriate, proportionate and possible around the world, will help some people to a degree but may not provide the full answer and will of course bring its own anxieties and other wellbeing priorities. It all feels like something of a re-set point in many respects.

Our wider People strategy is of course inextricably linked, including the need to ensure that in a world of increased remote working our people can learn, develop, innovate, shine and progress their careers. This is a big area for us right now.

Do you think the lockdown has provided employees with the opportunity to integrate their work into their lives in ways that make sense for them?

Sort of. The move of the legal sector to pretty much fully functioning remote working in such a short space of time was incredible, and many people are seeing a real benefit to their work-life balance. Many of our people are telling us that losing the commute, time with the family and a new opportunity to exercise have been positives during this period. All while being able to have (virtual) face to face contact with colleagues and clients – our IT director tells me we had 17,000 Teams calls last month.

But others have found aspects difficult. For various reasons – challenging work set-up at home, diversions and responsibilities, isolation or simply a basic desire to get back into the traditional work environment.

The move to full remote working was so extreme and happened so quickly that there were always going to be challenges.

The great thing is that we now have the opportunity to move to a future way of working which encompasses the best of both. We have not seen the end of the office. I’m sure that a physical environment for people to come together will continue to play a big part in our working world. But we can combine that with increased flexibility for our people and divert investment from lumps of concrete to tech, our people and clients.

How can lawyers remain productive and effective at a time like this?

First of all, focus on resilience. Which begins with acknowledging the hugely difficult times we live in. Then focusing on the resilience techniques which work for you. There is a lot of guidance out there and everyone should take time to think about this – it’s not a given for any of us.

Then consider the basics of productivity and what works for you. Again, there are lots of guides out there. The most important thing is to apply it to you, your preferences/situation and then plan your time. Routines, boundaries, time for deep thought, keeping active/getting rest, specific downtime, clearing the mind. Some of this may be difficult to achieve. Days can simply fill up with calls and an inbox which is out of control. You may have diversions which are difficult to avoid. Remote working environments can be challenging in so many ways. But as much as you can, be ruthless with your diary to accommodate these priorities and non-negotiables.

Our sustainable high performance initiatives are based on the principles frequently used by elite sports teams, which recognise the importance of rest as well as high intensity activity and also how to manage energy levels, how to control/use stress, how to bring focus to your work and general life. Spend some time looking into these things.

Also, bring these ideas into the client arena. All of the above is relevant to our interaction with clients, who have the same issues, in terms of sharing thinking and best practice but also how we actually interact with them.

What do you love most about your job?

I love the variety, the intellectual challenge and the satisfaction gained from seeing plans developed, implemented and fulfilled.

But ultimately it’s all about the people. Colleagues, clients and contacts. Impressive, supportive and collaborative. I’ve been with the firm for 27 years (obviously I started at a tender age), have had various roles, but it’s still the same. And I think it always will be. Tech must be embraced, office environments will change and things will generally evolve. But the feeling you get from achieving something as part of a team, from seeing a colleague develop and progress, or from a client giving positive feedback will never be beaten.