Most people working in companies have had that feeling of dread when the management team announce a great new idea to solve a business problem. However, one Belfast firm’s approach to achieving the best outcome with their resources shows what can be achieved when there is an alignment of interests between employer and employee, when it comes to embracing innovation.
Earlier this year, JMK Solicitors, Northern Ireland’s No. 1 personal injury law firm, introduced remote working with a real difference and relocated almost half of its 55 strong team 3000 miles to the Canary Islands with a mission in mind.
Jonathan McKeown, Chair of JMK Solicitors, says that developing and investing in people is the company’s key priority.
“Companies which gain a reputation for encouraging good working practices combined with a genuine and healthy work-life balance are attractive. They also tend to enjoy higher employee retention rates, more loyalty, and better in-house expertise.
“At JMK Solicitors, we value our staff and the contribution they make and with their full support and encouragement, we wanted to go a step further to make further improvements that would work for everyone”.
Jonathan McKeown explains; ‘As we have grown as an organisation the ability to attract, engage and retain staff who will provide the best service to clients is the most important activity of the Directors. What we want to do is to always be thinking about how we can provide as enjoyable a working environment as possible whilst at the same time not forgetting that we are running a business that must be efficient and avoid waste. There is a cliché that business owners should spend time working ‘on’ their business rather than ‘in’ it. However, what we wanted to do, was incentivise our staff to come up with their own ideas to improve their working practices and help cut costs. I had heard of a company in America that had relocated from Boston to Rio De Janerio for the month of February so that they could get staff away from the cold and depressing New England winter. I loved this idea and wanted to try to do it ourselves”.
The challenge was for the team to implement the project in its entirety- they had to plan every aspect from logistics and IT but also to ‘find’ 50% of the travel and accommodation costs through innovative ways to work and reducing wasteful and inefficient practices. With a clear brief to learn, improve and analyse their behaviours, the team were given 12 months to make the idea a reality. The mission was to base it around the company’s core values.
“It was hugely rewarding to work outside the scope of our usual skillset on such an exciting and innovative project that required the assistance of, and benefited every employee of our business. We feel hugely indebted to such a forward thinking board of directors for this unique opportunity which allowed us to cultivate savings and efficiencies within our business which funded us swapping our workspace from desks to sun loungers this Winter”, Una O’Neill, project team.
“The Core Value Project team as they became known – which didn’t include any of the directors – were able to fund the project through a range of cost and efficiency savings; looking at everything from reviewing suppliers’ contracts, to sending barristers electronic papers as opposed to traditional briefs of printed papers. We also invested in Microsoft Surface Pro tablets so that we no longer needed to print hundreds of pages for court. We reviewed the way we carried out tasks and looked at how we could do them better. Every efficiency added to the savings and went towards the project,” confirmed Legal Services Director Olivia Meehan.
Everyone in the company bought into the project and played a part in its success which meant that more than 20 JMK solicitors, legal executives, office clerks, IT, plus a further 10 partners and children flew out to Lanzarote and the winter sun.
Solicitor Gerard Nugent was delighted to take part.“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to visit a new country whilst working at the same time. After a day’s work, we could go for a swim, walk along the beach or have a drink together. It was a fantastic experience and one that I will never forget.”
Solicitor Carmel Ross added: “These days your office is wherever you are. I held several video conference calls with clients which were highly productive. Without any commuting, parking or waiting, on average, we covered all the issues in a much shorter time.”
“The unexpected outcome from the project was that both the ‘home’ team in Northern Ireland and the ‘away’ team in Lanzarote benefited from the experience” said the Company’s Managing Director Maurece Hutchinson.
“The project lasted for a whole month, with team members rotating from home and abroad. Working in a unique environment and with different team members than at the office was a terrific opportunity to learn more about each other and to build stronger connections. The team could collaborate more and could still connect via skype, if needed, to the office. There was fantastic camaraderie and a sense of empowerment. Everyone could work the hours that suited them to take advantage of the sunshine during the day. In turn the desire to avail of all the island had to offer made the ‘away’ team extremely focused and more productive. We had one of the business’ most successful months during the project. Of utmost importance was that the service to clients was seamless. We sourced a phone app which we could directly link to our telephone system back home. The hotel had excellent conference and Wi-Fi facilities, we brought all our own laptops and phones. Several years ago, we invested in ‘Proclaim’, a highly intelligent bespoke case management system, which means all our client files are paperless, in effect our team can work anywhere and the client service remains the same. We are greener and leaner than what most people think of when imagining the traditional solicitor buried under mountains of paper and files.
“In an industry weighed down by paper, committing ourselves to cost, time saving and environmentally -friendly ways of working meant less paper, ink and print time – the project is already paying for itself and the benefits will continue.”