Farhan Farani reflects on how multi-cultural and diverse firms can integrate teams working remotely, respecting different cultures.
Firms should not only strive to pride themselves on inclusive and accessible legal advice, but also culture. It’s easy to fall into the trap of prioritising excellent client service, without considering the nurturing needed for each employee to deliver it.
Behaviour which is not inclusive may not be easy to recognise – and firms should work proactively in creating a work environment which has a welcoming and open culture, as well as strengthening their reactive processes in identifying and rectifying discriminatory culture, conversations and actions.
Your people are at the heart of your firm. But working on a remote basis for much of the last two years have presented challenges. As many move into a more hybrid or fully remote working model, some will wonder how to embed diversity and inclusion strategies and integrate teams, even if not in the same room. Here are a few recommendations which may help:
1. Host regular meet-ups in virtual environments and using video conferencing networks which chuck people at random into a virtual room, to replicate the water cooler chats and people meeting across different levels of the company. Set games and quick fun tasks that allow team bonding, so teams start to integrate as people get to know each other in a more informal manner.
Respect individual needs
2. Develop awareness and create space for employee’s needs – and, of course, make sure you are providing reasonable adjustments. Just because employees are working from home, and remotely, it’s all the more important to check in and make sure they have everything needed to perform their job. A person using a wheelchair may need a height-adjustable desk and may need longer bathroom breaks, or another employee may need slots in the day for prayer. Encourage employees to be thoughtful about their colleagues and their priorities, as well as pressures are throughout the day – and to act with care.
Remember important dates
3. Mark historical or significant months, weeks and days for different cultures, as well as International Women’s Day, Pride Month and Black History Month – and put on talks, celebrations, emphasis on the importance of celebration of these within the firm. This can make people feel their presence is valued and their culture is celebrated, as well as respected.
4. Mentoring schemes and regular check-ins matter, Identify mentees and sponsors across levels to nurture’s people development, and understand any stumbling blocks they may be facing. Also encourage regular meetings between senior lawyers and their juniors and staff, to ask how they’re doing and the pressures they’re facing. Provide training for senior lawyers about “active listening” and how to handle topics such as racism, mental health and other forms of discrimination helps create a safe space (even if virtual) in which junior lawyers feel they can speak openly if they so wish.
5. Encourage everyone to speak in meetings, by going round the virtual room. It can be hard for quieter people to get a word in during Zoom conversations. For meetings with group discussion, encourage partners or leaders to ask each person in the “room” for their thoughts and give credit to ideas already circulated. People can feel ignored when it goes unnoticed someone’s taken an idea they already mentioned and paraded it as their own, for which they then receive praise. Encourage teams to have different hosts for each meeting, so everyone is involved in practising inclusion (which can provide a great development opportunity too).
6. Ask legal staff and junior lawyers to suggest solutions for inclusion. It’s vital partners set the agenda and lead by example on diversity and inclusion, but it’s important with these initiatives everyone is involved. This also communicates everyone’s person’s role is integral to creating a diverse and inclusive law firm.
Keep an eye out
7. Making sure your reporting and investigating procedures into discrimination are relevant, usable, powerful and widely communicated is important, so staff understand discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated and dealt with appropriately. Review current procedures, how they’ve been adopted, and if they’re accessible.
Diversity and inclusion should be integral to a firm’s workplace ethos. Investing in your team of employees – as much as you do your clients – will help create a working culture founded on mutual respect, loyalty and thoughtfulness. You can integrate teams in this manner – and still do this effectively on a remote basis.
Farhan Farani is managing director of London firm Farani Taylor: faranitaylor.com