Conveyancing through the pandemic and beyond

It would be safe to say that over the last couple of years, conveyancing firms have faced some considerable challenges. In particular, dealing with staff, understanding their ongoing and changing needs, marrying up their skills and experience with the huge amount of demand/work in the market, and also trying to ensure their mental and physical wellbeing during an incredibly stressful time.

To say it has been a steep learning curve would perhaps be a huge understatement, and I know that firm owners, management and all those leading teams, will also have been “learning on the job” for all manner of reasons.

No one will have worked through a pandemic before, so you can absolutely be forgiven for being less than confident in how you have worked through this period, and to be questioning whether you have done all you can to support staff.

As we move out of a pandemic situation, as we move more from working from home to returning to work, there is a lot to consider, not least the level of resources you have within your firms, and whether this meets your needs now and in the future. Plus, of course, how you go about filling the gaps that might exist and how you provide a working environment that suits different kind of wants and needs, not least those of your various employees.

At our recent Legal Members meeting, this was clearly an issue high on the agenda for member firms. A number talked about the huge problems they were having with staff retention, dealing with the large number of conveyancers, and other staff, who had – for a variety of reasons – left the sector over the past 12-18 months, and the issues they were confronting in matching work to resource and also ensuring the well-being of their existing staff.

I know that, as a result of conveyancer staff shortages, many firms are looking to bring a new generation through via graduate and academy schemes, but of course this takes time, training, resource, and investment, while at the same time, you have to consider the ongoing needs of existing staff and try to ensure you hold onto them, while you build that next layer up.

This is not easy. At the meeting, we heard from Maria Gardner, a Business Psychologist, about the range of problems firms might confront in such circumstances, where such problems might stem from, how the pandemic has changed our working world and the greater need for action in terms of employee mental health and well-being.

A number of our member firms asked for advice on what they could be doing in this area, about how they could not only bring new people on board, but how they could help manage their expectations about the work involved, how they could provide a balance between working from home and remotely, about how they could engender a sense of team when staff were not necessarily sitting in the same office.

And, of course, fundamentally, this is also about ensuring the ongoing profitability of a business, because as we tend to know, a happy and engaged workforce tends to deliver more in terms of productivity.

Maria didn’t shy away from this motivation for firms or the strategy and process that firms might wish to employ in this area in order to ensure they get the return on investment they want to see.

She talked about firms having a much more rounded approach to staff wellbeing, one that treats the cause of dissatisfaction rather than the symptoms. For instance, if you have staff members who feel they are being weakly or inconsistently managed, then to provide them with “benefits” completely unrelated to this is going to be counter-productive.

Staff would much prefer – perhaps even demand – that you deal with a weak line manager rather than apologetically provide them with a “thank you” gift for putting up with it. Indeed, dealing with the cause of the issue here is going to help all firms in the long run and produce a far more productive staff member.

However, firms have to show strength and resolve in dealing with these issues. They have to understand the damage this might be causing to both the individual, but also the firm in terms of the work process and result, and they have to act swiftly in order to get a solution which works for both.

That example is very relevant, because you’ll perhaps be unsurprised to lear, that the number one reason why people leave their jobs is normally dissatisfaction with a line manager. Maria felt it would fix so many issues with employees if that was a strong relationship, if the individual could talk to their line manager, if they respected their management and trusted them, if they felt heard and appreciated, and if their thoughts/wants/needs were acted upon.

Of course, what we want to do is work with our existing employees to ensure they are happy, satisfied in their roles, can see advancement options, have control, are not deluged with work, have all the support they want and require, are rewarded appropriately – the list goes on. But a major consideration has to be the benefits to the firm itself in terms of the effort put in here and the results that are required in order to justify that ongoing intervention.

If you can deliver on this, there seems like a much greater chance of retaining staff, while being able to add in those required to meet the demand, which if we are honest, is something you are not going to wish to turn down. Instead, the focus has to be on the best way to meet it, and what can you do to ensure you have the engaged and productive staff to do so.

Nicky Heathcote, Chair of the Conveyancing Association (CA)

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