Gender Equality Awards 2016: Transforming Cultures Award - Herbert Smith Freehills LLP

Working Smarter - Agile Working

The fact that agile working cultures are good for the attraction and retention of women (30% Club) and so this was a practical 'here and now' measure in support of gender targets
Future-proofing the firm in relation to the Millennials who have greater expectations for flexibility and work life balance. Creating competitive advantage in the recruitment and retention of top talent Achieving a greater return on investment on technology by increasing the use of IT to support remote working

The early adopter programme was championed by a Managing Partner and by the UK/US Executive who identified nine practice groups to be early adopters of WfH for a period of three months in March 2015.  

The early adopter implementation was led by the Head of HR and Head of Diversity and Inclusion with the Managing Partner as the Champion, and support from the Communication, IT and Learning and Development teams. The nine Heads of Group were asked by the Executive to lead it for their Practice Group. HR worked closely with the Heads of Group to develop guidance, with each agreeing a way of coordinating and communicating the WfH arrangements to their Group. Heads of Group led the presentations to their teams and also agreed to WfH themselves in order to role model the concept. IT teams evaluated the technology available and ensured the guidance was promoting what was already available to employees.  

The early adopter groups were made up of 48% women and 52% men, with both genders participating equally in the programme. 93% of women compared to 83% of men said the ability to work from home was very or somewhat important. This confirms that the initiative does support commitment to gender balance and is a practical action that can be taken in support of gender targets to increase women in the partnership to 30% by 2019, 25% by 2017. 

It is an example of introducing an initiative because of diversity, but that actually benefits everyone.


  • A survey of the early adopters and a review of chargeable hours data found that: 
  • 75% said they were more productive as a result  
  • 80% said they were able to perform certain types of work better at home
  • 88% of respondents said working from home was somewhat or very important 
  • 89% reported improved work life balance
  • Technology was not a barrier to WfH 
  • Only 6% experienced a negative attitude from Partners (previously perceived as barriers to WfH)
  • There was no reduction in chargeable hours  

Qualitative feedback included: 

“Working from home has become the norm and not just something that females/mothers do, which is great.”

“I save two hours commute each day which I share between family time and work time.”

These findings were first reported to the Executive, which agreed to roll-out WfH across the London office, and then to the Global Executive and the EMEA Executive and as a result work is now underway on global implementation.

Engaging the practice groups in the early adopter approach was important in securing engagement for small scale change that had potential for easy replication, and created internal sponsors to promote the initiative for wider implementation. A number of Partner 'converts' have spoken about how they were initially sceptical but that they are now advocates of agile working.

Next steps include:
Profiling of early adopter role models to illustrate benefits and impact to support global implementation
Monitoring the impact of the programme via the work life balance questions in the annual UK Diversity Audit and the Global Engagement Survey