Is flexible working set to change?

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In July 2019, the government published the Good Work Plan: proposals for families setting out three separate consultations on improving employment rights for families.  One of those consultations considered flexible working, and particularly, whether employers should have a duty to consider if a job can be done flexibly.  The consultation closed in October 2019.

The government’s position was that it encouraged flexible working and it intended to consult on making it an employer’s default position. However, as with many things, the consultation was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The government has now launched a further consultation, Making flexible working the default, published on 23 September 2021.

What is the government consulting on?

The existing right to flexible working is available to employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service.  It gives the right to request flexible working for any reason, albeit the employee can only make one request in any 12 month period. The statutory procedure is set down in the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA).  It includes the requirement for the employer to formally respond in writing to the request within the decision period (three months).  It also clarifies that the employer can only refuse a request for one or more of the eight grounds set out in the ERA.

The government considered consulting on a “day one” right to flexible working.   This was, in fact, recommended by the government’s Flexible Working Taskforce (formed in February 2021), an advisory group made up of business associations, charities and trade unions.  If introduced, this would have effectively removed an employer’s right to turn down a request.

However, this was not considered achievable by the government, considering the wide variety of business models and individual needs.  The current system, where employers and employees have to discuss work requirements and individual needs and balance those, will therefore remain.  The government says it is keen to encourage genuine flexibility though, suggesting that the discussion should focus on what may be possible, rather than what is not.

The consultation, therefore, sets out five proposals for reshaping the existing framework:

- the right to request flexible working as a “day one” right;
- considering changes to the eight business reasons for refusing a request;
- requiring employers to suggest alternatives;
- changing the administrative process (including considering whether the three month decision period is still appropriate and if employees should be able to make more than one request in 12 months); and
- raising awareness of the right to request temporary flexible working arrangements.

The consultation closes on 1 December 2021. Should you wish to submit a response and give your views you can do that online: https://beisgovuk.citizenspace.com/lm/flexible-working/ or by emailing labourmarketparticipation@beis.gov.uk.

What happens to flexible working in the meantime?

Whilst the consultation does not necessarily indicate any drastic change to the system, it will still remain open for employers to refuse any flexible working request, and there are some important changes up for discussion. For example, a “day one” right to make the request and allowing employees to make more than one request in a 12 month period (to account for changing circumstances) could have a significant effect.  Until then, employees will continue to have and exercise their current rights under the ERA.

That said, a lot of employers are already embracing flexible working, going beyond current requirements.  It could be said that now the “new abnormal” is actually those workplaces where employees are required to work five days a week in the office, even though that is not strictly necessary for them to perform their roles.

Certainly, there is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how many of us work and how we think about flexible working.   Both employees and employers are recognising more readily the need for flexibility when balancing work and other commitments, such as childcare or family members who are unwell.  Whilst some of the pandemic working patterns were only ever meant to be temporary, and indeed some could not be sustained on a permanent basis, there can be no doubt that our eyes have now been opened to the possibility of a new approach to flexible working.

Are you embracing the new approach to flexible working?

We all recognise that remote and flexible working doesn’t necessarily work for everyone; your shop floor staff cannot work from home and sometimes the factory lines run at certain times and require staff to be present on those shifts accordingly.

However, there are a number of provisions and practices that employers and employees can take advantage of.  For example, many employers are using flexible working to give their employees a better work life balance, whilst achieving greater productivity in return when they are at work.  Hybrid working has become the norm for many, recognising that home working can be beneficial but that a ‘sense of team’ comes from everyone sometimes being together, bringing together their ideas, knowledge and skills for each other’s benefit.   Some have gone further, closing offices and working from home wholesale, to cut the unnecessary overheads.

Some employers are using remote working to allow them to recruit better quality candidates.  Businesses in those locations, where it has been traditionally harder to recruit, can now say, you don’t need to work from here, you can work from your home office.  Come and work for us anyway!

What should employers be doing now?

Whatever approach you choose, it’s important to put in place the right policies and procedures to manage flexible working, eg ensuring consistency when processing and dealing with applications, making sure that it suits the business as well as the employee, and confirming in writing clearly what the flexible working arrangements are and whether they are temporary or permanent.  If they are temporary, remember to review and update accordingly.

If the arrangements include home working, consider a home working policy and remember that you still have a duty of care towards those employees.  Make sure that you are carrying out appropriate assessments on their home work stations and ensure that they have all of the correct equipment.  It’s also good practice to have regular meetings to check in with your remote employees as it’s important to consider their wellbeing.

Conclusion

Regardless of the outcome of the current consultation, it seems that flexible working is fast becoming the “new normal” in many sectors and something that more and more employers will want to embrace in order to attract and retain the best talent. The Employment Team at Shakespeare Martineau is here to guide you through any challenges and changes to your policies and procedures that this entails.

Employment

We know that managing a workforce of any size can have its challenges, particularly in an era of increasing regulation where access to employment tribunals for those who are dissatisfied has never been easier. Get in touch with our expert employment team today.

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Women in agriculture event returns to the East Midlands

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More than 115 women attended this year’s Women in Agriculture event in the East Midlands – which was jointly sponsored and organised by law firm Shakespeare Martineau, international real estate advisors Savills, chartered accountants Forrester Boyd and the Lincolnshire Agricultural Society. 

Following its successful launch in 2019, the event – which gives guests the opportunity to meet like-minded women from the rural economy in the East Midlands – returned to the Lincolnshire Showground on Tuesday, 12 October. 

The event brought together women from all aspects of agriculture – from those who work on a small family farm to people in expansive agriculture organisations, as well as women who are new to the industry or who have built a career in farming – to hear from a variety of inspirational and topical speakers, share ideas, and meet others within the sector. 

Amy Cowdell, partner who specialises in agricultural property law at Shakespeare Martineau, helped to set up the Women in Agriculture group alongside Nicola Hunt from Forrester Boyd, Lucie Muddiman and Romina Llorente from Savills, and Sarah Duxbury from the Lincolnshire Agricultural Society. 

She said: “Demand for tickets to the first event in 2019 was overwhelming, which highlighted how much of a need there was for something like this in the region.  

“Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we were unable to host last year’s event, so we’re thrilled it was able to return in October following the implementation of multiple Covid-safe measures to ensure attendees were protected. 

“There are many talented women working across the agricultural sector in the East Midlands and I’m delighted this event has once again giving women in the industry a chance to have their voices heard, share their experiences with their peers and listen to inspirational speakers. 

Adventurer Holly Budge – founder of anti-poaching charity How Many Elephants – delivered this year’s inspirational keynote talk. Molly Biddell, policy analyst for Savills’ rural research team, and Helen Clarke, who, following the sudden death of her father in 2010, took on the management and oversaw the sale of her family’s 3,500-acre Lincolnshire arable farm, were the event’s topical speakers. 

Romina Llorente, associate director in the rural team at Savills Lincoln, said: “Not only did this event provide a platform from which we were able to shine a light on women in agriculture, but it also raised valuable funds for our chosen charity, How Many Elephants. 

“The event raised more than £1,000 and on behalf of all the sponsors, we would like to thank everyone for their fundraising efforts. This follows an initiative only last week where we raised over £1,500 for the same charity by challenging our head of office, Johnny Dudgeon, to tackle some of Alton Towers’ biggest rollercoasters which he duly executed. 

“As we heard from Holly Budge at the event, the plight of these incredible animals is a tragic example of mankind at its worst and it is our hope that the funds raised through these two events will help stem the tide and reverse the decline of Africa’s elephants. 

Due to increased demand, Shakespeare Martineau is continuing to expand its agricultural law team; in the past year, Amy, legal director Jennie Wheildon and solicitor Kimberley Brookes have joined the team – bringing with them more than 30 years combined experience in agricultural law.  

Amy added: “UK farming businesses have a vital role to play in levelling up Britain and as farmers look at ways to protect and enhance the environment while meeting consumer demands, it’s now more important than ever to ensure our sector is as diverse and balanced as possible.” 

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Amy specialises in agricultural property law, bringing more than 16 years’ experience.

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Immigration expert joins Shakespeare Martineau

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Law firm Shakespeare Martineau is growing its Lincoln presence and boosting its immigration legal offering with the appointment of Calum Hanrahan.

Calum, who joins as a solicitor, has more than six years’ experience in immigration law, working with individuals, families and businesses.

Specialising in personal immigration planning, which will be a new service offering for Shakespeare Martineau, Calum has helped many people successfully apply for British citizenship, as well as apply for visas for individuals, spouses and children, including working with those who have previously had applications refused.

Calum’s appointment follows a raft of new hires for Shakespeare Martineau in Lincoln, including the recent appointment of employment expert and partner Helen Molloy.

Calum said:

Calum_Hanrahan-circle
Having spent my entire career working in Lincolnshire, it’s an area close to my heart. Despite being such a large county it has a really close-knit community feel to it, where relationships mean a lot.

“I’m excited to bring a new service to the firm and work with the wider team, across corporate, employment and family law. Being able to tap into the expertise of hundreds of lawyers across our UK offices, as well as non-UK jurisdictional expertise through Multilaw membership, means that we really do bring something different to the local Lincolnshire market.

“I’ve been so impressed with the culture at Shakespeare Martineau and the ambitions it has and looks forward to raising our profile in Lincolnshire and the East Midlands.

Michael Squirrell, corporate partner at the Shakespeare Martineau Lincoln office, said: “Calum’s appointment adds another valuable string to our bow. For a long time our immigration team has specialised in supporting businesses; Calum brings another dimension to this, being able to deal with family immigration, including human rights immigration and applications for British citizenship.

“Not only are we expanding our service offering, but we also continue our investment in the Lincolnshire market, a region in which we see a lot of potential and have built a lot of traction since our opening in January.

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Michael is a corporate and commercial lawyer with particular passions for digital & tech, intellectual property and advising charities.

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Flood defence provision: what landowners need to know

Climate change has led to an increase in flooding incidents over recent years, making it more important than ever for landowners to protect their land and the interests of those around them.

However, the issue of when a landowner is responsible for flood defence provision, or when it falls to local or public authorities is often unclear. So, what are landowners’ obligations and what are their rights if they experience flood damage?

Increasing concern

A recent study by Greenpeace identified widespread problems throughout the national flood defence network. It highlighted that across the country in 2019/20, as many as 3,460 ‘high consequence’ assets were rated as being in a poor or very poor condition.

With resources becoming more stretched, the powers that public authorities wield to address flood risks are often balanced in favour of protection of homes rather than farmland. Consequently, this increasingly leaves landowners at risk.

Who is responsible for flood defences?

Individual landowners have duties known as ‘riparian’ duties. This regards the maintenance and upkeep of the watercourses forming the boundary to their property or running through their land.

Breach of these duties means that landowners can be found liable for flooding incidents on neighbouring land. Equally, whilst the common law recognises natural flooding as a ‘common enemy’, this does not allow the unreasonable diversion of flooding onto neighbouring land.

Other considerations for landowners

Landowners still have a measured duty to protect those surrounding them, which depend on several factors, including:

  • The topography and use of their land
  • The extent of the flooding risk to any neighbouring land
  • The foreseeability of any damage and the nature of any development of their land

Other factors to consider include whether water is stored or free-draining, and the effects of any manmade structures, such as drains or culverts.

When does responsibility fall to public authorities?

The Environment Agency (EA) can also hold responsibility for maintaining and managing watercourses, principally main rivers, and national flood risk management.  Local authorities and internal drainage boards are usually responsible for maintaining ordinary watercourses which are not privately owned.

It is difficult to establish liability against a public authority where their inactions (such as a failure to maintain) causes flooding.  This is because public authorities have powers rather than obligations, and their powers are weighted towards preservation and protection of homes and property.  However, there is currently no clear legal position surrounding when authorities are the owner of a watercourse and may be considered to have riparian duties.

It is possible for public authorities to be found liable for flooding where their actions have caused or exacerbated flooding risk. They may also be liable to pay compensation where their exercise of flood defence or drainage powers have caused flooding damage.

Seeking help

Any concerns around flood alleviation works, or the maintenance of watercourses, should be raised with the relevant public body at the earliest possible opportunity. As a landowner, seeking support from agricultural law specialists whilst doing so can help ensure you stay on the right side of the law.

Flooding is a threat that you will continue to contend with, so an understanding of your rights and obligations regarding water management affecting your land is crucial.

If you need advice or guidance on your obligations, or your rights if you have experienced flood damage on your land, then contact Jonathan Stork in our agricultural team.

Our agriculture team is ranked as a Leading Firm in the Legal 500 2021 edition.

Our updated guide to recovery and resilience covers everything you need to navigate your business out of lockdown, unlock your potential and make way for a brighter future. Further advice in relation to COVID-19 can be found on our dedicated coronavirus resource hub.  

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Firm News

Shakespeare Martineau continues Lincoln expansion with partner duo

Law firm Shakespeare Martineau welcomes two new partners to its Lincoln and East Midlands team as part of its growth strategy.

Employment law expert Helen Molloy joins on 1 June, with 17 years’ experience in employment law, HR and commercial matters, including military employment law (service complaints, medical discharges and disciplinary matters), high value cross-border commercial contracts and business turnaround advice.

Helen moves to Shakespeare Martineau after working in-house as group general counsel and HR director at a UK/US engineering group, where she was responsible for global HR and employment matters, commercial contracts and compliance across the group.

Amy Cowdell specialises in agricultural property law and joins the firm this summer, bringing with her more than 16 years’ experience in a variety of matters such as buying and selling farms and estates, agricultural tenancies and Agricultural Holdings Act tenancy matters, easements, bank security work, and advising on diversification projects such as commercial leases and selling land for development. Amy is also a leading figure in agricultural organisations across the East Midlands including Women in Agriculture and Nottinghamshire Rural Support.

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Shakespeare Martineau announced its expansion into Lincoln earlier this year, following the appointment of Michael Squirrell and Jonathan Stork, partners in the corporate and litigation teams, respectively.

Helen said: “I was attracted to Shakespeare Martineau because of its reputation and the genuine investment made in its people, with the consequential investment in its clients and the high level of service provided to them.

“Lincoln is a vibrant city, with diverse businesses and sectors, which makes it an exciting place to work as a lawyer. Alongside the 880-strong team at Shakespeare Martineau we’re able to offer clients a holistic service, with great strength and depth of knowledge in business growth and personal legal matters.

The full-service law firm supports businesses, professionals and their families as well as entrepreneurs such as the founders of Human Alchemy Dawn and Paul Barron, for whom the firm recently acted on the sale of Human Alchemy Limited to Lincoln College. Other deals for the newly formed Lincoln team include acting for Adam Price, the founder of Hatch Financial Planning, on the multi-million-pound sale to Octopus Group, as well as continuing work in a variety of commercial, agricultural and inheritance and estate disputes.

Duncan James, head of East Midlands region at Shakespeare Martineau said: “I am really pleased that Amy and Helen are joining us and helping to grow our team of experts in the area so quickly. This is just the start for us and we are on the lookout for further experts in the area to join our growing team.

Shakespeare Martineau is proactively seeking mergers, acquisitions, team recruitment and lateral hires in Lincoln, the East Midlands and nationally.

Helen Molloy: Partner FAQ

Helen_Molloy
Years of experience?

Qualified in 2004, I'll be 17 years qualified in September.

What are your specialisms?

Employment Law and Commercial Contracting. I was an Employment Lawyer for 14 years, working in Preston and Leeds before settling in Lincoln. I am able to go into a business and provide Employment and Commercial legal advice, having been involved in the management and strategy of the business as a statutory director in addition to having legal oversight.

What do you think is exciting about Lincolnshire business and the market in the county?

Lincoln is a vibrant city, with many diverse businesses of all sizes and in various markets.  From food & farming, manufacturing & engineering to tourism. It makes it an interesting market for us as lawyers to operate in.

What attracted you to Shakespeare Martineau? 

Its reputation. Particularly, the culture of being a truly diverse and family friendly law firm, with a genuine investment in its people, and the consequential investment in its clients and high level of service it provides to them.  Many businesses say they invest in their people, Shakespeare Martineau actually do it and I can't wait to be a part of that.

What do you hope to achieve while working with us? 

To be part of a team responsible for establishing and growing a Lincoln office with the ability to provide clients with a high quality one stop shop law firm locally.  Personally, to use my broader skills as a legal business advisor and to create a niche in the market over and above the standard employment lawyer offerings.

Amy Cowdell : Partner FAQ

Amy_Cowdell-circle
What attracted you to Shakespeare Martineau? 

The broad range of expertise and specialisms on offer that can service farmers and land owners throughout the East Midlands. A truly progressive dynamic law firm that is looking to break the mould from the conventional law firm. SHMA is people focussed, which I believe is the right strategy to create an exciting, vibrant and fun place to work.

What do you hope to achieve while working with us? 

I would like to build a leading agricultural team in the East Midlands area and create a one-stop shop with regard to legal services for farmers, landowners and the rural community.

What do you find interesting in your area of expertise and why can people across the firm refer work to you?

What I find most interesting is working with farmers. Once you've built up that trust with them it can be a really rewarding business relationship. In the majority of cases, their lives are devoted to the farm, which is inseparable from their family life.

 

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Deal

Shakespeare Martineau supports multimillion-pound acquisition of financial coaching business

The East Midlands corporate team at law firm Shakespeare Martineau supported Adam Price, the founder of financial planning firm Hatch Financial Planning, throughout a multimillion-pound acquisition by Octopus Group.

Hatch, which works with the likes of MoneySuperMarket, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Epson, and Experian in offering affordable expert financial coaching, will shortly rebrand to Octopus Moneycoach. Ambitious plans are in place to grow the business from 30 to 200 employees over the next two years and to bring financial coaching to the mass market, with both AI and human advice services available to customers.

As one of the UK’s fastest growing financial services companies, Octopus’s acquisition of Hatch will enable the business to reach a wider audience, helping even more people to access vital financial services. Partnering with other established financial advice businesses already housed within the Octopus Group, Octopus Moneycoach will focus on offering financial coaching and planning to the employees of businesses who are looking to further support their workforce.

Led by Lincoln-based corporate partner Michael Squirrell, the Shakespeare Martineau team supported Adam Price, the founder and CEO of Hatch, on all legal aspects of the transaction.

Of the transaction, Michael Squirrell, said: “Octopus Group is one of the UK’s fastest-growing companies, unafraid to invest in other entrepreneurially-minded businesses.  With Hatch being a leading player in the financial coaching market, the synergies between the businesses are clear and the sale of Hatch proves that there remain plenty of great investment opportunities out there.

“It was a pleasure to act for Adam on the sale, playing our small part in this important step forward on Hatch’s mission. The creation of Octopus Moneycoach to complement Octopus’s existing financial services businesses is the perfect next stage for Hatch.

Adam Price, founder and CEO of London-based Hatch, said: “There is a misconception that financial services are only for corporate giants and multi-millionaires. Hatch’s goal has always been to change attitudes towards financial planning, making it a simple and affordable process for everyone. Octopus Group shares this vision, having consistently championed financial advice, making it a natural partner for Hatch.

“I am hugely grateful to Michael and the rest of the corporate team at Shakespeare Martineau, whose expertise and guidance made the acquisition as smooth as possible.

The Shakespeare Martineau team involved in the acquisition comprised Michael Squirrell, Oliver Gutman, Sam Naunton, Oscar Ciaurro and Tait Grundy.

Contact us

For any further information contact Michael Squirrell or another member of our corporate team.

Our corporate team is ranked as a Leading Firm in the Legal 500 2021 edition.

Our updated guide to recovery and resilience covers everything you need to navigate your business out of lockdown, unlock your potential and make way for a brighter future. Further advice in relation to COVID-19 can be found on our dedicated coronavirus resource hub.  

From inspirational SHMA Talks to informative webinars, we also have lots of educational and entertaining content for life and business. Visit SHMA® ON DEMAND.

How can we help?

Our expert lawyers are ready to help you with a wide range of legal services, use the search below or call us on: 0330 024 0333

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Shakespeare Martineau launches in Lincoln with two partner hires

Shakespeare Martineau is establishing a new presence in Lincolnshire as part of the firm’s growth strategy, with two newly appointed partners providing a face for the brand locally.

Jonathan Stork joins on 1 February from Wilkin Chapman and has more than 13 years’ experience in litigation and dispute resolution, with particular expertise in contested trust and probate work, disputes within the agricultural sector and commercial litigation.

Corporate and commercial lawyer Michael Squirrell has already joined the firm and brings with him extensive knowledge of the Lincoln market and 12 years’ experience. Michael has particular passions for digital and tech, intellectual property and trade marks and advising charities.

Michael said: “What Shakespeare Martineau offers clients is the best of both worlds: establishing a Lincoln presence combines local knowledge with the backing of more than 850 experts nationally. This scale and full-service approach means we can help take local businesses to the next level and are almost unlimited in the legal support we can offer; as well as supporting people through key life milestones.

“I was initially attracted to Shakespeare Martineau’s reputation for excellence. And after meeting people across the teams, it was clear to me that it is a firm that really focusses on people and clients, living and breathing its values – rather than these being an aspirational list or a ‘tick box’ exercise.

“I've spent my working life being inspired by entrepreneurs and innovators and feel like I can put that knowledge into practice with the Lincoln branch opening, and drive growth for Shakespeare Martineau in Lincoln.”

With existing offices in Nottingham, Leicester, Sheffield, Birmingham, Stratford-upon-Avon, Solihull, London, Milton Keynes and Glasgow – servicing both local and national clients – the firm is planning a brick and mortar presence in the area to serve its Lincolnshire clients.

The appointments follow the announcement of growth ambitions and plan to double in size by 2023. The appointments are just the start for the firm as it is committed to growing the team in Lincoln and strengthening its presence in the area. With a view to providing a holistic service to Lincoln-based clients, Shakespeare Martineau will also be welcoming a new Lincoln-based partner in the employment team soon.

Duncan James, East Midlands’ regional head, said: “We work with several clients in Lincoln already, including those in the education, tech, energy and agriculture sectors – so it's a no brainer to have an on-the-ground presence.

“Lincolnshire holds a lot of potential, and our clients will benefit from a local presence as well as the backing of our wider teams in energy, education, agriculture, fast-growing businesses and wealth management, to name just a few.

“We’re really excited to have Jonathan and Michael joining us, and we look forward to growing the Lincoln team further.”

Getting to know Michael Squirrell…
Why do you think the Lincolnshire market, in particular, provides such an array of opportunities?

While steeped in tradition and home to household names and brands, there are also many hugely successful newer businesses making names for themselves nationally – whether in established markets such as farming, manufacturing, retail and food, or in more developing and nascent tech, digital and e-commerce markets.

There are some truly inspiring entrepreneurs, business owners and professional service firms in the county who are a pleasure to work with.

What attracted you to Shakespeare Martineau?

I'm really excited that the firm shares the same vision for Lincoln - a forward-thinking, inclusive, people-focused office which strives for excellence and unparalleled client service and a place where people want to come and work.

What are the top three highlights of your career so far? 
  1. Working with a highly respected European law firm as English counsel on the UK aspects of a reorganisation of a multinational automotive manufacturing company.
  1. Completing the sale of a distressed e-commerce business in a very tight timescale, where the failure to meet the deadline would have been extremely serious for the majority shareholder, on both a business and personal level. 
  1. And of course, joining such a prestigious firm as Shakespeare Martineau! Especially having the opportunity to open a new office in a city in which I love living and working. 
What has it been like joining a new firm during the pandemic?

As a solicitor, I’m in the fortunate position that homeworking is a very valid option – I’m able to support clients and liaise with other professional service firms and colleagues by video or phone without disruption. 

I’ve been made to feel very welcome at the firm and included as part of the team from the outset – video technology has probably allowed me to ‘meet’ more colleagues from multiple locations already than I would ever have managed outside of a lockdown! That said, nothing compares to seeing people in person, so when it is safe to do so I’m looking forward to travelling to our other offices to meet new colleagues face to face.

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