Interview: In conversation with Alison Colley from Real Employment Law Advice
This interview was first published in the November edition of “Tech Talk“, our new regular printed newsletter. If you would like to receive a copy of future editions, send us a message with your address and we’ll get one out to you.
Andrew talks to Alison from Real Employment Law Advice about how they have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and how they have continued to service their customers’ needs.
What does IT mean to Real Employment law Advice?
When I set up the business in 2013, I wanted to ensure that I took advantage of utilising IT in the business in ways that traditional law firms were not doing. I was keen to avoid having hefty paper files and to find more efficient ways of working using IT.
Everything was cloud-based from the outset and because I worked from home and would travel around for meetings in different locations it meant that I could effectively work from anywhere.
As the business grew, and even with a dedicated full-time office, I continued to invest in IT and cloud-based systems.
For me IT is integral to the future of the provision of professional services and it has enabled me to grow the business and provide services to customers all over the UK.
What impact has the current pandemic had on your business?
Whilst I have been used to working with remote systems and having a ‘remote base’ in Salisbury I had always maintained an element of in person contact, having regular meetings with my colleague Miranda Amos in Salisbury or she would come to the Isle of Wight or we would meet somewhere in the middle for regular catch ups.
However, having not been able to see colleagues in the flesh for several months it started to shift my view on recruitment and ways of working. So, when I was contacted by a solicitor with good quality employment experience based in Durham, I didn’t immediately dismiss the thought of having another colleague working remotely, but this time so far away from our Head Office.
What the pandemic and lockdown has taught me was that we can in fact work very effectively without having close geographical proximity, because most of our customers are now very used to working with technology and having meetings via Teams or Zoom, and not having that face-to-face in person contact, it actually meant we could bring someone into the business even though they are not based in the South.
I met with Kayleigh via Teams and thought that she was a fantastic fit for the business, however I did have a moment of thinking, will it work with this person based so far away in what is possibly one of the furthest cities away from our office on the Isle of Wight.
I rationalised it by thinking that we have not actually seen any other colleagues even those based 3 miles away on the Isle of Wight in person for three months, so having a colleague based far away wouldn’t make a huge amount of difference to the way that we are working anyway. Nor should it make any difference for our customers, many of whom are based throughout the UK and with whom we never have (in person) face-to-face contact with anyway.
I truly believe that despite having the systems and processes in place and being very forward thinking we would not have taken the leap to bring Kayleigh into the business had it not been for the pandemic and lockdown. We probably would have dismissed the idea without even meeting her because of her location.
In addition, it has also meant that customers are looking further afield for advice and support, and rather than focusing on those firms who are geographically nearby they are instead looking for expertise and recommendations first.
What IT changes have you made in your business during 2020?
We have utilised Microsoft Teams when previously we had rarely used it! We use it for maintaining contact with each other and for video calls with customers. I find it a lot easier to use than setting up Zoom meetings as they can be arranged simply using the outlook calendar.
We have also started using GoCardless as a method for taking payments and automating our billing. With customers based all over the UK now we find that it has streamlined our processes and has cut down the time between raising an invoice and receiving payment, thereby greatly improving cash flow.
Have Real Employment Law Advice embraced any new technology during this time?
Prior to the pandemic I always had plans to run webinars for our customers but face-to-face events always took precedence and I suppose I was procrastinating somewhat over it. The lockdown meant that I had no choice but to embrace webinars via Zoom to continue to provide that added value to our HR Harbour customers.
Following the leap into doing online webinars I have also embraced the use of recordings in PowerPoint. Of course, I was familiar with PowerPoint before but had never had cause to use the recording function before. Since learning to use it I have been able to create a number of update videos for the website and our YouTube channel.
What technology has made the biggest difference to the way Real Employment Law Advice operates?
The implementation of our Case Management system ‘Leap’ has made a huge difference to the way we work and has made it much easier for us all to collaborate whilst working remotely. Fortunately, we made the investment and transition to Leap late last year so we were all up to speed with the system before the lockdown came in March.
What would be your ‘Top Tech Tip’ for other businesses?
Surround yourself with experts who know what they are doing and can help you implement technology into your business. It is very easy to try to save money and ‘do it yourself’ but it can only lead to more cost in the long run.
The foundation of our business is our IT equipment and I am very grateful to be able to call upon the team at Wight Computers to solve any issues the team may have, wherever they are based in the UK. It has made my life so much easier to be able to simply say to any of my team, “please call Wight Computers” rather than trying to muddle through myself attempting to fix IT issues!
We’ll be interviewing another local business owner in the next edition of “Tech Talk” along with exclusive articles on the latest technology (in plain human speak) and ways you can better use technology to build and grow your business. If you would like to receive a copy, send us a message with your address and we’ll add you to our list.