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In conversation with Moira Slape

Overview

People have always been at the heart of Travers Smith. In this interview, our HR Director, Moira Slape, discusses how she and her team have been supporting Travers Smith and its people since the start of the pandemic and why looking after each other and nurturing a supportive and inclusive culture is now more important than ever.

2020 was a year like no other - a very busy and demanding time for you as Travers Smith's HR Director. Can you tell us about the key issues you had to deal with during 2020?

Clearly the global pandemic has dominated my work in 2020. HR's contribution to the firm's response started in February when it was evident that the virus was heading towards the UK.

Aside from the reactive nature of my role during the crisis in ensuring that the HR, Graduate Recruitment and Learning & Development teams, whom I lead, have continued to deliver not just 'business as usual', but also adapting their service to remote working, my role on the firm‘s Partnership Board has meant that I have had to manage my time smartly. I have had to balance my own delivery against the backdrop of partners wanting, quite rightly, more of my time given that the care and support of our people has been paramount and at the top of our agenda.

Another key issue has been responding quickly enough, but with real thought, to the changes in Government guidance. Working alongside our Managing Partner, David Patient, Disaster Recovery Partner, Tim Gilbert, Director of Facilities, Paul Way and Head of HR, Carly Hubbard, we have had to be agile and on the front foot to reassure our people and to respect the wishes of the Government.

Finally, like everyone else in the firm, I have had to consider the needs and wants of my family, ensuring that I also think about my own health and wellbeing.

What did you have to do to ensure that your team was able to successfully react to the challenges thrown by the pandemic and continue to operate as smoothly as possible?

I have had the amazing support of my broader team which has stepped up to the challenges of the pandemic and the resulting needs of everyone in the firm. Transparency has been crucial to ensure that my team has understood not just the strategic direction of the firm but also my own priorities, worries and challenges.

I have sought to over communicate, maintain one-to-one contact regardless of the role each team member performs, and to provide clarity of thinking. The team has had to dig deep at times, work long hours, and maintain a level of service and responsiveness whilst working remotely. I am very, very proud of how everyone in the team has responded with smiles on their faces.

How did you support people at Travers Smith?

I hope that people across the firm would say that my team (and I personally) have stepped up to provide one-to-one support where that has been needed and continues to be the case.

We have implemented policies as a response to the pandemic and these have been produced far quicker than would normally be the case. That has been challenging given that we have been working to very tight timeframes with little time for the normal amount of consultation amongst the partners.

Working closely with our management team, David Patient and Kathleen Russ, I have remained committed to ensuring that the communication from the firm's leadership has been consistent, timely and informative.

Our discussions with the employee committees have been integral in ensuring that we continue to be true to the firm's core values and the needs of everyone in the firm.

While the pandemic has understandably put an emphasis on people's physical health, its impact on mental health and wellbeing cannot be underestimated. How important is the issue of mental health and wellbeing during the crisis like this?

Those I work most closely with in the firm know that mental health and wellbeing is, and always has been, a genuine passion of mine. It became even more so when my sister experienced her own fight with severe depression four years ago, and she still struggles from time to time. Through my learning, relationships with other HR Directors, and my personal experience with my sister, responding to the issue of people's mental health and wellbeing has been at the top of my agenda throughout the pandemic and remains so. As a team, we have drawn on a number of amazing and talented therapists who have supported people when needed. We have also used our intranet to promote a range of services and initiatives, as well as promoting on a regular basis helpful and relevant health and wellbeing resources.

What are you top mental health and wellbeing tips for people?

  • Try to maintain a non-negotiable – something that you will try to stick to every day (as far as possible) that takes you away from the screen.
  • Remember that it is a marathon and not a sprint – something which I have to remember at times!
  • Remember that, from a wellbeing perspective, what works for a friend or colleague might not work for you. Do not judge your own approach on that of others.
  • Don’t delay talking to someone if the going gets tough. A problem shared is a problem halved.

What did you learn about Travers Smith during this challenging time?

This year has only reinforced the wonderful and genuine spirit and culture that runs through the firm. People have come together, supported one another, listened to each other, and maintained the highest level of client service which Travers Smith is known for.

Through daily emails from a range of our people sent to the firm during the first six months of the crisis, we have all gained an insight into the daily lives of our colleagues during the pandemic, and got to know each other better at a personal level as a result. The fact that we could share our experiences, challenges and give each other encouragement in this way, has only reinforced what makes Travers Smith a special place to work.

What did you learn about yourself, both from a professional and personal perspective, during this time?

I think it would be fair to say that no HR Director would have dreamed that they would be supporting the leadership of their organisation or leading an HR service in response to a global pandemic of this scale. There have certainly been many times when I have reflected on my own performance and resilience over the past year. I have always assumed that I am a good delegator, yet I have learned that delegating smartly and with courage is a real skill in sharing the responsibility and the burden of a significant workload.

Drawing on the combined strengths of the broader team has not only enabled me to deliver for the firm (I hope people see it that way!), but to also keep me sane in the more stressful moments that the pandemic has presented.

The pandemic has also taught me to draw on my strengths as much as possible and to leverage the different strengths that my direct reports have.

 

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