Working outside the usual boxes

How Sun Life Financial’s legal team modernized how and where they work.

Working outside the  usual boxes

 In September, Sun Life celebrated the official opening of its new global home in the dynamic south core financial district at One York Street in Toronto. For our legal team, this move was a catalyst for change — an opportunity to rethink how and where we work and to ensure we were set up for success today and into the future.

Historically, our legal team was operating in a very traditional space, with lawyers in exterior offices and other employees and teams in windowless cubicles. Although the environment around us was changing, we continued to be in the same office, working on the same floor, consuming a lot of paper and with very little space for collaboration.  

When we learned we were moving to One York, the emphasis was just as much on health, wellness and sustainability as it was on packing our boxes. We knew that One York afforded us an opportunity to modernize our systems, increase collaboration, streamline our processes and reduce paper dependence, while adopting more agile and mobile workstyles.

As we prepared for the move, we learned that most of our lawyers spent a fair bit of time away from their offices, collaborating with colleagues and business partners. We discovered that, as an organization, we were working in a space that was 90 per cent dedicated to individual workspaces, with about 40 per cent of that space unoccupied at any given time. On top of that, based on feedback from the team, we knew that in order to achieve our mission of providing proactive and strategic solutions for our business partners, the new design needed to provide space for privacy, deep focus and collaboration — both planned and unplanned. It also needed to make better use of technology and support the health and wellness of our people.

Armed with all of this information, we established four key principles to ensure we designed a workplace that addressed the needs of our team:

• Keep the legal team together on one floor;

• Build an open-concept, collaborative space with no designated offices and lots of natural light;

• Provide private spaces for deep focus, confidential conversations and meetings;

• Be supported by technology.

So that’s exactly what we did. Our legal team worked together to transition to a more open and agile workplace — one that offers employees more choice and flexibility in how and where they work, fosters collaboration and supports our high-performance culture. We are among the first in-house teams in Canada to operate without designated offices. 

At One York, our new space allows us to leverage digital technology, take advantage of a treadmill workstation and move from sitting to standing with the touch of a button at our desks, all of which supports Sun Life’s commitment to health and wellness. It has also reshaped our thinking and behaviour to reduce our environmental impact. Leveraging technology, reducing the amount of energy we use at peak times and using less paper are just a few things we are doing to keep sustainability top-of-mind.

However, we didn’t stop there. We also identified new digital tools to support our mandate to be less paper-reliant and more efficient. We implemented a new matter/case management system that replaced outdated technology. This has enabled us to be more agile and significantly reduced our paper consumption. Continuing to ride the wave of change and continuous improvement, we initiated other initiatives such as streamlining our invoicing process. This alone saw us reduce our paper usage by 85 per cent and enhanced our productivity by being able to redeploy resources through efficiencies achieved. We also reduced our paper files by 78 per cent — down to 225 from 1,004 drawers. There were a lot of purge days and pizza lunches.

At its core, the move to One York was about creating a space that fosters innovation and collaboration while promoting a healthy and sustainable workplace — a workplace tied to our brand and high-performance culture. Our highly engaged legal team embraced its role in leading the change. The team’s willingness to adapt to this new workstyle places us on the right path to support Sun Life’s purpose of helping our clients achieve lifetime financial security and live healthier lives.

Trish Callon is senior vice president and general counsel, Sun Life Financial Canada. Appointed to the role in 2014, she is responsible for the legal affairs of the company’s Canadian businesses and leads the legal team that supports those businesses.



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