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Why London is no longer the hub of PR talent

Big businesses of all stripes like insurers Aviva, investment bankers JP Morgan and outsourcers Capita, to name but a few, have all come out in favour in recent months of long-term hybrid working for their staff.

The circumstances differ from firm to firm, but most are allowing their staff to work from home the majority of the week while committing to spending a day or two in the office.

According to the ONS, nearly half of all working adults worked remotely last year, compared 5% in 2019, much of this obviously down to Covid.

Businesses are also happy to let their staff choose working routines that can accommodate more realistically the demands of life and work. For parents with childcare needs, or others with different long-term responsibilities outside of work, this is a godsend.

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs is one of the few big names that’s very publicly insisting that its staff return full time to the office.

Flexible working is productive

Goldman’s aside, the decision to encourage flexible working is hardly surprising. Research has shown it boosts productivity, saves time and energy (and for employees a lot of costs) that would have been wasted commuting to work.

My firm is an advocate of flexible working and has been since we launched. Comfortable with working collaboratively over common IT platforms, we also don’t want to waste time, money and precious environmental resources forcing colleagues to slog into London every day.

We feel that by encouraging truly flexible working, we create opportunities to work with colleagues who are fantastic at what they do, but don’t want to live in or near to London. As a consequence, we have staff who live in Shropshire, Worcestershire, deepest Essex, and, in one case, Nairobi. And it works really well.

Working outside of London

Long before the pandemic, we worked with clients on Zoom and Teams and this will continue. But we also recognise the importance of face-to-face meetings, so we’ll be planning to reintroduce these for clients in a way that is most effective for everyone.

Of course, when a client wants us to be in London, we’ll make sure we are in London. But we would never ask colleagues to be at a desk in W1 for the sake of it. It just doesn’t make sense, particularly as the majority of our clients aren’t based in London themselves.

Trust is key

Part of this is about trust. We trust our staff and treat them like independent, resourceful adults. They work really, really hard and they don’t need some Victorian boss with a top hat and a pocket watch scanning the factory floor to make sure their noses are held firmly to the grindstone.

Research into employee attitudes bears out the benefits from giving staff autonomy over their working regimes. In return for autonomy, they work extremely hard and as a result everyone benefits. It is no coincidence we have trebled in size in the last year alone.

Yes, we’ve just signed a lease on a smart new office in the West End because we also recognise that clients and staff still want somewhere to meet in person. And we are going to ensure the whole firm gets together there regularly so we can exchange ideas and get to know each other better, which fosters stronger team bonds and builds esprit de corps.

But we’re never going to insist any of our team bases themselves at the office permanently. If there’s one thing Covid has shown us, it is that technology has made this entirely unnecessary.

Written by Tom Buchanan, founder of agency Paternoster Communications
Read more about PR and WFH here.

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