PRmoment.comPRmoment GLOBAL

The realities of flexible working in Public Relations

14th November 2018


The idea of working from home may fill you with horror, or be your ultimate dream, depending on how much you love office life, and whether your prefer to separate work from your home. For some, the ideal solution is spending the occasional day at home, whilst others prefer to work from home all the time and have no desire to be stuck in an office, and certainly don’t miss the horrors of a daily commute. We speak to PROs from companies who offer the flexibility of working from home, those who work for virtual agencies and freelancers to find out the pros and cons of home working

Flexible office workers

Working from home allows you to focus, but you miss human interaction says Louise Chandler, PR and communications manager at healthcare company Hartford Care: “The working environment can really have an impact on the quality and quantity of work you produce.

“When you’re working from home, you can avoid distractions that normally take place in the office such as colleagues wandering past for a chat and the phones ringing, to name a few! When I work from home, I can enjoy the quiet solitude to focus and tackle some tricky, time-consuming tasks and often it feels good to tick things off the to-do list. I actually think that working from home all of the time isn’t a healthy approach because you miss out on communicating in person.

“I think there are advantages to working in an office environment, surrounded by friendly faces who can help and assist you. Whenever I need to do some problem solving, brainstorming or ask a question – it’s easy to ask for help because sometimes an email (when you work from home), just isn’t the same. In an industry like PR it is good to still have human contact and interactions with the team and the office environment is ideal for that!”

Allowing some work from home is good for the business says Carl Thomson, director at public affairs consultancy Interel: “The key thing is reasonableness. There can be sometimes be a reluctance to allow working from home because of concern that it will be misused, but if you have the proper team and the right degree of trust then that shouldn’t be a worry.

“People lead busy, complicated lives and allowing them to work from home when they have, say, a doctor or dentist appointment in the middle of the day doesn’t just make for a less stressful workplace, but can be more productive, since staff don’t need to travel back into the office during the middle of the day.

“Allowing people to work from home occasionally can also be effective, for example, if they’ve got a big report to prepare and don’t want any distractions. Obviously, you’ll want to monitor to make sure it’s not being abused. It’s not unfair to ask someone who’s working from home to send an outline of what they’ll be doing.

“More senior staff may have childcare emergencies and it’s churlish not to recognise that they may need a bit of flexibility. With regards to childcare, employers should remember that there are also statutory obligations to fairly consider alternative working patterns when requested.”

Pros and cons of home working for employers

Suggested by Alex MacLaverty, COO of PR agency Hotwire:

Pros

  • Allows access to a wider and more diverse talent pool.
  • Many people find it more productive without office distractions.
  • Provides a better work-life balance which is very important for attracting and keeping talent and a happy team.
  • It can make dealing with lots of timezones much more pleasant if you don’t have to be in the office at 7am or 10pm for a call with Australia!

Cons

  • You have to have a great team you can trust not to get distracted doing the washing, etc! It can also be hard to monitor poor performance from afar.
  • You need great technology and processes so remote workers stay connected and contactable. Poor internet or a noisy builder next door can ruin a whole day.
  • It can be easy to work longer hours, miss meals, etc, without office buddies reminding you to take a break.
  • Sometimes junior team members find it harder to learn if their team is not physically present. Making sure these on-the-job learning opportunities aren’t missed is crucial.

Views from virtual agencies

Virtual offices allow you to increase your pool of talent says Brendon Craigie, co-founder of agency Tyto PR: "The greatest barrier to having the best talent working for you is location. If you remove the requirement for people to have to be within a commutable distance to an office location, suddenly you multiply your potential pool of talent. At the same time, you also deliver incredible social good by allowing people not to have to decide between whether they want to have an ambitious career or a dream personal life.

“The notion that the office is the centre of gravity is becoming a thing of the past. Rather than choosing the office-first approach, businesses are increasingly opting for the remote-first approach. Our location-agnostic model means we don't mind where people work as we effectively all work remotely. When everyone is remote, no one feels remote."

Parents particularly benefit from the flexibility says Pam Lyddon, founder of agency Bright Star Digital: “I work from home as do the people who work for me, we have a team of freelancers around the country each with their own specialisms aka super powers…

“I employ predominantly parents so it works well for us as a team and a company. I feel I get the best from my team as they are able to be very flexible for their families and in turn it makes for a happy and content work life balance. It’s our 10th year next year and its worked very well, I doubt I will ever change it. It’s the future.” 

Virtual workers are less restricted says Vanessa Munnings, founder of agency Leopard Print PR: “Operating a virtual office, working from home and commissioning a team of trusted freelance consultants to work with me, our clients are in no doubt they are always our priority, plus we don’t have any costly overheads, so we can offer better value for money.

“I am also much happier and I know those who work for me are too. We are not restricted by the nine to five. I’ve worked in office before where it’s a competition to see who is in the office first and who leaves last. As long as those who work for me deliver what they need to, when they need to, and they are available for the client when they are needed, we are all happy.

“One might say that a downside of home working is that you are always on duty and it’s true, but in reality, weren’t we always when we were office-based anyway? The media is 24/7 so we are too. But when you have a passion for what you do, how is that a problem? My phone is always on and you may find me working at my desk in my nightwear at obscure times, but `I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Working remotely is win-win, for clients and PROs says Angie Wiles, founder of agency the Difference Collective: “I am unashamedly biased in my belief that the benefits of virtual working are plentiful for consultants – autonomy, empowerment, personal and professional fulfilment, to name but a few. And yet, the benefits of an agile workforce are no less momentous or transformative for clients. Clients get custom-built teams that are passionate, committed, supremely talented and genuinely want to work on their business. Teams of people that are highly productive and for whom quality and timely delivery of the output matters more than the hours of the day or night in which it is created. And far from limiting access, our virtual office is ‘open’ well beyond the standard hours of a traditional agency and through our network, we are able to mobilise senior expertise at very short notice.

“For me, technology now means work is very much an activity not a place! I for one spend far more time Zooming and pinging with teams discussing the great work we are doing together rather than spending hours locked up in an office reached by a long and soul-destroying commute.”

Freelance perspective

“I am more productive and better off”, says Laura Sutherland, chief at Aura PR: “Just over a year ago, I moved my office back to my house. I worked out that I spent less than a third of my week in the office, as I met clients at their office and met other people at coffee shops.

“It was nice to ‘have an office’, but when you work out the financials and the time saved not having to commute, it’s a no-brainer. I’m so much more productive and better off. I have a dedicated office in my house, which I refurbished to suit my needs and interior desires (I love interior design). I think it’s so important to have the right working environment. I only use three rooms in the house during my working day; office, kitchen and the loo! The other rooms are ‘out of bounds’, as they are for my personal space and living.

“I have a good routine and I stick to it. I also make a point of getting out and about for catch-ups, so I have a different environment.

“With tools such as Trello and Slack, I have an effective way of working with my clients. It shows you don’t need to be in a specific location to get the word done.”

Professional presence may be critical, but physical presence isn’t says Vicki Harper, PR and social media freelancer and digital lead at The Difference Collective: “I have worked from home for the past three years – eight if you count the agency roles I have had where one day at least was working from home – and it feels as though it’s hit a purple patch. 

“Where once there might have been an eye-rolling reflex response to flexible working practices, there’s now a wholesale wider-minded approach, where accessing the right talent is preferable to whether they actually have their bottom on an office seat. Professional presence is critical, but day-in, day-out physical presence not so much. I no longer feel as though I have to make an excuse or feel as though I have sold-out. I am proud of the fact that I have made working from home.

“Common sense must prevail. Client service can’t be compromised and nor can a commitment to nurturing new talent – it’s important for home-based workers to recognise when it’s necessary to be in a room: structured client communications, video conference calls, weekly reporting and face-to-face time for important planning, inter-agency, wrap meetings, coaching and training.”

It is good to have some time in offices says Nikki Alvey, owner of Media Hound PR: “As a freelancer I’m based 100% from my home office and I must admit, I find it incredibly handy as I’m able to write in peace and quiet without the constant interruptions of an office environment. The same goes for when I’m pitching on the phone and I’m able to give it 100% focus. For any collaboration I use conference calls or face-to-face chats over Skype which is great.

“That said, there are benefits of being in an office environment too – so I make sure to pop over to my clients’ offices monthly and work from there, or attend meetings with them – or their customers. This helps to feel a real part of the team and I think it gives me an edge – I’m able to really get under the skin of my clients’ business by spending valuable time with them.”

The reason it is so easy to work from home these days is because of the freedom technology gives you to interact with clients and colleagues without actually having to be in the same room. But despite the wonders of virtual technologies, sometimes it is nice to be surrounded by others. As with all things, there is always a catch. Working from home offers you freedom, but it can be lonely sometimes. And there is no IT department on hand when the technology stops working!

Written by Daney Parker+, Editor, PRmoment.com



© 2018 - PRmoment. All Rights reserved. Company registration no. 6651850

Website design & build by CHIEF