How, when and if PR is returning to the office post-pandemic

As we come to the end of our last lockdown (fingers crossed), we find out how PR teams are preparing to get back to the office and how office life will be different from before. That is for those who are going back to an office…  

Planning is key
Richard Peters, operations director at digital fan engagement experts Snack Media: “We are fortunate that our teams have adapted well to working from home, good news in the short term, but coaching and mentoring in person is an important part of anyone’s development so our return to the office has been carefully planned.

“We have worked closely with our office landlords and health and safety professionals to get the correct office protocols in place and accounted for likely commuting environments. Staff rotas for a phased return to the office one or two days a week are set up to allow for social distancing. Processes have been circulated to managers, and all staff can confidentially speak to their managers or our counselling service if they have specific safety concerns. “After a year out of the office, we look forward to welcoming our teams to the office with the social interaction and professional development they need, but in a protected environment.” 

There is a rotation system at first 
Natasha Hill, managing director at PR agency Bottle: “Since moving offices over Christmas, the team haven’t been able to visit their new ‘home’. We’re hoping to be able to start to welcome small groups back, on a rotation basis, sometime in April or May. By the middle of June, we should be able to start our ‘new normal’ – three days in the office and two days working from home for the whole agency.  

“Our culture has been pretty resilient in part because for the whole of 2020, our team remained intact – no joiners and no leavers. We could lean on the trust, established ways of working, friendship and cultural habits – just with a screen between us. This year, we’ve hired new team members with no past experience of culture to rely on.   

It’s hard to put your finger on what’s missing, but we’re all looking forward to a big dose of ‘that thing’ when we can all be together again.” 

Things will be the same, but different 
Laura Owen, COO of agency Mongoose Sport and Entertainment: “Whilst the team are itching to get back to the office in some capacity, we are following the government guidance which means it’s unlikely we’ll be back at our desks for a few months. However, this last year has certainly changed the way we look at office life and the merits of both home and office working. Remote working has gifted hours of lost commuting time back to many of our staff members and also generated more flexibility in the working day, so it is safe to say that the trend of flexible working will certainly continue beyond Covid-19.  

“Our current view is that the office will become a hub for creativity, brainstorming and innovation whilst other work can be written at home if preferred. Smaller breakout areas at the heart of the office for collaboration and hot desking will be essential for this. We are however, a communications agency and thrive on human contact and relationships – this will never change!” 

We will take it slowly 
Mike Ellis, founder of conversion rate optimisation agency 43 Clicks North: "I don’t believe the fully remote working life is here to stay, at least, not as it is at the moment. Covid-19 highlighted the need for employers to be more flexible with remote working and that is a good thing, without a doubt. Today’s society needs to embrace more flexibility and a hybrid home/office working policy is the way to go. 

“Ultimately, however, I don’t think anything can replace the ability to bounce ideas off each other in-person, or the spark of inspiration you get from overhearing a conversation in an office. We are lucky as we get the keys to our new office in line with the government easing the restrictions. This means there is plenty of room for all staff to return within the social distancing guidelines. 

“Nevertheless, we are allowing all staff to do this at their own pace to make sure they feel comfortable and to slowly evolve from their current routines that have been in place over the last year.” 

Flexibility is important 
Louis Hill, managing director of  agency The Source PR: “Our team has proven to work very well from home and so we’re looking to build greater flexibility into how we work going forward. We did contemplate closing the office permanently, however feel that it’s important for the team to get together regularly, build strong working relationships and share ideas or best practice. From a recruitment perspective, it’s also important to have a base as it allows for better integration for new people joining the team. Let’s also not forget that PR is also about people and relationships so I believe having a base is also important for regular face-to-face contact, although with improvements in technology much of the delivery can be managed from home. I don’t think I’ll be alone in holding this view across the PR industry.” 

Less desk space, more meeting space 
Claire Blyth, managing director design agency PR specialist Red Setter: “Whilst the pandemic has brought a great many challenges, one of the positives to emerge has been the normalisation of videoconferencing. As an agency that has clients across the globe – from Shoreditch to Brooklyn, from San Francisco to Sydney – being able to get ‘face to face’ with our clients more frequently has strengthened those relationships, and it’s something we’re keen to retain as we return to the office. We’re figuring out what that will look like, but it’s probably going to involve less space given over to rows of desks, and more space for meetings, including one or two person soundproof pods.”

We are (mostly) staying home! 
Glenn Matchett, managing director at technology PR and marketing agency Grammatik Agency: “We were already set up for remote working – comms on Slack, project management on Asana, G-suite and client video calls were already embedded in our day to day. So WFH was an easy transition that continues to work well.  

“So well, in fact, that we’re not going back. We’re planning to adopt a hybrid model – bringing the team together just one day a week in an office environment. This is partly to maintain a sense of agency culture. but also to enable the fizz of having a load of good brains in the same room taking on client challenges and sparking ideas off each other. That’s one thing that’s been really hard to replicate whilst everyone is at home. 

“Overall, the benefits that come with WFH are just too many to ignore – I mean who really wants to go back to squeezing onto the Central Line and spending an hour each day with you nose in someone’s armpit?”

 Many are itching to get back to an office environment, whilst others are keen to remain working from home as much as possible. One good thing that has come out of the pandemic is that as WFH has worked so well for PR, companies are likely to be more flexible in their working practices from now on.