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Where has PR landed on its remote working journey?

Where has PR landed on its remote working journey in 2024? We’ve come a long way since COVID-19 introduced working from home to the wider world (almost half a decade!) although some people in PR have had that flexibility since long before 2020!

The question is: what is now the norm? Has remote working and flexible days changed PR for good, or has the office crept back in? We’ve reached out to 11 PRs from across the industry, employers and employees alike, to hear their experiences and, importantly, find out how they think agencies should operate going forward.

It’s all about crafting a balance

Anna Craven, associate director at PR agency Hello Stir: “In recent years, the PR industry, like many others, has embraced flexible working, which I believe is a positive trend for those pursuing careers in this field. At Stir, we’ve adopted three office days - Tuesday to Thursday, with Mondays and Fridays from home - and our regular employee surveys tell us this is the preference.

“While maintaining this flexibility, we've also recognised the importance of addressing skill gaps, particularly among junior team members. Thus, we've enhanced our training program, with a focus on in-office days for intensive coaching sessions and participation in external training sessions.

“Despite prioritising in-person training, we value the flexibility that remote work offers, especially as a smaller agency. In-office days foster spontaneous creative discussions and collaboration, while remote workdays provide the flexibility our team desires. This approach, favoured by our team, aligns with our values, even as some businesses transition to more days in the office.”

It suits employees at different levels differently

Jonathan Kirkby, founder of PR agency instinct “Pre-pandemic, we were working out how best to offer flexi working and made a ‘grand gesture’ of offering the senior team a wfh day once a week. Today our senior team is still enjoying the benefits of flexible and hybrid working, manoeuvring around childcare or other commitments.

“However, for the rest of the team it’s gone full circle. Whether it’s sub-optimum WFH conditions or the need to be around teammates for learning and socialising, the team at instinct really embraces time together and chooses to be in the office more than not. We have no plans to force anyone back to the office if that’s not their preferred way of working. But we believe in the power of good connections so we’re happy to say that office time is back! And when we have that all-agency in-office face time, we make it count.”

Forgoing borders can help create the strongest team…

Hayley Knight, co-founder of BE YELLOW:“I think PR is perfectly suited for flexible and remote work. Though there is still value in face to face meetings and connections - video meetings are still as effective and much more accessible. A lot of PR can be completed on a laptop, so agencies and freelancers can be location independent.

“Remote working also opens up the hiring process to people on both a national, and international basis, boosting opportunities for both the business and the employee. If we were office based, we would not have developed the team that we have, which would be a huge disadvantage to us.

“At BE YELLOW, we are a fully remote agency and offer 4 day weeks, where the 'free day' is used for training, learning and development, and this form of growth is setting us ahead of our competitors.

“Flexible working also allows for accessibility, and inclusion and develops stronger workplace culture, therefore improving productivity and creative ideas.”

… but juniors may learn faster in the office

Mike Maynard, managing director of PR agency Napier: “Excluding events and some face-to-face client meetings, PR is a career that can often be done flexibly. The number of remote-first agencies seems to suggest that there are few downsides to flexing location and working hours. While this is true for many experienced PR pros, young people entering the profession are being sold a lie by industry veterans.

"It’s a hard truth, but for juniors, maximum flexibility can mean limited progression.”

“PR is a complex job that requires hard and soft skills, as well as knowledge and expertise. If you’re new to the role, of course, it’s possible to learn while working remotely, but it’s just so much slower. Juniors in our profession pick up the soft skills so much quicker when working in a collaborative office environment than when working from home: there is simply so much more opportunity to see good practice being modelled by their senior colleagues. It’s a hard truth, but for juniors, maximum flexibility can mean limited progression.”

Flexibility is best when done with purpose

Brendon Craigie, CEO of PR agency Tyto: “There were three reasons we established Tyto in 2017 as a fully remote agency, which still hold true today as we break through the 60-employee mark:

“It means we can hire the best talent regardless of where people are located. On the flip side, it means our employees can balance lifestyle goals with career goals.

“It allows us to create a single multinational team that works as one team. Offices naturally create competing cultures and silos.

“Ultimately, it allows Tyto to deliver a unique proposition to clients,  which is our PRWithoutBorders model, which allows clients to run pan-European campaigns 30% more efficiently

“The critical question to ask yourselves is what is your business driver for having a remote set up? The remote model has delivered for Tyto on all business measures, but I think you need to have a unifying sense of purpose to consciously seize opportunities and work through challenges.”

There is nothing like a good ol’ face to face…

Emma Hart, communications manager at PR agency Resolution: "PR is a fast-paced and ever-changing industry, and what works for one person may not work for another. The digital age has revolutionised how we communicate and operate, making remote work more accessible than ever. However, let's not underestimate how valuable a deskside appointment or traditional press event can be for building relationships and elevating a brand.

“Also, while the convenience of working from anywhere is undeniable, there's something special about the energy and collaboration that comes from working together in an office setting.

“At our agency, based in the South West, we've embraced a hybrid working model and a shorter workweek to enhance productivity and employee satisfaction. These changes have proven to be effective in keeping our team engaged and motivated."

… but it helps to encourage it rather than enforce it

Kate Hunter, operations director at PR agency Missive: “I know many agencies are now mandating three days in the office. I worry that we’re in danger of moving backwards if we dictate in-office. It is a very old-world approach and limits access to talent.

“At Missive we have been hybrid since we started nearly 10 years ago, and we don’t see that changing. We leave it up to individuals to decide how and where they work to do their best work. We do encourage people to come in on Thursday as a chance to collaborate and problem solve with colleagues, and it is the day we have an all-team meeting.

“As an agency run by two women, who are also parents, with a growing DEI consulting practice, I certainly don’t see Missive going back to 5 days a week in the office - and can’t see the benefit of doing so for our business.”

There are lessons to be learned at the office

David Beesley, managing director of ITPR: “I’ll stick my neck out and say that for pros starting their career, there is a HUGE benefit to working in an office. Not just the tidbits of knowledge/experience you pick up from other people, but just good working practices, such as:

“Punctuality - battling the traffic, trains, tube, buses etc to get to the office on time takes more planning and effort than rolling out of bed, to the shower to a home desk.

“Professional conduct - learning how to conduct yourself in physical meetings rather than virtual is important. Attentive listening and minute/note-taking are valuable skills that can’t be hidden when physically in a meeting.

“Friendships - building those bonds with colleagues is crucial in PR. Also learning how to work with people that you might not get along with is equally as important.

“If I had a gun to my head and had to choose between fully-office based or fully-remote working… I’d choose the office."

It's made working in London, but living outside of it, possible

Emma Sedgley, account manager from Kindred: “I work in the office on Mondays and Tuesdays and then at home for the remaining three days. Our office is in central London and I live near Manchester, so it splits the week up nicely, and I know the rest of the team are also working remotely on the same days as me.

“Being able to live up North whilst my job is technically located in London is only really workable post-pandemic - most of my friends and family live there and my partner works in-person in a lab in Cheshire. So, having flexible and hybrid working at a company who values it, allows me to do this.

“The office-first days are important for being in person with colleagues to connect and collaborate, which can be harder behind a screen, and then the second half of the week is cracking on with desk time and tasks. As you can imagine, travelling down on the west coast mainline is not always plain sailing. However, the team is really supportive of my situation and a core hours set up means I can travel in quieter off-peak periods and work on the move.”

The office requirement may be creeping back in

Amy Stone, communications manager at WhoCanFixMyCar: “I think right now PR is still a good career for flexible work and it should stay that way. However, there has been a slight shift towards the office again. You’re more likely to fInd hybrid PR roles offering a minimum of 3 days in the office at agencies now, based on my recent job-hunting experience.

“Coming in-house though, as the first and only PR at WhoCanFixMyCar, I now work fully remote with the rest of the marketing team and that flexibility is great. There are of course times when face to face conversations are easier, so we have a collaborative office space available for in-person meetings should I need to use it. This balance to work how and where is best for me has been a huge perk that I know, like me, many PRs would, and do, still value highly.”

Flexibility should actually be flexible

Flora Haslam, managing partner at FINN Partners: “I believe PR is a good career for flexible work in 2024 - if you work for the right company.

“Flexibility shouldn’t be about allowing people to work from home on certain days, it should be about encouraging people to work in the best way for them. For some, that will be primarily in an office, for others it will be primarily at home. For many of us, it’s a mix of the two (and can change from week to week).

“PR agencies need to attract the best talent to deliver the best results for their clients. It’s a short-sighted employer in 2024 that dictates working location. Treat staff like grown ups, show when they’ve earned your trust and enable them to work optimally - from wherever that may be. A supportive team will have the flexibility to cover for vet visits and school assemblies without impacting on client work.”

Clearly, remote work in PR hasn’t gone anywhere yet… although the office certainly seems to be creeping back in. That said, all these years of working from home has made many PRs appreciate the benefits of face to face working with their peers - and for juniors, it might be the quickest way to learn.

The key here is real flexibility, rather than just the notion of it. Flexibility needs to work for employers - allowing them to build the strongest teams possible without borders. This needs to be a holistic consideration to be successful - for instance any gaps left by the reduction of face to face time need to be plugged by training.

But flexibility that also has to work for employees - having offices and training that are worth attending and employees will attend. Make sure flexibility actually is flexible - as we’ve seen at its best it is malleable to employees' varied lives, and naturally promotes them delivering their best work. As is often the case in life: the key is balance.

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