Making PR more flexible benefits the PR industry as well as parents

While nearly half of British workers would like to work flexibly, only around 6 per cent of all job ads offer this and disappointingly, only 2 per cent of PR job ads do (source: Timewise Flexible Jobs Index). So, on the face of it, If you want to work flexible hours, then you should look for a job out of PR, and preferably out of the UK!

But this does not mean all PR firms operate as if we are still in the 1950s, and many senior PR people campaign for a more flexible working culture. Sam Lythgoe, managing director, new business and marketing EMEA at PR firm H+K Strategies, says: “I believe PR needs to embrace flexible working because it allows working mums to fit their career around their family life, enabling them to be successful business people as well as parents. This is particularly important in the female-dominated PR industry as it will help to prevent women exiting PR to start a family; ensuring we have more female leaders in the future and more importantly guaranteeing the industry has greater diversity in thinking.“

Lythgoe points out that flexible working is only one option that helps parents to build a career whilst looking after children, it is also important to encourage women with other initiatives such as mentorship programmes and events to showcase women in PR .

Another “massive fan” of flexible working is Alex MacLaverty, managing director of PR agency Hotwire, MacLaverty says: “With clients across multiple time zones, teams having families, social and gym commitments – not to mention changes to the way the media works – it’s ages since a standard nine-to-five working day has made sense.“

MacLaverty lists three things to make flexi-working a success: “Mutual trust; a culture that values each individual as unique, and great technology. We offer teams flexible working hours, regular opportunities to work from home or other offices, extended lunch breaks, early-finish Fridays and crucially all the IT support they need to make it happen, including laptops, smartphones, video conferencing and an internal social network so we can stay in touch whenever and wherever required.”

Another campaigner for flexible working is PR agency Cirkle’s MD Ruth Allchurch. Allchurch recently sat on the Women in PR (WPR) Flexible Working panel discussion. Discussing how her agency practices what it preaches, she describes how Cirkle empowers its people to run their own agendas, with one-third working part-time and teams getting the chance to work from home on Fridays (account managers and above). All are offered the opportunity of flexi hours.

Allchurch says: “Trust is of course implicit for flexible working to work. We’ve proved that if you give your teams trust, you get respect back in heaps.”
It is not just up to a company to be bend over backwards, employees must give a little too. Allchurch suggests that employees should be open to having to take business calls on their days off or swapping days off to accommodate client meetings. “If your contract states that you will work x days from home, don’t be embarrassed about it, embrace it. Prior to joining Cirkle I was at Diageo where my boss actively championed my part-time contract – I found I became even more deliverable as I wanted to prove that I could make compressed hours work, and I did!”.

Having a family AND a career

Elaine O’Shaughnessy, account director at PR firm Weber Shandwick, describes how she achieves a successful work/life balance:
“I returned from maternity leave 18 months ago and the first lesson I learnt was that your working life becomes more complicated when you have children. Suddenly there’s someone more important – and far less reasonable – than your clients you have to fit your life around.

“I returned on a part-time, flexible-working basis to help balance my home and work commitments. Making flexible working a sustainable and effective solution for the individual, their colleagues and the business is a challenge, but an achievable one. Having an understanding employer helps, and having a supportive team is critical.

“Essential to making flexible working a success is good communication; something we take for granted in our profession. Sounds obvious, but don’t expect your colleagues’ priorities to be the same as yours. If you have to leave at a certain time, make sure your colleagues are aware, and block the time out in your diary to avoid confusion.

“I work from home regularly – usually at least once per week. I’m always available on my phone and via email. If needed, I’ll go into the office. I try to be flexible though – I’ve been known to dial into calls, read documents and reply to emails on my day off.

“Being flexible is one thing – but make it the exception or it can easily become the rule. If you are unavailable for a call on your day off, say so. Everyone needs to get used to the arrangement, colleagues included.

“Remember too, you don’t have to be in the office to be at work. If you can kill time on your commute by working, do so. Technology allows us to work on the move – as I’m proving right now (I’m writing this on the train somewhere in the Hertfordshire countryside).

“Finally, flexible working isn’t a ‘women’s issue’; my husband’s support is invaluable to making this arrangement work. An effective work-life balance isn’t just for mums. If employers and colleagues are supportive of flexible working then perhaps it would become the norm, and we’d all be happier and more productive employees.”

Three steps to flexible working

Sean Ball, marketing executive of PR system Pragmatist, recommends three tips for implementing a successful flexible working policy:

1.Equip teams with the right resources.
It’s difficult to remain productive when working remotely without appropriate technological resources to collaborate and knowledge-share with other team members. Make sure your teams are equipped with the same level of access to your organisation’s resources regardless of location.

2.Schedule regular video conferences to share information. Arrange regular, rather than on an as-needed basis, virtual meetings with remote workers. This will ensure everyone is up-to-speed. Don’t assume remote workers are as informed as office-based colleagues – and vice versa!

3.Take time to share personal updates. Although it’s tempting to dismiss such activities as irrelevant or a waste of time – especially when we’re under pressure – they are vital to maintaining morale and thus productivity.


Why PR must offer flexible working

Kate Healey, PR consultant at agency Roland Dransfield PR:
"As the majority of the PR industry is female, there is the risk of losing talent after some have children. By offering more flexible working arrangements you can ensure you retain the experience, knowledge and contacts at a senior level. Employees are more likely to be loyal and stay for the long term if they feel that their employer is accommodating their needs."

David Alexander, managing director of agency Calacus Public Relations:
“We live in a world where virtually everyone has a smartphone, wifi is universal and cloud computing is the norm. It makes sense to embrace flexible working, and there are so many returning PR mums who are looking for a role that fits around their ongoing parenting needs.

We have always encouraged our staff to take control of their own agenda and I believe that treating them like grown ups encourages a high standard of work. More often than not, they actually work harder because they want to be sure that they are proving their worth.”

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