COVID restrictions have forced us all to re-evaluate where we work and how we maintain a healthy work-life balance. As unlikely as widespread remote work might have seemed two years ago, this option has been the work experience of PR professionals the world over. But as lockdown procedures ebb while the vaccine rollout progresses, managers will be asking whether to return to the office, or work in a hybrid mode. The answer will depend on a thorough evaluation of the work-from-home (WFH) pros and cons. To make the best decision for your operational effectiveness, use the following considerations as your guide.
While you will be hard-pressed to find anyone who can say they enjoy working fully from home or fully from the office, there are positives and negatives to both. These compounding factors require deeper analysis for individual PR groups, with input from staff and an openness to new solutions. Below, we break down the pros and cons of remote working further. And we also consider hybrid operations for staff – a combination of office and WFH.
Firstly, the trend: Pre-pandemic, only 20% of American employees worked from home, according to Pew Research. By May 2020, that number had shot up to over 60%. A Great Place To Work (GPW) survey of Fortune 500 executives in 2020 showed a similar increase, from 16% to 65% of staff working virtually. Future WFH intentions? Obviously every organization’s decisions will depend on its own unique circumstances, but overall, three out of five executives believe up to 25% of their workforce will continue to work remotely full-time after weighing WFH pros and cons, according to the GPW survey results. The Pew Research survey found that many workers would like to work remotely after the pandemic is over: transition to WFH has been relatively easy for many:
Myriad benefits can come out of running a remote PR business or team. In fact, even before the pandemic, many groups opted to operate this way because of positives such as those listed below. Consider these merits in determining whether your PR work should remain remote or head back to the office after COVID restrictions dissipate:
From your commute to the time you spend chatting with coworkers, hanging out in the breakroom, or being interrupted by loud colleagues, remote working means time saved. Additionally, WFH options lead to fewer sick days and absences from employees. This saved time has been shown to increase productivity by as much as 13%, despite the distractions you might associate with working from home.
With benefits like these possible through remote work, PR firms and corporate affairs departments might feel better about continuing WFH policies indefinitely. However, it is also important to consider the negatives among the WFH pros and cons.
In weighing up WFH pros and cons, we realize that working from home is not for everyone. While some workers might thrive with the flexibility this option offers, others may struggle with staying motivated and engaged with the work and the company culture. In addition, process changes will require innovative solutions. Even setting up payroll for remote workers can require the use of new systems and categorization techniques to ensure a smooth procedure.While the remote work experience is largely subjective, there are some objective factors that will present unique challenges for any PR firm or department. These include:
Incidentally, experts say one of the most important ways of turning this around at the beginning of every virtual meeting is by making a point of “making it personal,” followed by “conveying warmth.” Encourage small talk and try to show team members’ expressions in video calls. This interactivity and engagement take more effort, but are totally worthwhile for lifting up the connection factor.
However, there are opportunities inherent in remote recruiting and onboarding, as well as challenges.This is a time to double-down on organizational culture, bring the team together for welcoming and socialization, and reinforce goals and expectations in a clear and friendly environment. The right remote onboarding process will offer training opportunities, leverage technology, and bring in co-workers for a shared educational experience that benefits the company as a whole.
Remote work means a more finely tuned balance has to be struck in maintaining a separation between your professional and personal life. You can do this more effectively by maintaining a regular schedule and carefully setting aside personal time.
These challenges and more will have to be addressed should you choose to keep your team on a WFH basis. If you decide to move your staff back into a physical office space, you’ll have a different set of challenges on your hands, and miss out on the potential benefits of a flexible environment.
Every group will have different priorities and needs. Address these WFH pros and cons with your employees and make a plan for accommodating employee needs in a post-pandemic landscape. Whether you decide to go back to the office or continue working from home, you can maintain a dedicated team with the right approach.
When the COVID-19 precautions are reduced for employees, future working arrangements are likely to be more flexible. Staff will probably spend something like 3 days in the office and the balance of their time working from home in a hybrid arrangement. Some teams even commute to the office once a week for a team day of meetings and ideas, and they choose where they work for the rest of the week – home or office. This seems to work successfully, but has to be coordinated carefully.
Not all team members can adapt readily to working within a hybrid environment. Individuals who are strong at relationship building have an advantage in hybrid environments. This enables them to ask for, find, and claim resources they need for successful remote working. Employees with good network and political awareness can use their informal connections to keep up to date with their organization’s intentions and actions. This helps to reduce the gap between face-to-face and remote working. Best results from hybrid working also go to those who can show they are trustworthy when working largely out of sight.
On the other hand, employees who are less effective at building relationships, either in-person or remotely, may struggle to work with others who are successful in working this way. They may find they’re constantly out of sync with colleagues and managers.
Much of consultant time in PR firms is spent on the computer or the phone. This doesn’t require a specific location to work from – and so a standard office setting isn’t necessary. However, the management group would need to meet in the office to discuss operational, administrative and financial matters. And the consulting team/s would preferably meet in the office for creative sessions, brainstorming ideas as a group for their clients, as well as for new-business and review meetings, as noted above. Similar for PR departments.
Overall, the decisions on where to base the team will depend on each organization’s needs. For best results, these should be addressed in conjunction with the individuals who will be affected most by the decisions.
By Silvia Arto, Vice President of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, Chair of the European Regional
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