Working From Home – the new norm?

Public relations considers itself to be one of the more relaxed industries. While the more corporate agencies might insist on a formal atmosphere and smart attire, the reality for most people is smart casual dress, a friendly and fun working environment, and free drinks on a Thursday or Friday evening. So why is the PR profession, like many others, so resistant to home working?

According to Hartigan’s salary survey, this is a benefit enjoyed by over four fifths of PR professionals. But there is a big difference between being allowed the odd day at home – to let in the plumber or receive a delivery, for example – and making home working the norm rather than the exception.

There are plenty of reasons why PRs need to come into the office, such as meeting clients or pitching for new business, but the vast majority of PR activity – including meetings and brainstorms – can be done just as well from home.

For a modern and progressive industry such as PR, I think it’s a shame that homeworking is still the exception rather than the rule. For one thing, with modern communications technology such as video conferencing and messaging services, “WFH” is perfectly suited to most of the day-to-day tasks of PR. What’s more, being an almost exclusively metropolitan industry, home working removes the long, tiring, and expensive commute, which should lead to fresher, happier, more productive workers.

One of the main reasons for not embracing home working seems to be the fear that staff will be less productive: that without the oversight of their line managers, workers will take the opportunity to indulge in a bit of extra-curricula activity or outright skiving. Yet public relations productivity is highly measurable, whether it’s the amount of content one produces, or coverage generated. There is no reason why we cannot judge people by their productivity, and reward those who can be trusted with the opportunity to work remotely – should they so choose.

That being said, home working does require an extra degree of discipline, self-motivation, and honesty. But I see these qualities among my candidates every day, and I think the industry could do more to trust its employees to get their work done wherever they choose to do it.

I’d like PR, along with other industries, to see home working not as a perk or indulgence for long-serving staff, but as something that brings real business benefits. For one thing, having a home working policy doesn’t just lead to happier staff; it is also an effective inoculation against events that keep people from coming into the office, be it adverse weather, a public transport strike or a flooded kitchen. It is also such a rarity today that any business that embraces WFH becomes a much more attractive proposition for candidates, and will help agencies to attract and retain top talent – especially from the more demanding cohort of millennials.

So, I urge agencies and their managers to make the case for home working. There is no risk in at least experimenting, and you may be pleasantly astonished at how your employees repay the faith you show in them.