How much time since we locked our office doors two months ago have we all spent sitting idly in front of our screen, twiddling our thumbs on the promise that our “meeting will begin shortly”? We’re then rewarded with laggy video, probably questionable sound, and maybe a glimpse of our boss’s cat if it’s a bit of a spicy day.
This isn’t a complaint piece about the woes of working from home, far from it. The PR industry, and many others, have done a marvellous job of adapting to these unprecedented times (or whatever stock euphemism we’re using this week). For a profession that relies heavily on face-to-face meetings with journalists, constant collaboration and spontaneity, and generally having reliable access to unimpeded communication, we have done remarkably well to weather the storm and, in some cases, come out better off.
The death of the office
So now conversations are surfacing about whether, following this against-all-odds digital success story we’ve all made of ourselves, this might be the end of the office for good.
According to a recent poll by PR Week, 61% of comms professionals think that a move to working from home ‘forever’ would work for agencies and in-house comms. And they are probably right. Thanks to modern technology, and a gradual building of trust within teams, we’ve managed to maintain a semblance of normality and keep delivering the great results our clients expect. It’s not ideal, but it works.
But, while our adaptation to the current circumstances has been commendable, forever is a long time. And perhaps we’d be doing ourselves a disservice if we didn’t take a moment to consider all of the fantastic things we’d be missing out on if we scrapped the four-walls approach for good.
The things left unsaid
My first thought goes to those just starting their career. If you think back to your first years in comms, and consider how much you were actively taught versus how much you simply absorbed from those around you, my guess is that the scales would tip heavily towards the latter. For the recent grads unfortunate enough to be beginning their professional life at this time, I can’t help but wonder if they’re getting the same enriching experience that we were lucky enough to have.
Gone are the overheard media pitches from seasoned veterans; the snatched soundbites of a director diffusing a tricky meeting; the glances of the screen of a manager who has perfectly honed the art of a pitch deck.
Without all these often-tacit cues, how can we expect our new recruits to become the PR practitioners of tomorrow?
Where the magic happens
The future of the industry aside, there are certain things that you only get by inhabiting a space with your colleagues. Whether that’s bouncing off each other during a brainstorming session or jumping on a spontaneous idea that emerged from some off-the-cuff chitchat, these shared moments are what breathe the life into our profession, and make the difference between good work and great work. It is so much harder to maintain the essence of creativity and intuition when you’re limited by the tools through which you can communicate.
Then there’s the interaction piece. Emotional intelligence is the foundation of our profession and it is far more difficult to exercise remotely. Case in point: how many times have we hammered home during a media training session the power of leveraging eye contact, and now none of us can use it (and no, looking straight into the webcam on a Zoom call looks weird and should be avoided).
As for bonding among colleagues, I think I can speak for us all when I say that I do not wish for Zoom-based quizzes to be the extent of my office socialisation forever.
Finding the balance
Exaggeration aside, now is clearly a pivotal time for comms professionals everywhere. Having shown maturity, creativity and resilience through this crisis, we’re now daring to ask ourselves, “actually, can we make this work all the time?”
The answer is still yes. But the main takeaway should be that it’s about finding balance. Once dusting off the old key card is eventually possible, maybe some agencies will only enforce two days in the office per week, maybe working-from-home days will become unlimited, and some will indeed scrap the office altogether.
We’ve all seen the doom-and-gloom surveys on stress levels and work-life balance, so more flexibility is undoubtedly a good thing, allowing us to deliver our best work under the best conditions. But I for one am not ready to say goodbye to the office just yet.
Article by: admin