Forty per cent of PR chiefs to continue remote working as coronavirus caution grips industry

Two-fifths of agency leaders plan to maintain remote working policies for the foreseeable future as concerns about the coronavirus pandemic linger, a new survey of PR chiefs has found.

Manon, an employee of global PR group Sagarmatha – Hopscotch, connects with her colleagues via videoconferencing (Photo: VALERY HACHE/AFP via Getty Images)
Manon, an employee of global PR group Sagarmatha – Hopscotch, connects with her colleagues via videoconferencing (Photo: VALERY HACHE/AFP via Getty Images)

The survey found that a further 36 per cent of PR and communications leaders are planning a cautious approach to returning to offices due to concerns about safety.

The snapshot study by Carta Communications, which polled 43 PR industry leaders, provides mixed views about the optimum time to return staff to an office environment.

Of those looking to return, planned dates range from June to September.

Agency chiefs are concerned about returning too soon due to the risk of colleagues becoming ill from the coronavirus (38 per cent), and the stress an early return may cause (21 per cent).

However, nearly a fifth (18 per cent) are concerned about the psychological impact delaying a return for too long could have on staff.

Although many PR professionals have embraced working from home, it is not as easy for employees (often younger staff) in shared-home environments, while some are concerned about the lack of social interaction having an impact on people's mental wellbeing.

“We’re planning to return in late August. But the real answer is: ‘When it’s safe,’” said CCGRoup chief executive Richard Fogg.

Nick Woods, founder and partner at Sunny Side Up, said it is potentially more disruptive if teams that rush back too soon fall ill.

“We've shown we don't ‘need’ the office in quite the same way as before. More disruption comes from having team members sick than having us all working remotely,” he said.

In-house comms professionals are less optimistic about a return to the office, with dates of between September and October being suggested, while some are preparing to stay away until next year.

“I predict we will be led by the legal situation and insurance/risk management. We will need to be able to prove that we have done all we can to provide a safe and legally compliant working environment,” said Russell Jones, content and communications manager at Mitsubishi Electric.

The survey also asked industry leaders about their major challenges. The biggest concern, for more than a third (35 per cent), was a potential decline in revenue and an impending recession.

Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of respondents are concerned about restoring their company’s working culture after a period of being forced to work differently, while 14 per cent are concerned by reductions in productivity and the cost and logistics of creating safe working environments.

“The main challenge will simply be ensuring we continue to win new clients as we have been doing during lockdown,” said Chris Calland, a director at Sapience Communications.

“We shan’t move back to the office until ready, and we’re relaxed about that. It’s more important to protect our staff and continue to grow the business.”

Half of respondents believe working in lockdown conditions has placed their businesses in a better position to innovate and make long-term business improvements, and a similar proportion said their company would invest more in videoconferencing tools such as Zoom and Skype.

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