To open the doors to staff or not: that is the question for agencies

For nearly four months, the PR industry has been working from home pretty successfully. That has no doubt made a lot of businesses think about whether they should ever open their doors again.

You might be surprised by the answer if you ask staff whether they want to continue to work from home, writes Anna Terrell
You might be surprised by the answer if you ask staff whether they want to continue to work from home, writes Anna Terrell

My advice would be to ask your teams before you commit to that, or anything like it.

A poll of the team at Hope&Glory showed that there is more of a split – and more of a desire to get back to the office – than you might imagine.

When asked whether they’d like to work from the office from early July, if we are allowed to do so – and with no obligation, just an option to do so – almost half said they would.

One-third said they definitely wouldn’t, largely due to transport concerns, and the rest were on the fence.

But it was that 50 per cent who said they’d want to go back for at least some of the week that really surprised me.

As agency leaders with homes that a lifetime in the business have afforded us, we can forget that many of our team members are working out of bedrooms and shared homes, using ironing boards as desks, with little (if any) privacy.

For many, working from home is a far from blissful experience.

For many of our team who have chosen to go through lockdown with family, there is a real will to get back to the (albeit dimmed) bright lights of London after 10 weeks.

Resuming their “real lives”, having been cast back to teenage bedrooms; a place to work from offers that.

Those who live on their own – myself included – have found the lockdown particularly tough.

While Facetiming friends and family offers some break from being in a room on your own, there is nothing like seeing colleagues you count as friends on a daily basis.

And, of course, there is the craving we all share for tangible signs of a return to normality.

While no one would say that they miss being pressed up against the sweaty armpits of fellow commuters, there is a curious familiarity and comfort that comes of these small returns to normal, no matter how distasteful they may be.

But I think there is more to it even than that.

PRs thrive in busy, fast-paced environments, with the opportunity to bounce creative ideas off team-mates or chew the fat on an issue with a trusted colleague.

Zoom calls are all very well, but the functional context of a video call can’t replace the impromptu (socially distanced) sit-down over a cup of tea to talk over a challenge.

There are also the moments to sit down with a colleague and take a few minutes to provide guidance, which is so much harder on a call.

Likewise, to get the team together to celebrate successes when a silent clap on a muted Zoom doesn’t really feel the same.

We can be incredibly productive working from home, and the exceptional amount of creative campaigns being delivered by brands and agencies shows the industry can thrive.

As it transpires, we will likely offer the office as a hub – separating the “how” we work from the “where” we work.

The “how” won’t change.

Meetings will be virtual, Slack and email will remain our default, and Friday bar will still allow an insight into our colleagues’ home decoration choices.

But for the third who crave their colleagues’ company, a break from their homes and air conditioning to get through summer, the office (COVID-secured) will be there and available to them.

So I’d encourage people to think about asking the same question we did, rather than assuming that working from home is for all.

You may well find that not everyone in your team is quite as satisfied with their domestic-based set-up as they were a month or two ago.

While this in no way a call for us to collectively throw open our offices, the answer we get from teams we ask might mean that we think about more deeply how we can help our people continue to flourish in the months to come – wherever they choose to base themselves.

Anna Terrell is joint managing director of Hope&Glory

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