One in five UK PR shops to downsize office – Comms and COVID-19 survey

One in five PR agency chiefs plan to reduce their firm's office space in the aftermath of COVID-19, and one in 10 plan to remove their physical office entirely, exclusive new research by PRWeek reveals.

(Photo credit: Luis Alvarez via Getty Images)
(Photo credit: Luis Alvarez via Getty Images)

The extensive PRWeek survey on the impact of the coronavirus on comms was conducted online in August and early September. It focused on senior decision-makers at UK agencies – typically CEOs, chairs, managing directors and practice heads – and had 174 responses. Look out for more insights on in the coming days.

Asked whether they planned to downsize their office as working patterns shift, 20 per cent of agency chiefs said they did. Less than half (48 per cent) were committed to keeping their office as it is.

Fergus Lawlor, chief executive of Purple, said his agency plans to move to a building with 20 per cent less space when its lease term finishes in February.

However, Nick Woods, founder of Sunny Side Up, said such a move won't be considered "until income reduces". "Like everyone there is an inextricable link between income and team requirements. Touch wood, we've not had to have this conversation."

Significantly, one third were undecided as yet. Peter Rawlinson, chief executive of PFPR, said: "The Government needs to allow agencies to bring workers back to the office before making such sweeping decisions. They may be premature. This lockdown has only been in place just over four months."

In addition, 11 per cent plan to remove their office entirely. "I would, but we have two more years on the lease," said Cow co-founder and MD Sian Morgan.

But most are steadfastly opposed to the idea. Tom Hashemi, founder and director of Cast From Clay, said: "There are many reasons we have offices. This idea that the office is dead is a ludicrous one."

Holly Ward, co-founder of The Forge, stated: "We like to have a base and we also like to get away from home. It's part of the process of 'going to work', which I feel we would miss if we all worked remotely all the time. It can be demotivating for people not having others around, so we certainly won't be doing this."

Working from home

Meanwhile, 81 per cent were planning to encourage staff to work from home or remotely more often – just two per cent said they were not planning to do this (the rest were undecided).

Asked how many days a week, on average, they expected staff to work away from the office, the most popular answer was two (31 per cent), then three (30 per cent) – 26 per cent were undecided.

Octopus Group chief executive Jon Lonsdale's answer was indicative of the trend: "We will be operating a 3:2 model, with two days in the office and the rest from anywhere." Baljit Gill, chief executive of Sylo Communications, said: "Working from home will become the norm along with bi-weekly team catch ups to keep the team connection going, along with the morale."

Andrew Grant, senior partner at Tulchan, believes the pattern will be "determined by clients".

With some employees concerned about commuting to city centres, interestingly almost one in five (19 per cent) agency bosses were undecided about whether to open a new office or offices outside their city base; six per cent said they would, but 76 per cent ruled it out.

Meanwhile, 41 per cent plan to invest more in equipment for home working; 32 per cent did not. Encouragingly, nearly half (49 per cent) expect to invest more in mental health support for employees – 27 per cent were undecided on this point.

James Gordon-MacIntosh, Hope&Glory PR co-founder and chief creative officer, said: "We already had a raft of mental health support in place, with 17 trained Mental Health First Aiders and an extensive employee support service. But we have checked in with team members more often, asked the right questions more frequently and been more acutely aware of the way that our team is affected by the context we now think of as 'normal'."

Remote pitches

One feature of the pandemic has been the rise of remote pitching; 65 per cent of agency chiefs agree this will remain prevalent (21 per cent "strongly agree"). Just 12 per cent disagree.

MSL UK managing director Jo Grierson said remote pitches have been working "extremely well".

Simon Shaw, global chief creative strategy and innovation officer at Hill+Knowlton, agreed: "It has been a great catalyst to breaking down geographic borders, putting the right people on the right assignment at the right time."

Headland chairman Neil Hedges isn't convinced, however: "Surely, as time moves on, most agencies will do their utmost to present in person."

PRWeek has also surveyed in-house comms chiefs and will reveal the results of that survey in the coming days.

More from PRWeek's exclusive Comms & COVID survey:

One in four UK PR shops commit to salary freeze - Comms and COVID-19 survey

Half of UK agency chiefs expect flat or growing revenue in 2020

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