'Must I agree to work from home if I don’t want to?' Agony Aunt answers your questions

Jackie Elliot, the chairman of Cathcart Consulting and a former PRCA chair, offers the benefit of her wisdom and PR industry experience

Successful WFH involves compromise and people’s needs are different – don’t just accept it and continue to be unhappy, advises Jackie Elliot
Successful WFH involves compromise and people’s needs are different – don’t just accept it and continue to be unhappy, advises Jackie Elliot

Do I have to agree to work from home if I don’t want to?

Q. Our agency has come through the pandemic well. We made employee welfare a priority and our business sector held up. But I was unable to work happily at home. I couldn’t concentrate, got annoyed with the kids, the cat and the distractions everywhere. I especially hated the blurring between office and home life.

Now we are talking about changing our working model so that everyone will have three days a week working from home. Do I have to agree to this?

A. This is a tough one for you. I’m sorry. The truth is the office provides a cohesive, familiar and fit-for-purpose business solution. Homes are different everywhere: shared and crowded flats, country pads with hopeless broadband, parents/partners/progeny – all sharing space. Most of all, it’s a completely different environment to the steady (or frantic) type of supportive life in the office.

I’m amazed by how successful WFH has been for some people, but sympathise sincerely with those who find it hard.

Successful WFH involves compromise and needs are different from person to person. Talk to your boss or HR director. There is no fault or shame in raising this, and a solution can be found. I hope it doesn’t become an either/or situation, but don’t just accept WFH and continue to be unhappy with it. That could have a negative impact on both your office and your home life, and neither your family nor your company would want that.

I’m worried about slipping grammar and spelling standards

Q. What do you think about Hull University’s announcement that accuracy of spelling and quality of writing will not be marked down? I’ve tried to make sure that my writing doesn’t let me down and my company has always encouraged the best possible writing skills. Is this a waste of time?

A. I’m trying to stay calm about this and give a reply to help everyone whose jaw dropped when the University of Hull announced that good, accurate writing was “elitist”. What rubbish! Writing is a crucial form of communication: if spelling is poor and sentences don’t flow, if sense is difficult to grasp, communication is damaged, could be misunderstood or even destroyed.

In our business, good written and verbal communications skills are vital. How can you advise your CEO or client about their corporate profiles if you are in danger of giving them advise rather than advice? Will you feel confident drafting reports, speeches or presentations if errors are likely and vocabulary is limited?

Hull University says its Marketing and Management students might have the opportunity for paid work experience with companies like IBM and Sony – something it claims will be “not bad for enhancing the CV”. I can’t imagine much patience at either of those impressive multinationals for spelling mistakes, dodgy grammar and woolly writing.

My client contact’s attitude is causing me problems

Q. I’m running a great account at my new agency, but my main contact is a problem. They are also new at the client company and seem to understand PR, but are so laissez-faire as to be almost invisible. We can’t get answers or approvals; work is stalled and, when it does happen, it’s late and results are compromised. The client apologises, but nothing changes. It looks as though we are failing to do anything, which is incredibly frustrating.

A. Some agencies would hide behind this problem and get on with other work, but you must resolve it. You can’t stand up at an annual review and say: “It would have been OK if you had done your job” – even if you can prove it all. That’s a lose-lose. Your boss could speak to their boss, being as constructive and frank as possible; but that damages the trust between you and your contact.

Go direct. Set up a face-to-face session over breakfast or at the end of the day. Go to their offices if that works best. Explain the problem and its impact. Present it as a challenge for you both, not a failing on their part – something you think is your job to solve.

Go armed with concise and unthreatening examples of how delays and silences have prevented success. Ask whether there is anything you can change to help with their workload. Listen hard and respond if there is any indication of something unsaid to help unravel the “why” of this issue. Propose new ways of working together.

Above all, develop a sense of trust between you. Being a “trusted adviser” is often about delivering personal as well as commercial counsel. Getting this right could be a valuable life lesson for your client.

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