Flexibility, remote working and rethinking the (PR) workplace
In September, The New York Times ran an article entitled: “Young People Are Going to Save Us All From Office Life.” The general tenet of the article is that Generation Z and younger Millennials are forging a new type of workplace, one where flexibility and the ability to work remotely will be paramount over pay and seniority.
The article generated a lot of buzz and a range of responses: recruiters noted the thriving job market and associated lack of available employees allows workers to dictate their job requirements in a way they couldn’t before; social commentators argue that this generation of young people have been raised to be always ‘contactable’ thanks to technology and struggle to understand the need to be physically present in an office on a daily basis. Other observers countered that flexibility is a matter of privilege still – one dependent on the type of job you do, the level you work at and the compromises you are willing (or able) to make.
All of the above responses are valid but what really struck me about the article was the idea that flexibility and remote working are somehow new concepts. As the founder of a virtual agency comprised of a team of remote workers, I can assure you it is not. And for those thinking of making the leap to remote working or company leaders wondering whether to embrace this approach, I can share some learnings of what works and what doesn’t.
Ensure remote working is a right fit for your industry
When I launched Plat4orm PR, it was apparent that the boundaries between work and life were already beginning to blur as broadband wireless and digital apps presented a greater ability to work from practically anywhere. In the PR industry, the majority of our interaction with clients and press took place over the phone or email – so a team could stay connected to clients, press and prospects no matter where they were. There was no longer a need to invest in an expensive office space or to build an entire team centralized in just one or two locations. That being said, as an agency we do invest in regular trips to visit our clients at their offices and events, ensuring we maintain strong relationships.
Rethink your approach to recruitment
This virtual agency model allowed me to tap into a wealth of talent – talent often overlooked by more traditional bricks-and-mortar agencies including women seeking to re-enter the market after extended maternity leave; more experienced PR professionals seeking a better work/life balance to juggle multiple priorities; and young professionals tired of hour-long commutes to and from work, or unable to afford to live in the locations of larger agency offices but a strong desire to be part of the industry. By offering prospective employees the chance to work remotely, we were able to build a seasoned team of like-minded PR professionals who wanted (and in many cases needed) the flexibility of a virtual model.
Hire the right people
A virtual agency model requires leaders to focus on their ability to communicate effectively via non-traditional platforms – without regular in-person contact or physical cues to respond to, leaders need to exercise a type of emotional intelligence where they set boundaries, give clear direction and also respond to employee needs, whether through email, text, Slack or a phone call. As important as it is for leaders to be within reach of remote workers, it is equally vital to hire people who are the right fit for a remote work situation. Having a virtual office doesn’t mean employees can hide away from interacting with colleagues – in fact you may find you are interacting even more. A virtual agency model requires self-starters who are self-disciplined and accountable, can take direction and act on it. Achieving a high level of success in the workplace means more than being a valuable member of a bricks-and-mortar team where you can be seen and heard eight hours a day. Virtual workers must be strong communicators and collaborators across virtual walls to deliver the results clients and businesses expect.
Pay it forward
The cost-savings that result in the absence of expensive rents, office operation and other infrastructure costs allowed Plat4orm to offer clients more competitive rates. Traditional bricks-and-mortar agencies are hampered by their sheer size, scale and infrastructure. The fact is, on-site offices in media-centric cities such as New York and San Francisco are prohibitively expensive—a cost that is inevitably passed on to clients through higher retainers. As an industry, we are increasingly seeing clients push back on the billable hour model, but too many agencies are hamstrung by their expensive overheads and can’t afford to cut costs. With little real estate costs to worry about, Plat4orm has been able to build experienced teams who deliver impactful results to clients at market-friendly rates.
Whatever the reasons for the current trend around flexible working, I do believe it is a trend that will only continue to grow in prominence. I have seen first-hand the benefits of this approach and I encourage all businesses to start thinking now about what this new world of flexibility might mean for them.