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How Working from Home Has Changed the PR Work Environment

Published on October 8, 2020, at 1:45 p.m.
by Katelyn Lambert

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it seemed like the whole world came to a screeching halt overnight. Businesses automatically started sending their employees home to work remotely. Working from home has now become the new normal for nonessential workers, such as public relations and communication professionals. Even though working from home is universal, the way communication and public relations practitioners are handling this major change differs from agency to corporate environments.

Photo by Major Tom Agency on Unsplash

Corporate vs. agency
Tim Deighton, corporate communications team manager at Regions bank, reported that his entire team started working remotely in a span of a week of the pandemic breaking out. Even though this worldwide pandemic was unprecedented, Regions had a global pandemic playbook to get the ball rolling on what it needed to do as a corporate company. However, its plan was not intended to address long-term changes like the ones we are currently experiencing. This situation has challenged employees to learn more and expand their skills to keep up with the pressure of working from home while still being productive.

“Things that would have taken us months to experiment with were literally changing in days,” Deighton explained. One change Deighton’s communications team plans to adopt for the long term is flextime. Flextime is a flexible work schedule where employees can alter when they want to work, or when they come into the office. Others are taking more of a phased approach.

Zehnder Communications is a midsize regional agency with three different locations. Employees can come into the office voluntarily, but there is only a specific percentage of employees can be in the office at a time, according to Henry Chassaignac, president of Zehnder. After the pandemic, the agency will most likely move to a hybrid-type system. With one of its offices being in New Orleans, Zehnder learned from hurricane Katrina that agencies have to be ready when a crisis hits, he said.

Smaller agencies had a different experience. Unlike corporate offices, they had to work harder to keep clients on their rosters. Some are doing great and are busier than ever, while others are just now picking back up from the shutdown.

KC Projects in Birmingham, Alabama, was the busiest while working from home. Krista Conlin Robinson, founder and president of KC Projects, noted that “PR has become extremely valuable during this time.”

While her agency was thriving, most agencies are now seeing an increase in new clients. The Lollar Group, also based out of Birmingham, had clients pull the plug on their projects when the pandemic first broke out, according to Holly Lollar, founder, and president of The Lollar Group. Now as businesses are starting to reopen, the agency is seeing an influx of new clients. The Lollar Group focuses mainly on crisis communication work, so it is seeing businesses who want to put a plan in place just in case another major crisis arises, Lollar said.

Both agencies are still working from home, but coming into the office for quick meetings then dispersing, Robinson and Lollar said. The Lollar Group is taking it one step further by meeting at small businesses around Birmingham to help give back to the community, according to Lollar.

Working from home: More or less efficient?
When it comes to working from home, there are a lot of different aspects to think about. Working remotely looked different particularly during the pandemic because it also meant everyone in the household was home.

From a corporate standpoint, Regions’ communication team was highly productive while working from home, and there was a tremendous change in the speed and velocity of the workflow, according to Deighton. Team members were producing more content at home than they were in the office. “There was a significant increase in productivity out of necessity,” said Deighton.

Henry Chassaignac, president of Zehnder, said his team’s work has not suffered. They handle the balance between work and life very well, which carried over to their at-home productivity, he noted. However, data will later tell if they were more or less efficient while working remotely.

KC Projects also displayed increased efficiency while working from home, Robinson said. She emphasized that “everybody was really anxious to make sure we could continue to show our value to our clients, so we worked harder.”

Lollar had a different experience while working from home. As a mom of three, she had to home-school her children while maintaining her agency. She reported that there was less productivity, but her team worked just as hard amid the chaos. An example of their hard work was the On River Time event to help raise money for neglected youth. The Lollar Group had to make the event virtual this year. Even though it was virtual, they were able to bring in special elements and raise more money than ever before, Lollar noted.

Is working from home here to stay?
There are still businesses that are working from home to help keep their employees safe. Although employees are ready to get back to normal, Deighton said, “as a communicator, we will never go back to the way things were.” The communications team leader has always been an advocate of working from home. He had a three-hour commute daily, and without the commute, he is being able to pour three extra hours into the company.

However, Chassaignac emphasized that “physical togetherness is ultimately for the best.” He believes that it is on a company by company basis whether working remotely is here for the long haul. In Robinson’s view, “There is not an immediate need to be back together yet.” As for whether working from home is here to stay, she hopes it is not, but thinks it could be. Lollar believes, “You don’t always have to be in an office to get a great experience.”

A recurring idea is that industry professionals are having to adapt and learn how to survive in this new work environment. As Chassaignac said, “We are all in this together.”

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