There’s no question that the Covid pandemic abruptly changed the nature of work. While working remotely had become increasingly popular prior to the lockdowns, almost immediately, a great number of organizations were forced to implement remote work. Some have pivoted back to fully in-house; others are finding success in hybrid models and some are now operating entirely remote work forces. Each of these methods of operation require specific strategies and tools.
From software platforms to bring the work under one roof to different forms of communication and even new methods of engagement to maintain a positive workplace culture and productivity, there’s little doubt that demanding “all hands on deck” in a brick-and-mortar environment is no longer a necessity as much as it is a choice. And as a choice, it’s dramatically changed the relationship between the hierarchies of the office where structure and protocol have ruled.
This transition within the work environment has been particularly interesting for me watch since I launched my PR firm in the 1990s as a hybrid work model with the majority of my “employees” working remotely. This was an almost entirely unexplored and somewhat blasphemous concept in the PR industry. It was at a time firmly rooted in the concept of large offices in key metropolitan cities staffed to the gills with a hierarchy of corners, number of windows, windowless interior cubicles or simply a bullpen — all determined by title, salary and hourly rate. Some offices even had sign-in sheets to ensure everyone was punctually in their designated space on time. This was when faxes, pagers, hard copy press kits and even, believe it or not, cold call phone pitching ruled the day.
Early technology and freedom for remote publicists
So, what was the attraction in the early days for PR professionals to join a company with no corner windows to dole out as an incentive? Simple, and for the very reasons that still hold true today: freedom and a better work-life balance.
For established pros, working from home meant no wasted hours commuting to an office every day, and because they were already confident in their work habits, their productivity didn’t decrease. As a matter of fact, it typically increased. I was able to staff my company with top publicists, journalists and former producers, all more than ready to trade that cubicle or corner office for something more precious: time. Time, not only for family or personal activities, but time devoted to the job itself.
Software doesn’t replace creativity
What has changed dramatically since our first remote “media reps,” as we called them, camped out in their bedrooms, is the technology. In those early days, there were more hoops to jump through given the lack of technology available to support remote workers. The internet, obviously, with workflow software, the cloud and any number of tech advances have made it easier and smoother to communicate and collaborate between remote locations. But surprisingly, some elements have stayed the same over the last three decades.
PR, and I mean good, effective PR, is a different animal than data input, software development and any number of industries that now revolve around remote technology to keep their revenues flowing. Good PR is as much an art form depending as much on creativity as businessdiscipline. The creativity is in developing the perfect pitch to a publication, which will resonate and demand attention. Creativity is usually developed through trial and error as well as the reality we all live in day-to-day. Certainly, communicating the creative product is simpler and much faster today, but eliminating the white noise of a business office environment is just as beneficial to PR’s creative process and remains a main element of our success.
How can PR management excel in a remote work environment?
From management’s standpoint, first find and recruit self-motivated individuals with the discipline to manage the freedom of working physically isolated from their co-workers. Not everyone has the self-discipline to motivate themselves without management or even peer pressure.
Second, provide the technical tools to communicate with each other and HQ without stifling their creativity. Remote does not mean isolated or without the means to collaborate or communicate with co-workers and (obviously) the media.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, provide a structure of reinforcement and inclusion with company management and its overall mission. This doesn’t just mean a phone or Zoom call. It means making the time to meet in-person at a person’s home office or an all-hands gathering for fun and sharing. Company culture may be established in-house, but it needs to extend comparably to all remote workers.
The role of structure for the remote publicist
From the individual standpoint, which applies to not only publicists but all creative remote workers, make sure you understand that working remotely does not mean working without structure. The most successful remote workers set a structure of space, materials and time. Carve out a space within the home or elsewhere that is private and quiet. Make sure you have all the materials you need to function — computer, printer, phone and even old-fashioned files if you’re like me — and most importantly, a strong internet connection. It’s your lifeline.
It’s equally important to allocate your time. Depending on your individual work habits, set aside a specific amount of time each day for work, and stick to it. The most successful PR pros working remotely understand it’s still a job and understand how to discipline themselves communicate regularly. As mentioned previously, a little isolation can be great for the creative process. But the other side of the coin is that publicists live in a world of “not interested,” and even for the best of us, that can weigh on our self-confidence and possibly become demoralizing. Total isolation can be counter-productive and even dangerous. That’s why it’s crucial to stay connected.
It’s clear that while remote work was gaining in popularity, the pandemic pushed it to a new level. Either fully remote or hybrid workforces are here to stay, and I think the PR industry is particularly well-suited to thrive in that environment. By nature, we’re self-starters with the ability to push forward when things get rough. But to be our best, it’s important to remember that maintaining structure and communication will not only serve our clients but will also serve our own well-being. We can’t be good for others unless we’re good to ourselves.
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