The ongoing dilemmas surrounding hybrid and remote-working scenarios, full-time versus flex-time, has escalated as PR firms and corporate communications departments now wrestle with designing the best plan for both their employees and businesses in our post-pandemic economy. As always, efficiency and profitability remain the utmost concerns among employers, along with a significant new emphasis on cleanliness and safety in the work environment. Employers are grappling with this new normal and seeking ways to address it all while keeping their employees happy, safe and motivated.
Clients have been reporting that having remote employees presents real challenges in managing and motivating employees who, understandably, are dealing with a host of distractions in their homes they didn’t have when everyone was in the same office. Interruptions from children, pets and spouses, to name a few, tend to direct employees’ focus elsewhere and not on the problems at hand.
Employers are feeling that the momentum and teamwork around an important project or assignment loses the spirit of an effort when groups of people are called upon at the same time. In an office setting, that energy and camaraderie can become infectious. It’s hard to recreate that same kind of enthusiasm over a Zoom screen.
Then there’s the ever-present question of trust. If management can’t be physically there to oversee and supervise employees, it leaves room for even the most honest employees to possibly skip some business priorities and take unapproved personal time during working hours, rather than tending to the task of serving clients and/or management.
To a manager’s dismay, looking for a job has also been made easier. No more hiding “interview clothes” in the office or in a suitcase and pretending you’re spending the weekend at your mother’s house or sneaking off to Starbuck’s to have an interview. Whether in-house or remote, people will always look for ways to interview. It’s a fact of business life. It’s unfortunate that there’s no better or honest way to go on an interview. Most often, an interview can be scheduled only during normal working hours.
Lately, quality of life for employees has become a big issue. As the convenience—or stress, depending on your point of view—of working from home has altered both family and work dynamics, the new road map to career success raises a plethora of questions. Like it or not, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many professionals to work from home, a culture shock for many—likely most—who never imagined they would find themselves in a work-from-home situation. Pre-pandemic, working from home was the norm for independent consultants and freelancers, certainly not a full-time PR pro! Now that reality has been placed on its head, the remote working situation has been made just as legitimate as working full time in a company’s office. This is evidenced in current conversations with our candidates, who are now requiring their next job to be of a flexible nature, thus allowing them to explore opportunities based in geographic areas other than their own. Working from home virtually opens the job hunt to any location.
As executive recruiters and consultants to the PR industry, we have a long history of talking to both sides of the equation, and never has the industry been faced with so many new considerations regarding Human Resources, workplace environment and dynamics. We’re often asked by our clients if we think remote employment is a trend that will take hold and become a new paradigm, or, if it is merely a temporary response to a crisis, and will go away once the crisis is behind us. My response continues to be: “It’s too soon to predict right now, however I believe that some of the changes will become a new normal. We’ll know for sure once we’ve gotten past this pandemic, and in the interim, we recommend being flexible to new ideas.”
One key element of workplace dynamics that seems to have been in limbo since the start of COVID and WFH is the issue of office politics. Does it still exist if employees are working from home? How has it changed in this new environment? What implications remain for both the employee and employer?
Over the years, we’ve recruited or tracked the movement of many PR professionals. When scouring the landscape for experienced, quality individuals to fill executive positions, we’ve always done so with the understanding that no candidate will succeed in a new role without fitting into our client’s culture. During our vetting process for our clients, we explored candidates’ soft skills and the likely cultural fit with the organization(s) to which we were presenting them. We determined whether both parties have compatible work styles, and whether the candidate would fit into the workplace culture and dynamic. The organization’s office politics was a part of this mix, and could easily make or break a career.
For many candidates, office politics conjures up unpleasant thoughts of overzealous, egotistical or just plain unqualified individuals who can wreak havoc on employees or a company. For others, recognizing and knowing how to navigate a highly-charged political atmosphere fits their wheelhouse perfectly. So, without an in-person or office workplace in which everyone is situated, what happens to politics? Good or bad, office politics has many purposes.
The workplace environment keeps evolving, expanding and contracting, just like the COVID-19 pandemic. Every day some issue pops up, demanding our attention and, usually, a response. Office dynamics will continue to change as business dictates and employees and employers alike try to keep up with what’s next.
In the meantime, the public relations industry moves forward and adjusts accordingly, as always.
Until next time ...
Dennis Spring is President of Spring Associates, Inc., founded in 1980. In addition to executive search services, the company also handles communications audits, mergers and acquisitions, client/agency reviews and PR agency selection searches.