As a 2020 college graduate, I was fully at peace with the fact that my full-time work experience was going to be very different than those who have preceded me. Entering the workforce amid a global pandemic presented a wide set of challenges, but also a plethora of opportunities. As I approach four years post-graduation, I often find myself thinking about the screen-fatigued universe we now live in and how this shift in work-life format has affected not only my career trajectory, but also the communications industry, specifically public relations.
According to ForbesAdvisor, 32.6 million Americans will work remote by 2025 and marketing is the second top industry for remote workers. At the same time, however, 69% of remote workers report increased burnout from digital communication tools, and 53% of remote workers say it’s harder to feel connected to their coworkers. Just because we’ve adapted to this new culture of working, often for means of convenience, doesn’t mean we should neglect evaluating its impact over time.
I began my career working for a boutique, consumer PR agency focused on the design and lifestyle spaces. I recall being eager and excited to embark on this new journey. It was through this experience that I was quick to learn that working fully remote was not a long-term lifestyle choice for me. While I was learning valuable skills, it was extremely hard to make strong connections, ask questions, and feel a sense of comradery around client work and projects. This sense of isolation led me to feel discouraged in my work and this feeling ultimately trickled into my personal life – as remote work left no room for separation of work and home.
With this all being said, it’s particularly important for communication/marketing agencies (and in-house teams alike) to consider the implications of remote work. While communications teams often fall into a bucket of “jobs that can be done remotely,” that does not mean that it will provide the best results. To succeed in this field as storytellers, creativity needs to be welcome and virtual work automatically creates barriers. When it comes to the type of individuals that often make up a communications team/agency, this industry attracts the go-getters, and this energy is best met through in-person brainstorming and collaboration.
For public relations professionals, a large part of our day-to-day job is to protect the public image of our clients’ businesses. With this in mind, communications teams should feel confident that their own workplace culture is strong and unified. How can one aid their client/company in submitting a “best workplace” award, for example, if they are not able to attest to their own?
On a Personal Note
On a more personal level, a hybrid work environment allows for co-worker relationships to be built outside of client work and business matters. According to PEW Research Center, “53% of those who work from home at least some of the time say working from home hurts their ability to feel connected with co-workers.” No matter how one might justify it, interpersonal skills are unfortunately not something that can be developed via Zoom, Microsoft TEAMS, or whichever telecommunications platform your company may function through.
Beyond important life skills formed in the office, working fully remote might actually be hurting your career trajectory as a whole. For example, if you’re working at an agency that represents clients across a wide range of industries, individuals that are early in their career are at a particular disadvantage working remotely, as they are eliminating exposure to other subject matters at a time when it’s crucial to be exploring.
According to a research paper from 2022, the “power of proximity to coworkers” is a strong one, and those working remote are automatically at a growth disadvantage as this results in less feedback from peers. It’s extremely difficult to ask questions when starting a job remotely without feeling like a nag. In turn, remote works are not only receiving less feedback, but are asking for less of it in the first place. The ability to walk over to someone’s desk for help or advice on a work-related matter is extremely beneficial, especially at the onset of one’s career.
In fewer words, just because a job can be done remotely doesn’t mean that it should. With firsthand experience of entering the work force amid the rise of work from home opportunities, I can strongly recommend a hybrid workplace for all. For early-career individuals, this is a key time for building influential relationships with colleagues, as well as gaining a wider perspective of your company’s various offerings. For all individuals in the communications field, particularly public relations, in-person collaboration is key to strong results. While work-from-home seems like the preferable choice for many, this decision can be detrimental to an individual’s interpersonal and professional growth.
Sarah Tornatore is a Senior Account Executive at Stanton.