On Friday, the Global Women in PR Group published a report on gender inequality and attitudes in the PR industry. As someone well-versed in the issues surrounding gender inequality in the workplace, I was not surprised that, even in an industry so overwhelmingly staffed by women, men still earn disproportionately more.
But this time it was not the gender inequality stats that caught my eye. Buried down in the report was a statistic that 56% of those surveyed felt they could do their job equally well if they worked from home or had no fixed workspace. Despite regulations in the UK that oblige companies to consider flexible working requests, it’s still a rare and bold PR who marches up to their director and asks to work one day a week from home.
Flexible working is still often seen by PR agencies as a ‘second best’ to being office-based – for above average employees under exceptional circumstances, which usually means women who have started a family. But this view is old-fashioned and counter-productive.
In 2017 it’s no longer just women who stand to benefit from flexible working arrangements, and the notion that flexible working is purely a solution for helping mothers get back to work should be ditched. In September, the largest ever study of the UK workforce revealed that 87% of those surveyed (that’s men AND women) wished they could work more flexibly.
Study after study has shown that the benefits of flexible working far outweigh the risks, for both employees and employers, from increasing productivity, reducing overheads, promoting loyalty and improving work-life balance. And business is catching on. The Telegraph reported earlier this year that by the end of 2017 more than 50% of UK-based businesses will have flexible working policies in place.
So why are so many PR agencies still so wedded to a physical location?
As communicators, the PR industry should be leading the way in this space, demonstrating to our clients that there are more innovative, productive ways to build a team, and guiding them towards becoming more progressive employers. It’s increasingly common for our clients to be set up remotely and to work flexibly and the PR industry needs to reflect this. So little of the work we do depends on being anchored to an office, and any PR pro worth their salt is already proficient in the multitude of communications tools that allow us to work effectively at a distance. In fact, one of the best client relationships I ever had was with someone on a different continent who I only met twice in the two years we worked together.
Flexible working means more time to focus on what really matters, putting an end to an hour-plus commute that saps your energy before you even begin the working day; a diverse team who, based in different locations, bring different perspectives to creative discussions; and a passionate, committed workforce. With more and more PR employees calling for flexible working, agencies who are slow to embrace it risk not just looking old-fashioned and narrow-minded but losing out on the best talent.
I’ve had the privilege of working with major global organisations, including Mars, Incorporated and EY who have recognised that embracing flexible working will help them stay competitive and boost their reputation. Flexible working is a growing trend. And the PR industry should be leading the way, not following.