A fifth of PR agency chiefs are planning to reduce their firm’s office space in the aftermath of COVID-19, and one in 10 are thinking of giving up their physical office entirely, according to exclusive new research by PRTheyek. Meanwhile, more than half of the UK’s in-house comms chiefs expect to take more work in-house in the aftermath of COVID-19. And while about one-third say their PR agency budgets have been cut, it is likely that more opportunities will emerge for agencies in the coming period.
By Romanita Oprea
What has work been like for Romanian PR agencies during the pandemic? At Chapter 4 Romania, the switch to working from home got organised very quickly; in fact, they had moved everything online a week before the government declared a State of Emergency. And since they had been practicing remote working for a couple of years already, everything went smoothly and efficiently. They stayed in touch through weekly team and one-to-one meetings, which helped a lot. With the exception of a hybrid break of a couple of weeks, they are still working from home, and they’ll continue to do so for the next few months, as they’ve performed well and continued working at full capacity for their clients. They’ve also refined the services they offer to clients, changing plans on the go and coming up with new ideas in order to keep up with the social realities.
“Our procedures and workflow were definitely changed by the pandemic, especially when we moved to working from home. We had to adjust all our internal and external procedures, from brainstorming and client meetings to presentations and weekly status reports. Fortunately, we had a lot of tools available to help us communicate and we also discovered a lot of new things about our team and about ourselves as professionals. We are in work from home mode, but we have a flexible policy by keeping our offices open for colleagues who want to use them, while enforcing clear procedures for a safe work environment. We are evaluating the situation on a monthly basis and planning to start coming to back the office in shifts in the coming period,” said Andreea Irimia, group communications manager at Oxygen.
For Fabrica de PR, even though they faced all sorts of personal and professional difficulties at the beginning of this pandemic – uncertainty about how projects would develop, the changes that came up in the workflow, events that were cancelled or put on hold – they actually managed to make it work quite rapidly. Looking back, they can now say that it is efficient, it saves time, and even enables creativity, because every person in the agency gets more time and privacy to focus on ongoing projects. Fortunately, it has been a busy time for the agency, including new projects – which was indeed a surprise – with early and late hours in front of their screens, but with rewarding results as well. They were also involved in volunteering projects and were happy to offer their expertise to NGOs during these difficult times.
“We did something new for the first time in many years, and discovered that we really liked it. We realised that we were lucky to be able to do our jobs in friendly and safe environments, where we could be closer to nature or to our families. We can now work from anywhere and do so efficiently, we can save time because we no longer waste countless hours in traffic or in long meetings, and this means more time to reflect and create. It’s a kind of freedom we believe every human should experience at least once in a lifetime and decide whether it is good for them,” said Camelia Cavadia and Alina Sin, managing partners at Fabrica de PR.
“Constant communication is the best way to make things work. Generally, we follow a normal daily schedule, but should there be any interference, we let each other know and help each other out to make sure the client is always well served. We have regular online team meetings, doubled by individual meetings depending on activities and projects, plus ad-hoc brainstorming sessions to maintain our creative flow. Instant messaging is constant, but we have a mutual agreement to use it responsibly, to keep work time undisturbed as much as possible,” explains Raluca Ene, managing director at Chapter 4 Romania.
But what about coming back to the office? Have perceptions and attitudes around working from home changed forever? Because even though the communications industry has more openness and creativity than others, some actions and events or meetings still need to happen face to face.
Andreea Irimia argues that flexibility is key and thinks that a mix between working from home and coming to the office will continue for an indefinite period. We’ve all learned a lot since the pandemic began, from how to better manage our time to how to handle online meetings and talk to each other through a screen across most of our working hours.
“For some of our colleagues, working from home gave them the opportunity to be more time efficient or more proactive in their work, while for others it clarified the fact that they need to be at the office to be productive and stay connected to other people. We are all different and I believe we cannot talk about a change in attitude that will last forever, but about a better ability to adapt to various conditions, which will continuously change,” added Oxygen’s representative.
Looking at the entire Romanian PR industry, Irimia believes that things have definitely changed for all players, as most clients have recalibrated their marketing budgets or changed the focus of these budgets. This was reflected in the workflow and in the ways in which departments were organised. “However, we were glad to see that many brands decided to change their messaging and approach to fit the new context. It’s a work in progress and the communications market reacts quickly to changes,” commented Irimia.
Moreover, Raluca Ene points out that control over the team’s activity has by far been the biggest change in the way they are organising activity.
“The perception that there was a need for compulsory physical control used to be so deeply ingrained into our culture that it seemed impossible to make this work. But moving everything online has forced us to do so, and we did it in a very effective manner, thus reminding the entire society that adaptability is in fact the secret to our thriving throughout history. We have understood that human relations go beyond the physical aspect – which is always important, don’t get me wrong, but the energy, the motivation, the positive attitude can all go through any screen and have the power to keep us close together. And not just inside our team, but also when it comes to our clients and business partners. We are a team and we make decisions together regarding everyone’s health and safety. Right now, we are working from home, while preparing some options depending on how the pandemic evolves,” explained Chapter 4 Romania’s managing director.
Speaking about the industry in general, Ene says that it had a short period when it slowed down and adjusted to the social realities, but once we and our clients evaluated all the variables and started working with different scenarios, we found ways to not just move forward, but also to push for better results. “The fall feels busy and rich in opportunities, and I think we’ve also been able to adapt business-wise, which is great news for our industry,” Ene concluded.
At Fabrica de PR, the past months have led them to exclude the option of coming back to the office in the near future. With lots of devices and apps available, things can go very smoothly. But if requested, face to face meetings are not excluded, of course. “For the moment, we no longer see the purpose of having an office. It saves time and energy; we can be more focused on results and less on the means in which to achieve them. The feeling that you can do your job anywhere is a very pleasant one, with positive effects for each team member. In addition, it can also be a wise business decision regarding the management of administrative expenses,” said Fabrica de PR representatives.
They also believe that this new work from home (WFH) experience has opened many people’s eyes, employers and employees alike. Things certainly cannot be the same for every company, since it depends a lot on the industry in which it operates, on the needs of each client or employee or on the company size. However, “each company was able to make its own assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of working from home during this period. For some of them, the budgets assigned to monthly rents suddenly became unnecessary, a roadblock to other possible investments, while for others it became clear that the loss of physical contact between employees would be bad for the company. As we have seen all over the world, companies are considering flexible work schedules and hybrid work arrangements, workspaces are being redesigned to ensure safe human interaction, and there’s more room for choice. Adaptation is again a key word,” Cavadia and Sin added, arguing that Romanians are smart and creative communicators and they can quickly respond to challenges and deliver quality projects. “It is still a growing market, but a highly creative one too. The industry offers us examples of cool campaigns every year, there are dedicated events highlighting the latest trends, communicators are eager to learn more and to come up with new ideas and approaches, and brands have understood that a good communicator is a key person in the team,” they concluded.