Conversations at the Intersection of PR, Traditional & New Media

Is Work From Home a Better Deal for PR?

work from homeAt the recently concluded PRAXIS 2013 summit, one of the panel discussion was focused on women in public relations. The question that was largely debated during the discussion was that, ‘though the industry is dominated by women, why not many of them are holding top level positions?’ I personally don’t agree with this, because today, there are many women who I know are either running PR agencies themselves, or are at VP level positions heading business verticals or heading a corporate communications department. The comparative numbers currently may tilt more towards men because the PR business in India, took off only 20 years  ago and men were first to join the profession. Women came in little later, but they are climbing the ladder faster than men, and before you do another round of statistical analysis, women power will be shinning.

However the discussion point of today’s article is not on which gender dominates the PR business but to discuss if ‘Work from Home’ concept can be successful in our profession. The connection to the above paragraph is that, many women PR practitioners slow down their career progression or totally change the profession itself mid-way due to personal commitments towards family. On an average a women who wants to return back loses 6 months to 2 years of an important phase of work life, pushing them slightly behind in meeting their career goals.

So the thought – is work from home (WFH) a solution? Not only for women but for anyone who wishes to do so taking full responsibility of efficient delivery and commitments. Internationally and in many other service sectors in India as well, across age groups and job categories, demand is growing for good- work that can be effectively done from home. At the same time in developed economies a new breed of virtual publicists is also gaining grounds, without expensive office overheads, they can offer competitive prices while making hefty profits.

Presently in India, PR practitioners who are successfully working from home include:

1)      Freelancers & stringers

2)      Network support professionals of PR consultancies

3)      Representatives of International PR consultancies, who are yet to enter India in a big way

4)      Content writers

At an organizational level, some PR consultancies offer flexibility of working from home for a day or two and in case of medical emergencies, which may extend to a month or two as per the policy  of every individual company . There is this growing demand of WFH from across age groups and gender, given the daily commuting hassles, ailing parents and nuclear family setups. WFH can offer flexibility to manage work-life-balance and can also increase productivity if sincerely practiced.

Nihal Shaikh, a PR practitioner and a WFH proponent, says, “I had to relocate to the city with my parents and my company didn’t have a branch there. It was at a point in my career where I was handling a lot of responsibility at the office, so obviously I didn’t want to leave my clients or colleagues in the lurch. By working from home I was able to balance both and get back to office without losing a beat.” Similarly there were many other opinions in favour of WFH, who claimed that this can lead to higher employee retention rate, better work-life balance in employee and more.

On the similar lines, Frenny Doshi, a Bengaluru based practitioner says, “Time is an important factor when traffic and travelling is becoming chaotic, I have observed off late many meetings taking place over telecon and VC’s. Secondly, work from home on your own devices is impeccable, it will reduce certain costs, plus you can carry your data everywhere especially during the time when client wants that media list in like five minutes at the dead of the night! Thirdly especially for working mothers it is a boon, they don’t need to worry about the growth of the baby, and they can manage and be productive on both the baby and work while  being  at home.” 

Ondrilla a Bangalore based practitioner also supports Frenny’s views, she says,WFH can be certainly introduced, provided there are strict evaluation mechanisms. The agencies might go for a work log concept which is there in many western countries.”

While at the same time there were counter opinions as well, a practitioner who didn’t wished to be named, said, “The work from home option is not feasible for all sectors. Only those in which there is minimum personal interaction required, like in some departments of the IT sector, or in copyediting and telemarketing, it works. And in even those, you work closely with a supervisor, on a set of deliverables.” Shruti Jain, an Ahmadabad based practitioner’s points out that “In our business communications and collaboration becomes very important. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.” In this context it is also important to mention that recently Yahoo and Mahindra had recalled their work from policies, citing that “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”

In my Facebook conversation, few suggested me to speak to Archana Jain, MD of PR Pundit, as they were aware that the consultancy had introduced a policy to that effect and she was even kind enough to respond. She says “Working from home needs to be integrated judiciously, if at all, in our business model. It can be extended only to talent that is experienced, extremely conscientious, and more importantly self-motivated. PR Pundit is careful about offering this option and does so when and where it is able to assign specific responsibilities and hold team members that work from home firmly accountable. On occasions, we extend it to women who have been with us for a reasonable period of time, have small children and do not have support system to manage their young ones. The company has been able to benefit from this model in terms of retention of talent.”

With so many opinions on both sides, I decided to dig it further to come with much broader opinion on this subject and hence decided to do a short survey. Following are some of the findings:

  • 62% of employees were in favor of work from work, given effective job tracking mechanisms and on the contrary 90% of employers preferred employees worked from their offices as resources could be adequately employed
  • 45% of respondents said work from home would increase stability, but rest said, if offered a good increments they wouldn’t mind leaving the comfort of home and joining any other organizations. So money wins over comfort and flexibility
  • 95% of respondents said that their employers should offer flexibility of working from home for short periods with genuine reasons

So based on your comments and survey responses, the conclusion that I derive is that work from home is possible but for a limited period of time for specific self motivated employees. PR is a team oriented job, where teams collaborate, strategize, brain storm, share work load and are available to client’s whenever required. Frequent meeting to discuss and deliberate as well as monitoring the productiveness seems difficult at this point in time through WFH due to lack of technological infrastructure at both ends. May be in future with advancement in technologies where we can telecommute and be available all the time virtually, WFH in PR can be a reality. With the rate technology is advancing and on the other hand the rising of real estate prices, work from home will be the only solution for not only PR businesses but also for many other service industries.

For those lucky few who are already enjoying this flexibility, ET Wealth did a feature on work on work from home, which lists very good ideas on how one can make work from home very productive. Freelancers and network resources must read it. http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2013-09-30/news/42536739_1_work-day-home-dream-home-environment

If you have your own opinion or want to make any suggestions to agencies, please reply or post in the comments section of my blog www.vikypedia.in or tweet your feedback @vikramkharvi

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Disclaimer: The thoughts expressed by me in this blog are my personal views and do not represent the views of my employer or the organizations I have been associated with. I believe in the principle of sharing information. Feel free to link to any of the posts in this blog.
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