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3d illustration of a house and money balancing on a board to showcase working from home

Does Working From Home Work for PR and Marketing Agencies?

Lance Concannon

May 31, 2023

The buzzy agency office atmosphere was always part of what made agency life special. Bouncing ideas off each other, working together on campaigns, celebrating successful pitches, commiserating when it didn’t go well. It could be a lot of fun.

But the pandemic changed all that and, just like many businesses around the world, a lot of agencies began to embrace the benefits of allowing staff to work from home. There’s no doubt that giving people that flexibility can be great for the individuals as well as the agencies, but has something been lost in the process? Do agency teams still enjoy that mutual sense of purpose and collaborative creativity that were fostered in a shared working environment?

The Positive Impact of WFH for Agencies

Let’s talk about the upside first of all. The first benefit of remote working is that it gives agencies access to a much wider talent pool, since they are no longer limited to hiring employees who live within commuting distance of an office.

Given the eye-watering cost of living in a major city these days, it stands to reason that a lot of people are choosing to live in more affordable areas, and agencies which are based in those large cities would previously have missed out on all that talent.

And that brings us onto the next advantage: happier, more productive staff. Working from home saves people a significant amount of time every day, not to mention money. It’s also easier for them to take care of all kinds of life admin and personal stuff that is so much trickier when you’re away from home for up to 12 hours a day. Net result, they’ve got more energy, they’re more focused and productive at work, they feel happier and healthier, which means they’re less likely to look for a different job.

It’s not just the agency employees who save money by working from home. Having fewer people working in an office can significantly reduce costs for the agency, especially if it’s able to downsize to a smaller place. Commercial rents aren’t cheap and, if your square footage requirements can be lowered then you can make big savings.

By decoupling headcount from office space, scalability also becomes easier. OK, agency growth isn’t often specifically limited by how many people you can fit into your office, but being able to scale up or down without worrying about whether you’ve got enough space (or you’re paying for too much) can make life easier for agency bosses trying to navigate through ever changing economic cycles. 

And the Negative Side

We live in a golden age of technology, and it’s easy to forget that being able to instantly jump on a high-definition video call with colleagues all over the world is incredible. But the unique magic that happens in a creative brainstorm is kind of lost on a Zoom call, it’s just not the same as hunkering down in a meeting room full of pizza and Red Bull and throwing ridiculous ideas at each-other until somehow, eventually, something brilliant happens. 

And it’s not just the big brainstorms that lose something through remote work. All those little interactions and casual conversations that used to take place in an office would often spark new ideas, which doesn’t happen in a world where you only talk to colleagues in a planned, deliberate way, when there’s a specific topic to address.

This also makes it hard to build and maintain any kind of company culture. Agency staff no longer go for lunch together, drinks after work, or any of the other social activities that helped forge stronger teams. In some businesses this might not be a problem - you don’t have to be friends with your coworkers - but in agencies there’s usually a strong social aspect to the working environment, and the resulting company culture is often part of what clients buy into.

Although not always the case, some remote workers report difficulties in creating a healthy work/life balance when they work at home, because at the end of the working day it’s harder to mentally switch off from work as they’re still in the same environment. This, of course, can lead to unhappy, less productive staff.

What’s the WFH Answer for Agencies?

As always, there’s no clear solution to find the perfect balancing act: it really depends on the individual agencies to find a way that works for them. Hybrid-working is currently being touted as the best compromise, with workers being given the flexibility to work from home a few days a week and attend the office for the rest of the time.

The research organization, Gallup, has looked closely at this issue and concluded that remote collaboration is demonstrably less effective than working together in-person, and suggests that the best approach is to standardize two or three working days a week in the office, which it claims boosts team engagement and wellbeing.