Across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused substantial change for all – including communications and PR professionals. According to a survey by Hill+Knowlton Strategies, conducted in April 2020, with responses from over 220 PR professionals globally, new challenges such as longer working hours, low team morale and risk to mental health have emerged. The responses are also spread across all levels of seniority and working circumstances such as staff with family responsibilities while working from home.
Longer working hours
Most respondents are now working longer hours; reporting a bigger increase in hours worked than in other instances where professionals move to home working. Study also showed that people working from home tend to report longer working hours than those office based. Nonetheless, the scale of increased hours is substantial – and not sustainable, the report said. Also, while many work to a similar pattern of hours, around half have changed.
Less oversight on team performance
Most managers reported that they have less oversight of their team’s performance, despite no reduction in frequency of team meetings and check-ins.
Among managers, there has been a three-fold increase in not having a good oversight of team performance.
One of the drawbacks of remote working is the loss of the oversight that is more readily apparent when working among the team, perhaps especially for junior staff, the respondents said. According to the report, if the lockdown continues over many months, line managers will need to identify new ways to support their teams and regain that level of oversight.
Barrier to effective WFH
Overall, the research showed that the biggest barrier to working effectively from home is family distractions. A third of parents say that juggling childcare is “very hard”, while only a quarter of parents say it is not hard at all. Due to this, around half of working parents have changed their pattern of hours worked. However, 40% said no help was provided by their employer at all – including flexibility in working patterns. According to the report, working parents were twice as likely to report a drop in team morale than were other staff.
Team morale is now a lot lower than before
The report found that half the respondents agreed that team morale has worsened a little due to the lockdown situation. Usual team-building activities have also reduced, as everyone’s required to stay home. About 65% agreed that the impact of the lockdown will get worse in the coming weeks, and said now is the time to boost morale.
At the same time, managers are conducting virtual activities to keep-up morale within teams It is unclear which of these has the most positive impact or their persistence over time.
Risks to mental and physical health
Over a third worry that social isolation will impact their work performance, and about 40% worry social isolation will impact their mental health. While, 40% of the respondents are also concerned about the impact on physical health. According to the report, there is considerable concern among PR and communications professionals or all types of the impact social isolation will have on their physical health and mental health. While this is not an easy challenge to solve, there are evidence-based approaches to help mitigate these harms.
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Managers prioritise well-being over productivity
Line managers prioritise their team members’ wellbeing over their productivity during these difficult times. But they do not believe their organisation does the same. 10 to 1 Line managers prioritise wellbeing. 1 to 1 Belief the organisation prioritises wellbeing or productivity. There is a stark contrast. This may come to impact communications teams in the near future, if productivity becomes an issue and yet staff are struggling with the mental and physical health impacts of the lockdown.
Changes for the future
One massive area of change has been in the way communication is handled. The volume of written communications has increased rapidly and PR professionals are using an increasingly wide variety of methods to connect with colleagues. About 60% send more WhatsApp and SMS messages, whilst 20% also use more emojis and gifs. Video conferencing is the new norm, as 78% of PR professionals regularly show their faces with video calls. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, this figure stood at just 11%.
Meanwhile, a majority of the respondents are taking advantage of the benefits of working from home. Ultimately, many PR professionals also see some silver linings and long-term positive changes emerging from the work from home experience, especially in terms of flexible and home working. At the same time, several PR professionals agree that there are areas for improvement. These include leadership, oversight of productivity and mental wellbeing.