Author: Nick Hill

DOES FLEXIBLE WORKING HELP OR HINDER CAREER PROGRESSION?

While new technological advancements continue to change the way we live our lives, the expectations we have on society constantly evolve, none more so than the way we work.

We are in the midst of a digital transformation and as result the social and economic landscape is continually changing. As part of this workplace evolution, we’ve seen the rapid growth of the gig economy; a surge in the opening of major co-working spaces; the number of start-ups reaching record levels and an increased desire for remote or flexible employment.

In addition to these innovations, our mental health and well-being has never been so valued and as a result, I believe the quest to find the perfect balance between a career and personal life is being sought after more than ever.

Organisations are already taking notice of these changes and we are seeing an increasing number of companies adapt new strategies to help meet the demands of their employees. For instance, Microsoft recently unveiled that it tested out a four-day work week in its offices in Japan for the entire month of August, without decreasing pay.

The trial project, called Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019, was unsurprisingly met with an overwhelming positive response by the workers. What is particularly interesting is that productivity among the 2,300 employees rose by 40%.

What we can take away from this project is that happier employees became more efficient, and the company as a whole benefited. However, despite the large number of participants, it is important to remember that this took place over just one month and in one company. The long-term impacts of a four-day week are still relatively unknown and until further companies take that leap of faith, it is uncertain if this strategy will become a permanent fixture in the workplace.

A major trend emerging in recent years is the desire to work remotely or have the ability to work via a flexible schedule, choosing when, where and how to work on any particular day.

Although this concept was initially restricted to specific roles and industries, companies from a wide range of sectors are now more accepting, allowing employees to enjoy more freedom than ever before.

According to recent research compiled by Instant Office, flexible workspace now amounts to more than 85 million square feet of the UK office market.

With an increasing number of people opting to work from home or shared co-working spaces, there is a lot more pressure being put on the employer to introduce flexible working within their business model.

But at what cost?

As well as all the advantages that comes with digitalisation, there is unfortunately an element of risk. Cyber-attacks and data breeches are on the rise, and the exposure of companies only widens when assets are scattered in different locations.

The security measures implemented within an office will be much more robust than those at home or on a public wi-fi network. As a result, remote or flexible workers are not only more likely to become victims of cyber-attacks, but the companies they are working for are also in danger.

I believe this is where trust becomes such an integral part of this process. Not only trusting the employee to carry out day-to-day activities at an efficient rate, but to also have the confidence to know that they will protect themselves and the employer from any potential threats.

This can be achieved through a thorough communication strategy that keeps both parties constantly up-to-date and aware of any critical changes. With that being said, we have to question if the responsibility still falls on the employer to ensure staff have the correct security systems in place to help them work remotely.

Although the changing trends of the way we work show no signs of slowing down, I believe it will be sometime before we see the workplace become completely flexible. There are too many variables to determine why or when companies should implement flexible working into their model.

Does the size of the company play a role? Does it depend on the nature of the work or industry they are in? Does flexible work offer the solution for a perfect work-life balance?

Digitalisation is changing the workplace, but to what extent is still unknown.

MEDIA RELATIONS: WHEN PRESS AND PR PROFESSIONALS COLLIDE

Now that I have completed six months of agency life, I feel fairly confident in saying that I am much more settled into my PR role following a rather steep learning curve. The transition from journalism to PR is without a doubt a challenging one to undertake!

The varied nature of working in PR can be extremely rewarding, exciting and educational, but consequently it is also a demanding job that constantly pushes me on a daily basis. It may be no surprise, however, that the biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is learning how to navigate the delicate intricacies of media relations.

With the emergence of ‘Fake News’, the instant ability to share information across social media and a gradual decrease in the number of working journalist, it could be argued that the art of ‘selling’ a press release or news story to the media is no longer a necessity. However, as someone who has experienced this process from both sides of the tracks, I can’t emphasise enough that it can still be extremely valuable.

Like many industries across the globe, journalism has been forced to evolve and adapt due to the ongoing digital transformation. As a result, however, a lot less journalists are working but a lot more content is being created. So, journalists are busy to say the least. I still vividly remember the dreaded feeling of opening up my inbox on a morning to discover that 300+ emails have found their way inside, and only to scour my way through to discover that less than half are of any relevance at all. It is just time wasted.

On the other side of the conversation, I’ve also experienced the hard work that goes into the process of getting a press release across to the journalist. As a PR professional, I write the copy, send over to the client and wait for feedback, make further amendments, get final approval and then find a photograph. But once again, this could all be time wasted if I just send across an email, hoping that the journalist will choose to open it amid all the unwanted spam they receive throughout the day!

The easiest remedy to for this painful process consists of two very simple steps.

First of all, never send a press release early in the morning; journalists are far too preoccupied with checking stock market listings; checking any overnight breaking news announcements; collating stories they covered the day prior and sending out the daily email newsletter to their list of loyal subscribers.

This is a critical time for a journalist, and unfortunately, if the press release being sent across doesn’t solve Brexit, then it isn’t going to get a look in. Following this is their time to annihilate the inbox, where journalists will be red faced and at risk of suffering with a repetitive finger injury from clicking delete repeatedly.

So, I always try to send a press release either late in the morning or early afternoon, as this can often be their calmest part of the day.

Secondly, which I believe is the single-most important element of this entire process, is picking up the phone and speaking with a journalist either before or after the press release is sent over.

Despite what journalists may say, I always found this extremely useful as it immediately directed me to an email/press release which I may have otherwise missed. Additionally, this also gives the journalist to ask any specific questions about the story, which could prove to be crucial to getting it published.

If nothing else, speaking on the phone at least gives you chance to develop relationships with members of the press for any future opportunities which may arise. As well as promoting your clients as reliable contacts for the media, you should also work to establish your agency as a reputable and reliable source. So pick up the phone!!!

YORKSHIRE PASSION PACKAGED DIFFERENTLY

I’ve always felt passionate about being from Yorkshire. The distinct accent, rich history, beautiful scenery and, of course, a plentiful choice of pubs are just a few of the many reason why our region really does deserve the moniker ‘God’s Own County’.

As the biggest county in the UK, Yorkshire is home to numerous towns, villages and several major cities, which are all supported by a diverse and growing economy. The region is without question a hotbed for all different kinds of activity.

But one major aspect of Yorkshire that can be overlooked is its vast cultural offering, and the beating heart of this is arguably situated in the district of Wakefield.

Although culture may not be synonymous with this area, this past summer I attended a unique event which is aiming to promote the many different venues, businesses and experiences across Wakefield and the five towns through the impact of providing a positive customer service.

Hosted by the Wakefield Cultural Consortium, the collective of cultural venues and organisations from across the district, the Yorkshire Passion programme comprised two short plays and a film written by globally acclaimed playwright, John Godber.

The first part of the play saw three actors perform a variety of roles in a production that centred around the awful customer service someone experienced during their first visit to Wakefield. After having negative experiences with the district’s taxi drivers, hotel staff, museum tour guides and café owners, the first-time visitor pledged never to visit the area again.

In what was an extremely entertaining and well-acted performance, John Godber and the actors cleverly demonstrated how the people who live and work in the district play a major role in the promotion of the area.

The district currently attracts 8 million visitors that contribute £448 million to the local economy each year, supporting no fewer than 8,000 jobs. These figures are supported through the cultural destinations of Wakefield, which include the The Hepworth Wakefield, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the National Coal Mining Museum for England, Theatre Royal Wakefield, Xscape Yorkshire and The Art House, to name a few.

The success of these organisations depends on the number of visitors they attract. The programme suggested that if a consistently high level of customer service is provided, this will not only encourage visitors to come back, but also attract new people to the district.

With that being said, the second part of the play saw the three actors play the exact same roles, but this time the first-time visitor experienced extremely positive customer service. The play clearly showed how this visitor was satisfied with his trip to Wakefield and will look to return in the not too distant future.

The message was clear, the people who live and work in Wakefield need to act as ambassadors for their district and show off all that it has to offer.

For someone who has lived in this district all his life, I had no idea that there was such a rich and diverse mix of cultural destinations on offer.

PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH: HOW I BALANCE BOTH IN THE WORKPLACE

With the final quarter of the year fast approaching I thought it would be an appropriate time for me to conduct a self-assessment over what has been a very busy 2019, not only professionally but also on a personal level too.

As I write this, I’ve almost surpassed the five-month mark since making the switch from journalism into PR, and it is safe to say I have learned an enormous amount in a relatively short but very enjoyable and rewarding time.

There is undoubtedly always going to be an element of the unknown when you begin a new career, but any fears or trepidations were quickly defused after I realised that Open Communications is a very ambitious and aspiring place to work. This was encapsulated after only a few months when we completed a move to a much larger office in Wakefield city centre.

As well as the many opportunities I am being given to maintain and develop my skills, the relocation to the new office also presented me with the chance to maximise something that is very important to me; my health and wellbeing.

Although I have always been a relatively active person, year after year my gym membership becomes less worn, sitting unused in my wallet. The dedication to stick to routine whilst also managing a career, and more recently moving to a new house, has somehow managed to elude me. However, this all changed when we rehoused to our new workspace.

I am now a member of a gym that is literally a couple of minutes-walk away from our offices and at least three times a week I try to complete a full workout within my lunch hour. Despite only keeping to this schedule for a few short months, I didn’t expect to feel such a positive impact so early on!

Not only am I back on track with my own personal fitness goals, but I also feel mentally refreshed and reinvigorated when I return to my desk to begin a full afternoon of work.

I initially joined this city centre gym with the idea that I don’t have to worry about working out before or after work, when I’m often far too tired! But I had no idea my new routine would become such an important and integral part of my daily routine, for both personal and professional reasons.

If anyone can get out in their lunch hour or during a break time, I would highly recommend a trip to the gym. I know it doesn’t sound appealing to all, but my new outlook is just one example of how beneficial it really can be.