Telecommuting: the Future of Public Relations?

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I’ve spent the better part of the past ten years working from the comfort of my home. I’ve had offices, and I’ve worked in a newsroom. But more often than not, my own dwelling has doubled as my office. The main reason I’ve been allowed to work from home is that, in general, my work has involved a lot of writing and a lot of phone calls. These are two things that public relations reps spend a considerable amount of time doing. That’s why I feel that companies should allow public relations staffers to telecommute.

A persistent joke among my friends is that I sit at home all day, do a few hours of work, and watch television the rest of the time. They’re wrong, of course. In fact, I’ve always found that I’m much more productive working at home.

While my co-workers waste their mornings on trains or in traffic, I’m already at my desk. Lunch does not take me out of the office, just to the kitchen. When the end of the day rolls around, I can “stay” an extra few minutes (or hours) if I need to, because I’m already home. The lack of travel also means that I have fewer sources of outside stress, and that makes me a happier worker.

Of course, no one likes having to come into the office early, or being forced to stay late, but what do I care? Coming in early doesn’t mean I need to hit the road at 6:30 A.M.; it just means that I have to wake up an hour earlier. You want an extra hour out of me at the end of the day? That’s fine. I’ll just start cooking dinner an hour later, or I’ll hit the gym a little later than usual. With no preparation time needed before work, my mornings are free. And with no travel time home, my evenings are available.

Employee productivity is what employers care about most. Working from home, I believe, fosters more productive workers. And not just because I can be in the “office” longer.

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I conduct virtually all of my interoffice communication via email or instant messaging software, the best tools I have at my disposal when I need something done. Yesterday I prepped one of our editors for a radio interview, reviewed research that one of our analysts put together for a reporter, had our tech guy fix a database problem, worked with our marketing person to generate advertising creatives, and worked with a sales manager to close a deal — all via instant messenger. Outside of the “office,” I walked a reporter through our product and answered questions she had for a story. If I had to do all of those things face-to-face, via a series of emails, or on the phone, I would have accomplished little.

My employee productivity increases at home mostly because I have fewer distractions. There are no co-workers to stop my cubicle — and when they stop by via IM, I can ignore them — and no lengthy trips to the bathroom or to lunch to take me away from my desk for too long. If I choose to take a break and the phone rings, I’m just a few feet away from my desk. Do I waste time surfing the web? Sure, but I don’t have to hide it, and the extra time I save because I don’t have a commute means I’m less likely to shop, fool around, or pay bills online during work hours.

The best individual benefit for me when it comes to working from home is cost savings. I write off my home office on my taxes, including a percentage of my rent and utilities. I don’t spend money on mass transit or gas, and I don’t burn precious dollars eating out at lunch or hitting the vending machines. My dry-cleaning costs equal to 25 percent of what my brother, who commutes 45 minutes to an office every day, spends.

My company saves money as well. While my company did buy me a laptop for business trips, it did not have to buy me a desktop, or the two monitors that are standard for my job. (I already had them at home.) There’s one less phone line in the office because I work from home, and I’m not eating up office supplies every day. When our company was expanding and we needed more office space, we saved at least one month of rent on an additional office because another telecommuting co-worker and I gave up our offices. (We did eventually have to rent a second office, but with two of us staying home, we temporarily alleviated the overcrowding).

Many public relations firms worry that telecommuters won’t be able to integrate well into a traditional corporate environment, and this is certainly an issue that can affect productivity and the office environment.

At my company, we have a number of telecommuters, and we make sure that everyone from the company gets together at least once a month. We typically schedule a few hours worth of meetings and then top it off with a dinner. This may not take the place of seeing someone every day, but we’ve bonded nicely. Likewise, because we conduct much of our communication over instant messenger, a medium that practically demands frankness when it comes to business communication, we’ve created a very loose and friendly corporate culture where opinions are respected.

A few years ago, I spent some time in the offices of two public relations firms, one a boutique agency and one a major international firm. I watched the workers deal with bosses who did “drive-bys,” my term for a quick cubicle check for no other reason than to bug someone. I saw stress levels rise. I watched a friend do in eight hours what I know he could have done in three if people would have simply not distracted him. I sat in meetings that could have been conducted via instant messenger, and I watched people in business suits make phone calls they could have made at home in their pajamas. I watched employee productivity drop sharply.

Not every job can be done from the home, but during a given week, I believe that much of a public relations rep’s work can be accomplished without going in to a traditional office. Careful planning and an understanding of when an employee needs to be in an office are essential to making a telecommuting position work. If that can be accomplished — and it’s not difficult –- public relations firms will be rewarded with less costly, less stressed out, and more productive employees.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (, a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit:

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