ICCO Summit: are we afraid of change?

Today I attended the ICCO Summit where a group of the top global PR pros in the industry discussed a number of issues, including talent recruitment.

A number of points were covered around diversity, pay gap and the need to stop the high turnover of staff in our industry (55% average), but one issue which struck me was our hesitancy to want to adapt to the global change towards working remotely.

Over 40% of employees in the US will be freelance by 2020. Not just PRs, but those working across tech, finance, recruitment and other non-service sectors. The internet, the ability to work from anywhere, the desire for control over our lives, and the ingrained confidence of young entrepreneurs means, as a society, we will no longer be restricted by location.

The concept of Digital Nomads is not new, but the tribe has grown exponentially since Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Work Week went global, and the rate of those moving towards a nomadic lifestyle will only continue to grow as innovations in technology continue to provide new ways of working.

Thinking about it, many of us already undertake small parts of this lifestyle in our office based industries – the choice to host a conference call rather than a face to face meeting, the increasing introduction of Skype calls, and emailing whilst on holiday are all elements of this lifestyle which only continues to prove the Nomads right.

And it is the growth of this tribe of workers which will have a huge effect in the next decade.

So why is our industry – and society as a whole – so scared of this path?

For me, it harks back to an ingrained problem in PR – we just like things how they are.

For an industry based on telling clients that (sometimes) change is needed to drive their brands forward, we ourselves are now at risk of being slow to react.

At the ICCO Summit, I asked the panel discussing the issue of talent recruitment, about this inevitable change in the workforce and whether the PR industry is ready, or even wants, to adapt to it. The responses only went on to show that our industry remains short sighted when it comes to hiring the best talent.

Alex Robinson, MD of Capstone Hill Search, a recruitment firm specialising in PR and Comms professionals in the UK, US and Australia, admitted the industry will find it difficult to change.

Ben Smith, Founder of PRMoment did note, however, that the growing trend of project based work meant working with freelancers is easier, but flagged there is still a way to go.

Sue Hardwick, Co-Founder of the Global Women in PR movement, however believed that working with freelancers cannot be a successful route for PR agencies, and rather that agencies should work to improve their relationships with staff to ensure they have a good enough work life balance to retain them full time, in office.

And it’s this last point which will strike a chord with digital nomads – can the work life balance of living and working in one place really outdo the opportunity to travel the world and work remotely? We need to assume not – the research is telling us so.

With more and more focus on the need for greater work life balance, it’s easy to predict that, as opposed to the 1980s when nonstop, 24/7 ‘Work’ was seen as the pinnacle of success, by 2020, ‘Life’ will be the critical word.

“The sense that burning yourself out is good & necessary for success is being challenged” – The Stress Report, Campaign Magazine, Sept 2016.

And as this trend develops, and technology advances, efficiency will become key. Not only for employees in our industry, but our clients too. After all, would you (and they) prefer a Skype call to cover off key project feedback, or a 3 hour face to face meeting. For the client, is there really enough ROI in the face to face meeting to warrant the expense of paying your agency’s travel and time fees?

With so much change expected, one thing is clear – the PR industry must look to react now and embrace the new wave of employees coming through. As the ICCO Summit showed, attracting talent to our wonderful industry is already difficult, so let’s not stunt things further.

It’s time to take a deeper look, and embrace the future. The question is, does being in the same location as your team really matter, or is change the real issue?

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