Will remote working remove geographical barriers?

remote working
Angela Hughes, Deputy Managing Director

We’ve been working remotely for 38 weeks.  I recall conversations among our team speculating that the initial three-week period would most likely be extended to six weeks. How optimistic we were!

The pandemic and associated lockdown and restrictions have forced business leaders to have conversations about the future of the workplace. Coronavirus has accelerated the prominence of technology, flexible hours and remote working practices. Businesses have pivoted to online service delivery through virtual meetings, conferences, and events.

We have experienced the above in our own business and on behalf of our clients and it has been almost seamless and, by and large, positive. It has given us food for thought for future business development and recruitment strategies. Do our people and our clients need to be in the same cities to enjoy successful working relationships?

The strengthening role of technology and the normalisation of virtual meetings presents the opportunity to hire new talent without geographical boundaries. That creates a much larger pool of talent. Likewise, our new business targets can potentially grow. If we can meet virtually, who cares if we’re in Edinburgh’s west end or London’s?

We already work with clients to deliver activity across the UK, as well as around the globe. The removal of distance as a barrier to doing business creates increased opportunity to work with companies without an office or HQ in Scotland.

Large organisations with headquarters in London have tended to favour London-based agencies due to proximity for meetings, as well as a (misguided) perception that being geographically close to national media outlets leads to more coverage. But if everyone is working from home, does location still matter?

Sometimes there are benefits to recruiting a local agency in terms of local knowledge, network connections and ‘boots on the ground’. But, depending on the client and the brief, these particular benefits may not matter or be a priority.

As an industry, we have an opportunity to potentially rebalance the concentration of high-profile, prestigious briefs in London across the country by demonstrating top quality support exists in regional agencies and we can deliver, regardless of location.

The key, as we’ve experienced in the last eight months, is establishing and maintaining solid relationships. We’ve learned that this can be achieved online and virtually. While ‘Zoom fatigue’ is a thing, online meetings have proved productive and we continue to deliver results for clients that we haven’t met face-to-face for most of the year.

That said, the remote working model is not a permanent state. We do intend to return to the office, possibly with some sort of hybrid model, and we want to meet our clients in person as soon as it is safe and possible to do so.

However, 2020’s reliance on technology and flexible working has raised important considerations about the ways we work and do business. While these questions have arisen under the not-so-ideal conditions of a global pandemic, uncertainty and adversity can lead to great ideas, innovation and opportunity.