Working From Home and the Covid Long Recovery

More insights from Talk Priority’s conversation with our founder, Jane Prior

TP: What do you see as the biggest fall-out from the pandemic?

JP: There have been many different national approaches to the pandemic. Singapore is one of the countries that managed Covid very well, with significantly fewer hospitalisations and fatalities than elsewhere.  The lockdowns of course had a major impact on all businesses, but for us it was only the Singapore team that needed to behave differently and leveraging all we had learned across the region, we adapted fast and effectively. Our sustained results over the last two years have demonstrated beyond doubt that the remote Work From Home model can deliver overwhelming success.

Working From Home, with all its implications, will prove the biggest and longest-lasting effect of the pandemic. Priority was already an established hybrid organisation and the pandemic put a spotlight on the huge inherent benefits of this model. It has, for example, validated my long-held view that PR offers an ideal career for women, especially working mothers with families and other responsibilities, as the client workload can be optimised, assigned and managed within a part-time working week. I say “women” cautiously, because with the shifts in populations and demographics, increasingly men are looking for this same flexibility.

WFH allows any white-collar employee to “own” their career, working short or long-term assignments and on a part or full-time basis from wherever they want. I believe this is hugely exciting for organisations willing to grasp the potential in these changes for offering more creative, value-added work. However, to derive the maximum benefit we also need to see a mind-shift on the part of companies and staff themselves to make sure the advantages are not lost in archaic structures and thinking.

TP: The Great Resignation seems to support your view. This could be interpreted as employees today being less committed to their company. Does this mean that employers need a different kind of employee – technically skilled, less socially conscious, happy working alone. Is this true, or are there consistent characteristics we should prize?

JP: I am not sure we should view this as less committed but rather people looking to establish a set of boundaries, and also values, which offer a win-win to both staff and organisation. The old “iron rice bowl” is broken forever.  The command-and-control model is finished.  The new watchword is “trust.” Managers need to empower and equip their employees and then trust them to deliver, and likewise employees need to trust their managers to provide clear expectations and the tools to achieve those goals. Yes, the desirable employees of today need technical skills, but as their worklife means less physical interaction with their co-workers, they need, more than ever, the eternal values of integrity, courage and generosity, plus a huge dash of empathy.

TP: Why are these important?

JP:  Without the luxury of engaging with people face-to-face, it is important to be even more sensitive to the needs and challenges of everyone around you and this relates equally to work and social interactions.  In the virtual world we share, it is absolutely imperative to stay attuned to the mood around us, to take the time to truly engage beyond just the superficial and most importantly, remember where the engagement left off the last time.

At Priority, we believe in being pro-actively generous in sharing advice and our knowledge on everything from managing clients, communications techniques, research resources and opportunities to the cultural nuances that flavour our region. Beyond the formal meeting agenda, we will always try to dig deeper to truly understand our clients as people and take on, as partners and business friends, the challenges they face. Empathy here means putting ourselves in the shoes of our clients, our clients’ customers, and understanding what keeps them awake at night and in this way we not only build authentic relationships, but we can also write the stories.

TP: How does this work out in practice at Priority?

JP: We are very conscious of the psychological needs I’ve described, and it is important for us to address them.  From the professional point of view, one day in each week is allocated to staff development across all levels of the organisation.  We target Fridays to be “client-free” days and we offer a combination of hard skills training through our “Learning@Priority” programme which covers Foundation Skills training for junior executives, to management skills and one-to-one coaching for team leaders. We also provide the time and the platform to develop positive relationships between and among our colleagues, encouraging everyone to socialise across the geographic boundaries and at every level.

TP: What are you most proud of in the Priority of today?

JP: One of the changes that we’ve seen in work and life, one that has been emphasised during the pandemic, is an almost universal shift in attitude to mental health.  Once taboo, people today are more comfortable admitting if and when they need help and that they may be struggling for whatever reason. While there are always limitations of geography, we are completely supportive of anyone who finds themselves needing support and while I am relieved to report we got through the pandemic without losing any of our team, the differences between the countries was stark and it was apparent that some of the team had it much easier than others.

Another aspect of Priority’s culture that we are very proud of is our commitment to diversity and inclusion.  We have colleagues of multiple ethnicities, religions, ages and genders, factors that could in theory cause conflict as we have graduates working alongside industry veterans, but we find these differences a great source of strength and also mutual learning.

To sum it up, I am proud that Priority is a safe work environment for anyone and hope the core values contribute towards this.