Working from Home

  Working from home

As employers become more relaxed about flexible working practices, many more people are finding that they can work from home.  For some jobs, a phone line, laptop and internet connection is all that’s needed, so the option to commute from your bedroom to your workspace instead of a long journey in a car or on a train is very appealing.

Working where you live can be beneficial for both employee and employer.  If you focus, you can get more done.  There are less likely to be distractions from colleagues and you can get on with the task in hand.  You will spend less money – no daily breakfast coffee or sandwich from Pret, and you may save on the commute.   You also get to spend more time with your family (or flatmates!).  If an average commute is two hours a day, that’s 10 hours a week you get to spend doing something more constructive.  The bottom line is that working from home makes you more productive.  Rescue Time’s research in 2009 may have only been a small sample, but gives us a good idea of the levels of productivity that can be achieved by not being in an office.

Of course it’s not all sweetness and light.  There are downsides too.   The lines between work and home can get blurred and it can be difficult to switch off.  You may also find that you get a bit lonely and there is a danger you will fall into the laziness trap.  From an employer’s point of view it can be frustrating if you don’t feel your staff are pulling their weight at home, and that they are not instantly available for a meeting.  But there are things you can do to make sure working from home works well for both you and your employer.  I work from home three days a week and my husband works from home permanently so I am very familiar with the pitfalls.  Here’s my top tips for how to work at home effectively:

1)      Have a separate work area.   If at all possible, a separate room is the way to go.  Somewhere where work is work, so that your home life remains separate to your job, is a good idea.  In my case, my husband works in the spare bedroom and I have a desk in the living room.  We don’t speak for most of the day – we work for different companies and when we are working, we are working.  

2)      Don’t turn the telly on.  Ever.  It is tempting.  Hours of fun with Homes Under the Hammer and This Morning may seem like a good idea, but believe me it’s not.  You may think you can work effectively with the TV on in the background, but it is a distraction.  You are not a student, you are being paid to work.  The radio or some quiet music is a better option.

3)      Make time for lunch.  We all know it’s important to take breaks when you’re working.  Having a lunch break is a good start.  It doesn’t have to be a whole hour, but twenty minutes away from your computer screen is a good idea.  Make sure your colleagues know when you are away from your desk and when you will be back.  If you can, set your phone to do not disturb.

4)      Make sure your colleagues know when you are available and when you aren’t.   People who work from home often feel guilty and are concerned that their boss and colleagues are suspicious that they’re not working hard enough, and as a result work much longer hours than they would if they were in the office.   Your colleagues may not be keen on you working from home, particularly if it’s not a common occurrence at your firm.  They may resent the flexibility you have and be suspicious that you are actually sat in your nightie in front of Trisha scoffing shortbread biscuits instead of actually working.   Make it clear that you will be working from x o clock to y o clock and will be taking a half an hour for lunch at a particular time.  

5)      Have a decent chair.  Back pain will make you unproductive and resentful.

6)      If you have children, make sure you make proper arrangements for child care.  Many employers now will insist that you send them to nursery or a childminder while you are working, which is fair enough.  But a few lucky people have employers that are a bit more flexible and allow them to work slightly odd hours in order to be there for their children – so they may allow you to work in the evenings instead of 9 – 5 for example.  Whatever your arrangements, make sure your employer is aware and happy with them.

7)      Get dressed.  I have made this mistake.  Got out of bed, read emails on my Blackberry and then logged straight in on my laptop to start replying to messages.  Before I knew it, it was lunch time and I hadn’t had a shower or got dressed.  Even more embarrassing is when you have to open the door to the postman still in your dressing gown.  You would never go into the office in your PJs so take some time to get yourself groomed and dressed.

8)      If you are sick, you are sick.   Let your boss know.  Turn your out of office on and go to bed. 

9)      Don’t take advantage.  Don’t assume that just because you are at home you can swan off to pick the kids up from school or go to the hairdressers in the middle of the afternoon.  You  wouldn’t do that if you were sat in the office would you?  Ask your bosses permission to finish early or start late.   You are still employed, just in a different environment.  Of course different rules may apply if you are freelance and paid for a piece of work rather than hours worked – in that case it’s up to you when you work and when you don’t.  If you don’t finish the work  you don’t get paid.

10)   Use technology.  Email and remote access to computers are a fantastic way to keep on top of things, but don’t forget the phone.  Many of us would much rather write an email than speak to someone but you could be missing a trick.  Hearing a friendly voice will stave off loneliness, and help you to build relationships with your colleagues.  By not being in the office, you may miss out on the banter so it’s important that other people realise you are still part of the team.

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25 Things to Avoid Doing at Work

Want to know how to avoid winding up your colleagues?  Discover your irritating work habits and make work life easier for everyone.  Here’s my quick and easy guide to what not to do:

1)      Don’t eat smelly food in the office.

2)      Don’t shout into your phone.

3)      Don’t worry about other’s people’s time keeping.  Make sure you get to work and meetings on time, let other people’s bosses worry about them getting there.

4)      Don’t use your mobile/Blackberry/smart phone in meetings.

5)      Don’t take credit for other people’s work.

6)      Don’t come into the office when you’re sick, spreading your germs won’t make you popular

7)      Don’t blame others for your mistakes.

8)      Don’t sit on a task all day then ask a member of your team to do it five minutes before the end of the day.

9)      If you’ve set a deadline for a piece of work, don’t ask for it repeatedly BEFORE the deadline.  What’s the point of a deadline if you’re going to nag for it earlier anyway?

10)   Don’t miss a deadline.

11)   Don’t interrupt.  Give others a chance to speak.  Don’t speak over other people or ignore them completely.  You may like the sound of your own voice but your colleagues will find it pretty grating.

12)   Don’t use endless management speak.  Thinking outside the box is SO last year.

13)   Don’t  allow your parents, friends or partner to call you endlessly at work – particularly if you work in an office where there are no direct lines.  It’s irritating having to take messages from your husband every fifteen minutes.

14)   Don’t be consistently late.  A one off is a one off – everyone oversleeps or gets stuck on a defective train now and then.  But five minutes late EVERY morning is disrespectful and annoying.

15)   Don’t shout across the office at people.

16)   Don’t belittle colleagues and if you have to tell someone in your team off, do it in private.

17)   Don’t talk on the phone with your mouth full of food.

18)   Don’t expect other people to make you cups of coffee if you’re not willing to return the favour.

19)   Don’t leave the printer jammed with paper for someone else to sort out.

20)   Don’t put the empty milk carton back in the fridge.

21)   Don’t say you understand something when you don’t.

22)   Don’t expect everyone to drop what they’re doing to do something for you, unless it’s an absolute emergency (and then be nice about it).

23)   Don’t make a mess in the staff kitchen and leave it for someone else to tidy up.

24)   Don’t leave the toilet roll holder empty.

25)   Don’t send unnecessary emails.  Pick up the phone, or talk face-to-face, once in a while.

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PR Graduate Recruitment Schemes

Over the past couple of years I’ve spent a lot of time giving job hunting advice to recent graduates.  Given that they’ve graduated in the worst economic climate since the ’30s, they need all the help they can get I reckon.

We recently started investigating which PR agencies have graduate recruitment schemes and what their application criteria is.  Here’s what we came up with but I am pretty sure there are plenty more out there.  If your agency would like to be included in this list, let me know.

PR Graduate Recruitment Schemes

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Omigod I’m back

Hiding
Remember me?  You probably don't as I've commited the ultimate in blogging crimes, I stopped blogging.  I know I know, the law of blogging says you must engage with the online community, write pithy and interesting content regularly and refrain from libelous content.  I've still been writing, just not on here.  Mostly on here:  http://www.unicornjobs.com/ask-the-unicorn/ and also on here: http://www.financetalking.com/pages/resources/careers-uk.php

So what's happened since 2008?  On the professional side, I am now self employed.  This means I have to religiously put money aside every month for the tax man or face jail.  I don't think I'd cut it in Holloway so I dutifully put my 25% away in an untouchable account and moan about it regularly.  So to make ends meet I write (see above) and I am the course director for an incredible internship programme devoted to addressing the lack of ethnic diversity in PR, which you can read more about here:  http://www.unicornjobs.com/diversity  This means I teach employability and office based skills (like how to write thank you letters, seriously) to graduates, I also manage the day-to-day running of the programme so if you would like to know more about it feel free to ask.

My teaching and writing skills are up for hire so drop me a line if those interest you.

I also bake cakes.  This is what interests most people.  My cake website is undergoing a bit of a revamp so when it looks respectable I will introduce you to it.  I have sold cakes at lots of farmers markets in and around Essex, but as my more serious job pays better and takes up more of my time I have put it  on the back burner for the moment.  I do still knock out the odd birthday cake or batch of cupcakes but it's not my main source of income. That said, there will be a few cake related posts in the near future so this blog really is going to be relevant for those people that have a love for PR careers or a love for cake.  Off course a lucky few will love both in which case you've found nivarna.

Pony cake 1

On the personal front; I'm still married, no kids, 1 dog, 2 cats, live in Essex right by the beach, still dieting and I joined Twitter.  I'm @gooorooo if you want to follow me.

 

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Last Night’s Social Media Debate

Despite the erratic weather conditions, it was great to see a few familiar faces at last night’s “Social Media: The Death of Print?” debate.   Drew Benvie, Mick Fealty and Simon Nixon made up the panel and spoke with enthusiasm around the issues of social media and PR.   I finally managed to meet a few people in the flesh that I have been following online for some time, and some new faces like Ben Matthews, who only started blogging a couple of months ago.  With agencies knocking on my door all the time to find social media experts (of which there are few) it’s reassuring to know that PRs are embracing blogging and social media.  Those that really cotton on can carve a real niche for themselves in the market.  Ged Carroll has done a great job of creating a run down of the event which you can read on his blog

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How not to get a job

Mr_rude_2  I am going to rant.  I rarely rant on here, I silently fume at my desk instead, but this issue deserves a public outing. 

In the past three weeks I’ve had three candidates not show up for interview.  They have all actively applied for a position I have advertised, and been invited to come and meet me and confirmed that they will be turning up at our offices at a specific time and date.  I’ve sat here twiddling my thumbs waiting for them to arrive, unable to book any other meetings into my diary because I have an interview to do, and they’ve failed to show up.  Not only that, but they didn’t bother to call or email me before hand to say they weren’t able to make it.

To add insult to injury, when I’ve dropped them an email and left a polite message on their voicemail to find out if they are on their way or whether they are bothering to come at all they haven’t returned my call.  How RUDE!  All three candidates now have a big black mark against their name on my database saying UNRELIABLE AND RUDE.  I am tempted to name and shame, but figure I behave slightly more professionally than they do.

So here’s a tip, if you want a recruiter to never go out of their way to help you find a job, arrange to meet them and then don’t bother to show up.   

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PR Perspective – Tom Murphy

Tom_murphy_small
I met my latest interviewee, Tom Murphy, about 18 months ago when he was delivering part of the "Delivering the New PR" conference.  So it seems only fair that as he was one of the people that inspired me to start Offer and Acceptance that he gets his 15 minutes of, erm, well not fame exactly – but he gets to say what he loves about PR and blogging and gets a nice link back to his blog.  Tom has been working in both agency and in-house PR roles across North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America since 1991 and is currently responsible for Public Relations and Corporate Social Responsibility for Microsoft in Ireland.  Prior to joining Microsoft in August 2005, He was director of corporate communications for Cape Clear Software and his most recent agency posting was as general manager of EMEA consulting for Text 100, where he helped clients plan and execute PR plans in multiple countries across the region. Tom has worked with companies across practically every technology industry sector including BEA Systems, Corel, Gateway, Intel, Marrakech, Microsoft, StorageTek and Visio. He has been blogging about Public Relations since 2002 and when time permits he writes the “Murphy’s Law” blog.

How long have you been blogging?
I started my first blog in March 2002 – it feels like an eternity!

If my memory serves me correctly the only other PR blogs at the time were Jim Horton, Phil Gomes and Richard Bailey – and I’m delighted to report that all three continue to blog today.

Why did you start?
I have to be honest and admit that I fell into blogging, I certainly didn’t see it as a “platform with the potential to change the world and build an interactive transparent means of fostering conversation”.

Nope. 

What actually happened was that in 2002 I was looking (mostly in vain) for good PR-related content online.  There wasn’t a lot of stuff outside subscription only web sites, so I thought it would be a great idea to find a way to bring together links to the content I did find, and then keep them in one place online.

I found Blogger and started posting any links I found there and all of a sudden people started commenting on the links and it went from there.  Between 2002 and 2005 I spent a huge amount of time monitoring and blogging, unfortunately I am finding I have less time these days.

Do you think blogging has helped your business?
When I was in my previous role with Cape Clear Software (who has been recently acquired by Workday) we got a lot of benefit from blogging and blog relations.  I think probably the greatest return I’ve got from blogging is connecting with PR people all over the world, whom I would not have met or heard of, without blogging.  That has been a fantastic spin off and made the whole thing worthwhile.  It’s a fantastic medium for finding like-minded individuals.

I think that this “network” is well illustrated by the fact that Philip Young pulled together a very successful series of events in the UK under the “Delivering the New PR” banner.  Philip brought together a range of speakers including myself, Elizabeth, Neville and Stuart, who had never met before, and only knew each other through our blogs, yet the group immediately gelled. 

That’s pretty unique in my opinion.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge about writing a blog?
The most obvious thing is time.  It’s hard to fit it in alongside the day job.  It’s not just the writing, it’s the thinking, the monitoring, the reading and the browsing.

However there are other challenges. 

I fear that the blogosphere is in danger of becoming less relevant due to the “echo chamber” effect.  There’s too many PR blogs just reacting to other blogs and not enough bloggers delivering value through sharing their thinking on our profession, on how these new tools integrate with our traditional tools etc.

We are facing so many changes and challenges but I’m not sure the collective PR community is helping to address them. 

I hasten to add that I include myself in that.

What do you want your readers to know about you?
I’m not as grumpy as I sometimes appear on my blog ☺

I am passionate about the potential of Public Relations to help individuals and organisations to communicate and educate.  I am also passionate about how new online tools can help that process.

However, it’ll be no surprise to the three people who read my blog that I have no time for the zealots. 

There is a lack of authenticity in much of the posting around PR.  This typically takes two forms.  First there’s the “PR people are evil” crew who base their assumptions on hearsay and ignorance. Then there’s the “New PR” people who believe traditional media and PR are dead or dying.

I’m growing tired of these simplistic arguments.  The world is a far more complex place.

Of course online communication is becoming more important, but let’s not forget that in many countries and industries, traditional media and communications tools remain far more influential and important.  The challenge for every PR practitioner is to understand these dynamics and make the right investments for their client or employer.

My other pet hate is blog postings that regularly begin: “As I told President Bush last Monday…”

Which other blogs do you read regularly and why?
My RSS reader (FeedDemon) is a trusted tool for monitoring as many blogs as I can, some of the PR blogs I read include: Alice, Allan, Brendan, BrianS, Colin, Constantin, Elizabeth, Eric, Frank, Gerry, James, Jeremy, Jim, Kami, Kevin, Neville, Paull, Phil, Philip, Piaras, Richard, Shel, Stephen, Stuart, Susan, Todd, and Trevor.

I have to be honest and say my non-PR blog reading isn’t as varied as it should be! But here’s a few I read regularly: Guy Kawasaki, Steve Rubel, Seth Godin, John Collins, Bernie Goldbach and Lifehacker.

If you knew someone was thinking about starting a PR related blog what advice would you want to give them?
There’s a couple of things I’d advise. 

First and foremost think about what you plan to write about.  You don’t have to stick to one topic or pigeon hole yourself, but be clear on the general areas you’re going to cover and what style you’ll cover them in.  Great blogs have a clear personality.  It doesn’t matter if everyone doesn’t agree with you!

Remember that the wonder of search engine technology means that once published, your words will be archived forever!

If you are thinking of kicking off a blog (and why not!) do understand there is a serious investment of time, not just writing the blog, but managing it, talking with other bloggers etc.

I think the more PR people blogging the better.

Do you think Web 2.0 is having an impact on how PR is practiced?
Yes I think Web 2.0 will have a major impact on the whole world of Public Relations not just “media relations”.  However I am also pretty pragmatic about it.

When you break it down, we are talking about new tools and channels for delivering information and having conversations.  These new tools should be integrated into a communications plan in the same way traditional tools are used.

Start with your audience, what are their current perceptions, issues.  How can you best communicate with that audience. Where do they find their information?

For many people print newspapers and magazines are still number one, for a small number of companies online channels are the most effective channel. However for the vast majority of individuals and companies an integrated approach using online and traditional tools will probably be most effective.

There are two major challenges I see for PR professionals:
1)    Understanding your audience – To executive effective Public Relations across traditional and online channels, we are a profession need a much more in-depth knowledge of our audience than was previously the case.  Circulations statistics have made us lazy, we need to engage with our client’s customers and find out how they are finding and sharing information.  This should inform our decision making.
2)    Balancing time and resources – While Web 2.0 brings interesting new tools and channels.  Our traditional tools and channels haven’t gone away.  The biggest challenge (and it’s related to the first point) is how do we balance our investment in new and traditional tools.  We don’t have any more time, so doing more online will mean doing less traditional communications and vice versa.  How we make those decisions will impact the success of our campaigns – and those decisions can only be taken when you have a great insight into your audience.

What’s the biggest challenge in PR?
PR faces a number of challenges. As I outline above we need to get a better understanding of how our audiences are finding, consuming and sharing information and conversations. 

We also need to start to think about how we balance and resource online outreach alongside traditional communications.

Finally, we as a profession need to start to take a leadership position in online reputation management.  Too many firms are trying to re-create traditional media relations online without realizing that an online reputation goes beyond that.  It incorporates search engines, discussion groups, blogs etc.  If we don’t start taking ownership of these things then other people will.

What would be your advice to someone who is looking to embark on a career in PR?
When I was in college there were two things I had no interest in.  One was PR and the other was “computers”.  Given I’ve spent over 17 years in Tech PR I’m not sure how valuable my advice is!

PR is without question a fantastic career choice. 

It’s always changing, always challenging. Of course that’s good and bad.

Great PR people are always learning, always investigating and thinking.

That’s the key asset, being inquisitive, always keeping up to date on what’s happening inside and outside your industry.

I also think it’s vital for PR people to have a broader understanding of business.  Great PR people understand how PR impacts the bottom line, where PR can have a major positive impact and often more importantly where it can’t. That’s invaluable knowledge.

Finally, if there were two things that I’d recommend to anyone thinking of a career of PR, they would be developing a love of reading and gathering knowledge; and building your capability to explore. They are incredibly valuable strengths, inside and outside the world of PR.

Is there a question you wish I had asked you?
What will PR look like in five years – what will be the main online tools or channels?

I don’t think anyone honestly knows the answer to that question.  There’s a lot of snake oil salespeople on the Internet who will tell you in no uncertain terms where we’re headed.

I don’t believe them.

The only thing I am convinced about is that there will be an online element to everything we do, and our audience will continue to face information overload at work and in the home.

Every day a new widget emerges somewhere on the Internet and is proclaimed as the new new thing.  People’s time is their most precious resource and only time will tell what tools and channels are relevant for your audience.

The better we connect and understand our audience, the better we will be able to deliver great communications programmes.  The Internet continues to evolve and we need to evolve with it.

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