LONDON — Two-fifths of UK communications leaders plan to stick with remote working for the foreseeable future, as they face the challenge of balancing business continuation with fears about contracting Covid-19.

New research by Carta Communications and Pulse Business has found that 40% of agency leaders surveyed in mid-May are preparing to keep their staff away from the office “indefinitely”. The report, ‘A Changed Industry: PR after Lockdown,’ finds that a further 36% are planning a cautious approach to returning to the workplace, with agency respondents suggesting dates between June and September.

In-house, expectations of a return to the office appear even further away, with some preparing to leave it until 2021. Overall, only 21% wish to return to the office as soon as possible.

The biggest fear for PR leaders is a second wave of colleagues succumbing to the virus if they return to the office too soon (38%). In addition, while 21% are worried that bringing their teams back too soon will cause stress and worry, 18% are concerned about the psychological impact on their staff of delaying a return to the office too long.

Some respondents cited fears about the safety of getting to work on public transport (12%), while the capability for social distancing and other safety measures in the workplace was a concern for only 5% of those surveyed. Another key challenge, for 24% of respondents, was how to restore their organisation’s working culture after a period of such upheaval.

Despite all these concerns, 50% of respondents believe that post-lockdown they will be in “a better position to innovate and make long-term business improvements” and 33% say they will be “more responsive and able to take advantage of quick wins”.

Not surprisingly, technology is an influential element in the decision for many to remain at home. Video conferencing tops the technologies and tools that have proved most useful, with 76% of respondents citing Zoom, Skype, and others as being invaluable. Just over half (51%) expect to invest even further in video conferencing platforms.

Matt Cartmell, director and founder of Carta Communications, said: “The challenges facing the industry due to Covid-19 run deeper than any that I’ve witnessed, and the industry must inevitably change as it recovers. There may, however, be much good to come: fairer standards of remote working; stronger and more sustainable support for staff; and a more holistic engagement with technologies that will enable PR to flourish in unexpected ways.”