Working life has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Cabinet meetings by Zoom, TV presenters broadcasting from their kitchens – no one is untouched. Even the tribe of working from home (WFH) veterans have had to adapt to the many new challenges – juggling home schooling, no coffee shop to break the day up, slower broadband…
Much has been written about this over the last few weeks and I suspect many have taken comfort during this time of isolation to find their concerns (lower back pain and whether the books on the shelf behind you project the right image) are shared the world over.
Rather than add to this growing volume of work we wanted to see if we could shed new light on what is really going on in people’s home offices, because actually, it’s quite important. No one really knows how the workforce have responded to working from home, beyond the view of their manager.
ONS data for 2019 tells us that that about 1.7m people normally work from home, which is about 5% of the UK workforce of 33 million. The data also states that 8.7 m people ‘have worked from home’ so we can assume all of these people are capable of WFH and will be if they haven’t been furloughed.
There is of course a significant percentage of the UK workforce for whom WFH is an impossibility, including the key workers that are keeping us safe. However, there are now an unknown number of people working from home for the first time and we have to assume there could be perhaps several million people for whom it is something of a novelty. When assessing the range of impacts on the UK economy surely one variable must be how this group of WFH virgins are currently performing and how they will continue to do so. There’s a big difference in productivity between, for example, 10m people working at 100% and 10m people chugging along on 50% because they are struggling to adapt (and this may be through no fault of their own).
So we analysed our data and KPI metrics from the first 3 weeks of lockdown to see if any trends or patterns were emerging.
As a Business Development Consultancy, we make targeted phone calls to marketing decision makers at companies and organisations our clients would like to meet and potentially work with. A meeting is now a video based meeting rather than a face to face one.
Working across our 60+ clients means we will speak with every type of company from all kinds of market sectors (B2B and consumer) about every type of marketing solution (communications / digital / creative / insight / transformation / content / data etc.).
We would normally make about 3500 calls every week resulting in about 480 decision maker conversations.
In the first 14 working days since 23 March we made 9824 phone calls resulting in 1120 successful conversations with a decision maker, so we have a fairly large sample to work with.
This what we found.
Are people really working while they’re at home and how easy is it to get through to them?
The answer to the first questions is an emphatic yes, according to our data. We are still getting through to prospects on behalf of our clients. We have focused a lot of effort on those prospects where we have their mobile phone numbers, but the majority of people we are speaking to have had the call patched through to them at home by their company switchboard.
Our access rate to decision makers (the proportion of decision makers we speak to from the number of calls made) is slightly down on the norm (11.4% in the lockdown period compared to an average of 13.4% over the previous 12 years) but we can put that down to the factors below:
• Some companies can’t (or won’t, but overwhelmingly can’t) patch calls through. We are finding these are mostly smaller companies
• We are speaking to more senior decision makers than normal – more on this later
• Access normally dips around the Easter holiday period
What level of decision maker is most receptive to setting up meetings with new agencies?
The ONS statistics on occupational status and WFH show that pre COVID-19 the most likely to WFH were people that described themselves as Directors or Managers. Our experience in the past few weeks would suggest that a higher proportion of senior people are available than normal.
The stand out figure is the significant increase in meetings we have set with Directors or Heads of since lockdown, from just over one thirdin previous years to well over a half during lockdown. This is obviously great news for our clients.
We’ve always had more mobile phone numbers for Directors vs Managers, so it’s made sense that we’ve focused on calling this level of decision maker. Thus, unsurprisingly, 68% of meetings set with Directors have been via their mobile compared to just 29% for Managers. It may also be reasonable to assume that Director level personnel will be less likely to be furloughed.
When are people working?
A common train of thought amongst many is that when individuals who don’t usually work from home begin to do so, their productivity and output declines during the afternoon. This assumption may be further enhanced, given the great weather Britain has experienced during the lockdown period. However, this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth in our analysis.
We looked at what time of day our Account Managers were most likely to speak with people and set meetings. In pre-COVID times the ratio of meetings booked before 12:30 was about 60%. This has been reversed in the past 3 weeks to 40% as the graph below shows.
This tells us nothing about exactly when people are working, other than the fact they are still working late into the day. We would guess that people are busy with regular tasks in the morning, which is why we are less able to speak with them. The afternoons are perhaps a bit freer, allowing them time speak with new marketing agencies wanting to introduce themselves. This supports the anecdotal evidence from our business development team that prospects are spending longer on the phone, asking more questions and engaging more than they might if they were still working in the office.
Our conversion rate (the proportion of meetings set from the numbers we’ve spoken to) has not changed since lockdown, so the appetite for looking at alternative agency partners remains as high as ever.
Best day to set a meeting:
This is a question that agencies often ask us, but the historical data suggests there’s no meaningful difference. The dip on Mondays and Fridays can be put down to these being the days our Account Managers are most likely to take holiday, including Bank Holiday Mondays.
The data for the last 3 weeks tells a very different story, but it’s probably too early to draw any conclusions from this. Our historic data points to the day a meeting happens as being much more important. For example, a meeting attended on a Friday is 20% more likely to result in a win than a meeting attended on a Tuesday.
Preferred video conference solution:
As we touched upon earlier in the report, video conferencing is becoming the main channel for our clients attending meetings during the lockdown period.
There is a vast array of video conferencing platforms on the market, but the chart below shows which have been the most popular with those companies and organisations we’ve set meetings with on behalf of our clients:
Zoom is by far the most popular, which is somewhat surprising given the recent publication of security issues that the platform has been forced to defend.
Interestingly, Skype and MS Teams account for less than 10% of all meetings set during the lockdown period – a figure which appears somewhat low, given the amount of businesses who use Office365 as their email platform.
The ‘Other’ category includes platforms such as Citirx, which is the preferred solution for companies that are particularly security conscious.
In most cases we have found that the prospect is agnostic. They have been prepared to go with whatever we suggested and when they have specified a solution our client has been equally happy to oblige. It does not seem that one option is strongly favoured over another. Although Zoom does appear to be the default option.
Data without interpretation is somewhat redundant and, of course, different people will interpret data differently. That said, our analysis leaves us to conclude:
• Whilst the majority of people we have spoken to don’t usually work from home, they are still productive whilst they’re doing so under the current restrictions. The number of conversations we’ve had over the lockdown period is only fractionally less than when the majority of these workers are office-based.
• Whilst our data over the lockdown period suggests that Directors and Heads of Department are far more likely to engage (both in initial conversations and in agreeing to meet a new agency) when working at home, it’s not necessarily the case that Manager level decision makers are less likely to. One simple reason for this is that our access rate to C-Level decision makers has been higher during lockdown, which negates the need to approach a Manager first.
• People are more likely to engage and agree a date to meet with us if the initial conversation occurs during the afternoon when working from home. This represents a significant change in the data shown when individuals are office based, during which time they are more responsive to these approaches during the morning.
Finally, despite the fact that most of the planet is dealing with incredibly challenging market conditions at the moment, there are still new business opportunities out there if you have the right approach and level of determination. On top of this, it is highly likely that new markets and opportunities will emerge as we adapt our lifestyles around the threat of COVID-19.
Keep well everyone!