Coronavirus: agencies prepare to work from home and offer advice

Agencies and holding companies are rolling out working-from-home policies amid the coronavirus outbreak – WPP and Omnicom are the latest to do so. PRWeek spoke to agency bosses to get guidance on effective home working.

Credit: ©GettyImages
Credit: ©GettyImages

Last week the coronavirus threat escalated across the UK with several agencies and holding groups rolling out remote-working policies.

Marcomms giant Omnicom has announced a global from work from home policy after group chief executive John Wren emailed the company's 70,000 employees.

WPP followed suit after Wren's counterpart Mark Read asked all the firm's employees globally to work from home "wherever possible".

Arthur Sadoun, chairman and CEO of Publicis Groupe, issued a video message on Sunday (March 15) to all staff were he reiterated: "We continue to strongly recommend that those in particularly affected areas or with existing health concerns should work from home and practice social distancing."

Clarity, Splendid Communications, Golin and Don’t Cry Wolf are some of the agencies that have asked staff to work from home. Others, like Manifest, have gone ‘proactively remote’ across its offices – allowing staff to work from home if they want and conducting internal meetings over Slack/Zoom. 

Brands2Life is also allowing extended work-from-home options for all staff where required and staggered working hours to help staff avoid the rush hour. Agency co-founder Giles Fraser told PRWeek they have a fully operational contingency plan in the event that its office needs to shut.

In highly affected regions like the Middle East and parts of Asia, agencies including Edelman UAE have already gone into lockdown.

Clarity’s decision to close its offices in London, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco is a preventative measure to protect staff, clients and family members from the pandemic. The agency released a video to announce the move:

The decision was spearheaded by chief operating officer Alex MacLaverty, who joined Clarity a year ago from Hotwire – an agency known for its remote working policies.

She said: “In the interests of your wellbeing, both physical and mental… it makes sense to take a more cautious approach than currently advised by the UK and US governments.

“This is a very unusual circumstance and I don’t want any of you to underestimate how challenging it may be. Best estimates are that this period of remote working could last anything up to two months. Some of our team and clients may get sick and need time off. It might get a little scary. Therefore, Clarity is relying on all of us to step up to the plate and ensure that we continue to work collaboratively to get through this.”

Hotwire confirmed it is operating a global remote working policy which the agency says it is reveiwing on a weekly basis.

Tara O’Donnell, MD at Hotwire said: "We continue to work with our business leaders to ensure the health and safety of our people. We’ve set up a global business continuity group - purpose to ensure every office is prepared for all eventualities."

The agency also has a company wide travel tracking policy that requires staff to declare any overseas travel - either on work or personal, and has travel restrictions in place for the near future which is under constant evaluation.

Clarity chief product officer Paul Cockerton created a work from home guide that provides staff with tips on how to set up workspaces, maintaining regular business hours, managing time and useful communications tools like Slack and Google Hangouts.

Some of Cockerton’s top tips include: starting the day by ‘getting ready’ as per a normal working day, taking regular breaks, exercising to avoid the ill effects of being too sedentary and wearing a ‘dignity jumper’ to maintain a professional image for video calls.

Splendid CEO and founder Alec Samways told PRWeek the agency has ordered staff to work from home to protect their welfare and will monitor advice from the UK government and World Health Organization.

“Everyone at Splendid has been typically amazing since we announced the plan – there’s a real positive, community spirit, and we’re all working together to make this transition smooth and successful. We have Microsoft Teams and WhatsApp groups for every client project,” Samways said.

“All meetings are running as normal via video conference, and we have dedicated mentor catch-ups happening on a daily basis to make sure every staff member feels fully supported. 

“The move has so far been seamless. We’re even planning to continue running our weekly ‘Splendid Loves’ meeting, where we share industry news and work, via video conference. We’ll all raise a glass of Prosecco as normal – just from our own homes.”

He said that clients and industry peers have been supportive of the move.

Meanwhile, Don't Cry Wolf's founder John Brown has his own unique ideas on working from home:

Top tips on working from home

The PR Network has been based on running a virtual business for 15 years and its seven-strong permanent team manages up to 80 external staff in multiple locations. The agency works for brands including Workday, Vodafone and PurpleBricks, and is widely regarded as an industry leader in remote working practices.

Co-founder George Blizzard has shared The PR Network’s remote-working handbook, which includes these useful tips for any agency looking to implement work-from-home policies:

  • As an employer, be prepared to be flexible on the regular 9-5. With remote teams it's good to learn the natural rhythm of your colleague's day. Some people are far more productive early while others are the opposite. With no commutes, free your employees to be flexible to get the job done.

  • To avoid email overload, try some of the great collaboration tools on the market – Slack has cut our internal email chatter by 30 per cent, but we also use Dropbox and Trello and are always trialling new releases.

  • Use this time to cut back on (remote) meetings for meetings' sake. Working virtually makes you appreciate when there is (and just as importantly isn't) a need to get everyone together. Host meetings on video to build in some key f2f time, and to make sure everyone is engaged.

  • Opt for video calls over audio calls – there's nothing better than to connect remotely than making eye contact. Also, take time for some friendly banter at the beginning of the call as you would in an office. We recommend Lifesize for video-conferencing. (Disclaimer: client.)

  • As an employee suddenly working regularly from home, create a dedicated space free from distractions. The kitchen may be warm and cosy, but not always the best place to focus, find a quiet corner with a table, with good WiFi that feels like a private space and where you can make those video calls (with a suitable background!)

  • Take time to stretch or walk – you don't need to be chained to the desk to demonstrate you're really working. It's good to change scenery to keep fresh

  • Get dressed. Working in your PJs may feel luxurious, but doesn't make for a productive, business-like mindset. Plus not good for those video calls.

  • Take advantage of this time to rethink your normal working days. As and when the world returns to normal, incorporate more virtual working practices into your employees' daily work lives. Your health and the planet will thank you for it.

PR firm Howire has operated a Thoughtful Working policy that offers remote working for some time, the agency says it is proven to increase the health, happiness and productivity of team members. 

The agency also recommends working in a room without distractions, maintaining personal contact with your team, and the use of instant messaging tools such as Slack and video conference technology such as Zoom.

This article was updated on Monday, March 16 to include an update from Publicis Groupe and Hotwire.

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