10 ways agencies are keeping their remote employees engaged
With most agencies closing their offices nationwide and abroad due to the coronavirus outbreak, they're deploying creative ways to keep employees engaged in the new virtual bubble we're all working and living in.
"Work is the easy part in all of this right now," says John Caruso, co-founder, partner and chief creative officer of MCD Partners. "I mean most of us have worked remotely at some point, so operationally, we’ve been prepared to work from anywhere for a while. But this time it’s different. There was this moment once our entire team was working from home when we could feel this collective sense of, 'Um ok, now what?'"
From online meditiation to virtual pet-friendly happy hours, here are 10 ways agencies are answering that "now what?" question for employees.
To introduce their home offices to each other, as they will be working from them for the foreseeable future, MCD Partners, Canvas Worldwide and design and experience shop Jam3 have all launched their own versions of MTV's "Cribs"—the documentary-style show that once gave us common folk a peek inside celebrities' grandiose pads. While probably not as impressive as the mansions Mariah Carey or Missy Elliott inhabit, the agencies say their staff are showing off their home spaces through short virtual tours.
"It's been fun to see each other in our homes," MCD Partners' Caruso says. "Frankly, it’s a little lighthearted break from everything that’s going on. People have been sharing some solid productivity tips too, and showcasing pets, kids, collectibles and their style of emergency rations. It really underscores how we’re all dealing with the same thing, and that we’re all in this together, while being separated and apart."
Public-access agency tips
In the vein of public-access TV, creative communications agency Praytell launched Praytellovision, where employees create their own episodes to share stories and tips on topics like building a vinyl collection, the basics of improv comedy, how to make dumplings, and dating horror tales (before social distancing pretty much nixed all opportunity of going on a physical date). Any of Praytell's employees can start an episode; the requirements are: pitch a brief description, set a time and post it with a Google Hangout link for the rest of the staff to enjoy.
Several agencies are offering online meditation classes for staff to ensure employees are taking care of their mental health while social distancing. Havas New York, for example, is taking its in-office meditation and yoga classes online via Instagram Live through March. Havas' "Mantra Meditation with Gemma" is every Monday at 4 p.m. ET and "Kundalini Yoga with HariPrakaash" is each Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET.
Berlin Cameron is also hosting online its "Hump Day Humm," a weekly meditation session it holds in-office every Wednesday. Led by one of Berlin Cameron's strategists, who is also a yoga instructor, it is also now broadcast on Instagram Live.
Work from home playlists
Leaning on the power of music to unite its people, Adam&Eve DDB kicks off every morning with "WFH Bangers," a Spotify playlist that staff members curate on a rotating basis. In this way, the agency says, employees can continue to hear the same tunes they'd normally hear being played throughout the office as they work remotely. Other ways Adam&Eve DDB says employees are banding together from afar include "wearing unified colors or dress codes to feel like they’re still together" and showing off their work spaces on social media through hashtags like #DreamyDesks and #MugShots (them with their favorite mugs of tea or coffee).
Being quarantined inside is proving difficult for staying active—not only for obvious reasons, like lack of exercise equipment, but because, let's face it, it's hard to stay motivated cooped up in our homes while the outside world is in turmoil. So, various agencies—including EP+Co, OH Partners, Modifly, Mering and even The Webby Awards (which hosts a 10-minute fitness challenge for all employees at 3:45 p.m. ET.) are acting as de facto trainers for the time being by hosting their own exercise classes. Matt Moore, chief creative officer of OH partners, says one of the agency's social media strategists, and "most athletic teammate," leads staff in a 30-minute workout "with items you would find around your house or just exercises you can do without anything else."
Virtual bedtime stories
As social distancing and some viral videos have shown us, juggling working from home and caring for kids is presenting a whole new set of challenges for parents. London's Krow Group is helping integrate family and work life through a new initiative called “Bed Time Half Hour"—a virtual storytime event spearheaded by a group of employees with young children. Krow says every night employees snuggle up on the sofa with their laptops and young kids to share various bedtime stories with each other. “All the kiddies turned in their PJs, holding on to their teddies, and they started off by introducing their toys and themselves to each other," says Krow Group Marketing Director Cat Davis.
Meanwhile if you're looking for a read that's a bit more mature, full-service independent agency BARKER Art Director Estie Wassner and Copywriter Lauren Weiss created a parody of the well-known children's book "Go the F*ck to Sleep," adapted for the times to "Stay the F*ck Inside." The book is an online illustrated guide to fighting COVID-19, available as an audiobook as well.
Creative shop Chemistry’s "Women In Business" group has planned a full virtual line-up of its masterclass programs for the next few months. First on the docket, the agency says, is "Anna Wintour, Make your mark: Learn leadership skills online from a fashion and media icon." The Vogue editor-in-chief will be teaching an online class to Chemistry on leadership and creativity. Typically, the agency will watch and discuss these programs in-person, but now they have transitioned to doing this via Zoom (like so many other daily tasks).
Spreading useful information
Some agencies have taken more practical and informative measures to help employees cope with the state of the world. Grey London, for example, has launched a daily newsletter for sending its employees COVID-19 updates, as well as links to useful resources (including mental health support), new work, shoutouts for birthdays and pictures of people with pets working at home.
MullenLowe launched "OPERATION-19," a virtual hub for agency leaders to share “open agency asks” that could benefit from including other employees or additonal resources. MullenLowe says to "think of it as virtual matchmaking that will help the agency deliver for clients during this challenging time—could be coding skills, PR ideas, campaign creative, competitive research, new business deck design."
Remote lunches and coffee meetings
Shops are even taking the more mundane parts of employees' daily routines like grabbing coffee with a coworker online. An account team at VCCP, for example, takes a virtual 9 a.m. coffee meeting every day together. T Brand Head of Creative Ben James says his team introduced non-mandatory virtual lunches and he encourages his staff to take virtual coffee breaks together, or even take each other on "FaceTime tours of their neighborhoods."
And of course, Happy Hours
One of the most popular forms of online engagement agencies seem to have taken up are weekly virtual happy hours because, really, we all could use a drink right now. Shops that are hosting boozy catch-ups, after hours via Zoom or Google Hangout, include F&B New York, EP+Co, Uncommon, VCCP, AGW Group, Listen, Impero, Canvas Worldwide and Yard NYC.
"We played games like 'How well do you know your art director or copywriter partner?'" OH Partners' Moore says of his shop's first virtual Happy Hour. "We had people with their pets on screen with them, many people had their family in the background who made their way over to the camera as well to say hi. Everyone was so happy to see their daytime roommates again after just two days at home."