The quickly evolving coronavirus crisis has prompted many healthcare marketing agencies, media firms and vendors to activate policies allowing employees to work remotely, if they have the infrastructure to support it.
Meanwhile, many of the same companies are updating their corporate policies regarding travel, both domestic and international. The World Health Organization has recommended against restricting any travel or trade in response to the outbreak, as have several other health experts.
As the situation changes, MM&M will endeavor to keep this list updated.
The agency said that, as part of its “virtual collaboration mindset,” all new employees are outfitted with laptops, videoconferencing capabilities, cloud applications/storage and other collaboration tools. Staff were told to prepare to rely exclusively on these resources.
“As circumstances warrant, we will consider whether to temporarily close the office,” read an internal email.
March 13 update: As per the agency’s latest policy taking effect Monday, March 16: no non-essential business travel; WFH highly recommended; employees were reminded to observe CDC hygiene guidelines while in the office (which remains open).
A source said the firm’s senior leadership team has created a preparedness plan to deal with a variety of possible circumstances regarding COVID-19. “If you are sick (or think you may be sick),” the plan reads, “stay home. If you do stay home and are feeling well enough, then please work from home.”
Regarding travel: “Many of our clients have already restricted or cancelled non-essential travel to and from meetings or their headquarters. For those client meetings that are still being held, travel is strictly optional and at the discretion of the employee.”
Brick City Greenhouse
In an email sent to clients Monday, March 2 (prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 in New York), the agency said that, thanks to a remote-working model already in place, it’s “well prepared to maintain continuity of business should there be any issues in the metro NYC area.” Meanwhile, all employee air travel has been halted and it’s trying to conduct as many client meetings via tele or video conferencing as possible, an exec told MM&M.
Butler/Till Health Group
Based on a communique sent to the agency’s roughly 175 employees last week, effective immediately, staffers who normally work in the NYC office were advised to WFH “unless there is a business critical reason to be in the office.”
The communique also advised that, until further notice, travel should be canceled for all non-essential business purposes (conferences, partner/vendor meetings and publishing events/meetings), as should interoffice travel, such as remote employees coming to its main office in Rochester, NY, or travel between its NYC and Rochester offices. For client-related travel, employees were urged to shift meetings to virtual, whenever possible, and to adhere to client policy. Any partner/vendor meetings scheduled to be hosted at one of the agency’s offices should also be cancelled or re-organized virtually, the memo noted.
The agency has shifted to a virtual work policy for all staff. A portion of memo sent to clients noted that the agency made the move following a successful entire-company pilot of the program on Monday, March 9.
The agency is conducting an office shut-down, planned for this Friday, March 13, to ensure its IT infrastructure can support mass movement to WFH across offices globally. An email sent to clients noted that UDG and Ashfield Healthcare Communications – CBM’s parent company and network, respectively – have established a Pandemic Response Team to closely monitor the situation, provide updates and recommend an action plan.
Staff were briefed on signs and symptoms, self-recognition and possible self-isolation for up to 14 days (if needed); and educated on WFH best practices and how to leverage the IT infrastructure and virtual business programs. The memo continued: All travel has been postponed to or from any “warning level 3 country,” as indicated by the CDC, until further notice and all other non-essential travel has been postponed. Any travel needed for a client deliverable now needs sign-off from the individual firm’s senior leadership.
March 13 update: The agency’s WFH test was moved up to today, and the office will be closed next week, with all staff in WFH mode until further notice.
An internal memo noted several proactive action steps being implemented.
To reduce infection: Employees were advised to “err on the side of caution” by staying home if they feel sick (no doctor’s note required), stay in touch re: work status and remain home until they are symptom-free for at least 24 hours. Those who become sick during the day must go home immediately and seek appropriate care. School closures might also necessitate a work-from-home situation.
Business travel: Account managers were urged to work with clients to avoid all non-essential business travel, with upcoming pitches being monitoring with respect to travel.
Personal travel: The memo added that all staffers should exercise caution traveling (including flight layovers) to countries listed on the CDC’s travel advisory page. If their travel (including layovers) includes one of the countries listed, the employee must WFH for 14 days following their return, “during which time you should avoid visiting the office,” the memo added.
To prepare for a possible mandatory WFH situation, the agency said it will hold an all-hands, one-day WFH day on Wednesday, March 18. All work that day, including normal team and client meetings, will be conducted via Zoom and other remote communication tools. (Employees were urged not to cancel or reschedule meetings already planned.) A debrief session is planned for the following day on lessons learned.
Concentric Health Experience
A source said the agency scheduled an all-staff WFH day Wednesday, March 11, to test its business continuity plan – including emergency text alerts, video conference tools, wireless access and remote-server capacity – and to rigorously clean and disinfect the office.
The agency also said it’s monitoring all staff travel, both work related and personal, and may mandate 14-day, self-imposed, WFH “quarantines.” For personal travel, employees were encouraged to be “open and honest with their travel schedules,” read an email from the agency’s senior leadership and, in the event of travel to a high-risk area, to share their action plan with HR for vetting.
Elevate is addressing the situation on a day-by-day basis, said a source. An internal staff memo dated March 11 noted that the agency is not implementing company-wide WFH, although senior leadership acknowledge that this may become necessary based on community spread and although a digital infrastructure is in place.
Employees were urged to speak with their manager or HR if they are returning from travel or if they believe they need to work remotely due to exposure to coronavirus or the need to care for an elderly or immunocompromised person. Those with business travel already planned were encouraged to speak with their manager or HR to assess the need for travel, as were those planning personal travel to any locations with confirmed cases, US or international. Such persons may be required to WFH following conclusion of their trip.
Greater Than One
As of March 12, a source said, the agency had temporarily closed its offices and moved the entire staff to remote working. The firm asked anyone needing a monitor for home use to purchase one and expense it (all employees are already issued laptops).
Additionally, a COVID-19 preparedness plan is in place as part of overall efforts to navigate any potential business disruptions. Every GTO employee is given their team’s call-in line on their first day to prevent any issues with individual meetings, and IT support is now available 24/7.
A source said that a remote working plan had been initiated across both the agency’s offices, effective March 13. The plan established standing, all-staff meetings as well as expectations around accessibility and flexibility, and a virtual mandatory technology tutorial was rolled out for use of digital communications tools.
Havas Health & You
March 11 Update: Havas Group is conducting a quarantine test this week across all of its North American agencies, a source said. According to an internal memo, obtained by Campaign US, staff are being advised to cancel all large meetings and stagger their work hours if they have concerns about using public transportation. The memo adds: “Do not commit financially to any future sponsorships, international travel or event or conference attendance until further notice.”
According to an HH&Y spokesperson, “As of this moment, all business travel is subject to approval as well as any attendance at large events or conferences. We’ve created a central response team and are managing every situation on a case by case basis, of course with the health and safety of our staff and clients as our very first priority.”
A source said that, as of Thursday, March 12, all NYC and Philadelphia-based employees were asked to WFH full-time for the next two weeks. Those in its California and Maryland offices have a WFH option.
All non-essential business travel has been postponed, and employees with any planned personal travel were asked to share plans with HR and their direct managers. The agency also said it’s working with clients to understand their policies and implement business continuity plans and guidance.
Update for March 16: All employees across all offices were being encouraging to WFH, and the agency was also requiring 14-day quarantine for anyone traveling internationally, upon their return.
The New York and Boston offices are both working remotely March 12 to 13 for a pre-planned pressure-test of systems, said a source, adding that the group is equipped with the technology for system-wide remote work. As per the most recently issued policy (March 11):
In-person events/conferences/training/remote guests: The agency is evaluating whether to reschedule or cancel in-person events on a case-by-case basis, or to re-tool these as virtual events. Offices remain open until further notice, and employees are expected to be present at work. Employees with a compromised immune system or other extenuating circumstance that prohibits them from coming to the office are encouraged to speak with their manager about the possibility of WFH. Requests for remote work are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis. All-staff remote-work contingency plans have been established. Employees are asked to encourage phone/video conferencing as an alternative to having external guests visit the office, as well as to avoid large public gatherings of over 100 people, including concerts, parades and sporting events.
Travel: The agency has banned all international business travel outside the U.S. until March 31, with the exception of employees already located in Europe. Non-essential domestic business travel and intra-office travel are also banned through month’s end. Depending on the status of the outbreak, this timeframe may be extended. (Staffers who feel their travel is essential can request approval directly by an EVP.) The above does not include ground transportation. Employees planning an ex-U.S. personal trip are required to share the timeframe and the itinerary with HR, and may be subject to mandatory self-isolation for up to 14 days to work remotely, depending on the country’s outbreak status. Those returning from international travel to a highly impacted region are required to work remotely for 14 days before returning to the office, and those travelling domestically for personal reasons are asked to monitor for any symptoms and to stay home and seek medical advice if necessary.
Starting Monday March 16, an executive said, all employees were being encouraged to WFH. Anyone planning to come to the office was asked to commute during non-peak commuter hours, and the agency was diligently reinforcing proper self-care best practices.
As of March 13, the executive said, the agency had issued a travel ban on all business travel and requested all employees to notify management regarding any upcoming personal international travel, as they may need to self-isolate upon their return. Also effective that week, anyone who is unwell, immunocompromised or who lives with people that are immunocompromised, was strongly encouraged to WFH.
As per the agency’s most recently issued policy, effective March 10:
Meetings/staff gatherings: As much as possible, meetings with clients, prospects and vendors should be conducted virtually. The agency is not hosting large group activities during the month of March, and employees were encouraged to avoid meetings of 25+ people unless it is mission critical.
Travel: All JPA international travel is suspended. All domestic travel has been paused for the month of March; the team will evaluate whether to continue into April. Any JPA employee who chooses to travel for personal reasons to a “hot spot” or on a cruise will be subject to 14-day quarantine for before being able to come back to the office. Staff were urged to share travel plans with HR, and for those in close contact with a person who has traveled to a high-risk country in the last two weeks, quarantine is appropriate.
Other: JPA has implemented a “no handshake” policy. Before being invited to the office, interview candidates are being asked about recent travel(last 14 days) and, if they have traveled to COVID-19 hotspots or on a cruise, interviews are being conducted via video conference. Use of public transportation to commute to/from the office is per appropriate guidelines. Employees are urged to stay home if they feel sick and, if they believe they’ve been exposed to the virus, not to take public transportation. Those with a suppressed immune system, heart conditions, lung conditions, diabetic or pregnant are urged to contact HR or their managing director to discuss options.
The agency has made its robust COVID-19 policy publicly available, as an example so others can leverage and adapt it for their own unique needs. The 28-page guide includes digital tools and resources intended to help manage and contain the novel coronavirus.
According to an executive, the agency was set to shift the entire agency to a virtual work environment as of Monday, March 16.
As of March 16, a source said, the agency’s physical office is closed until the spread of coronavirus has been contained, and the entire team is working in a remote capacity. The agency is also limiting travel and utilizing virtual meetings where appropriate.
As of March 16, the agency moved to a remote work scenario, with staff asked to prepare for the office closure to last at least through March 27. Access to the office was allowed for anyone wishing to retrieve work-related items. Primary communication reverted to Slack, cell phone and email. During this period, staff were encouraged to convert any face-to-face client meetings to virtual.
Based on an internal memo that the network’s CEO, John Wren, wrote to all employees Friday, March 6, Omnicom agencies are assessing their capabilities for employees to work remotely. Until then, a company-wide WFH policy has not been set but all personnel were advised to prepare to WFH if the need arises. “We will continue to update our guidance on a weekly basis or more regularly, as needed,” Wren noted.
Meanwhile, Omnicom has restricted all non-client related travel both domestically and internationally. Any such travel must be approved by the practice area CEO or CFO. All client-related travel, other than to or from affected areas “should be carefully evaluated and discussed” with local agency leadership. Participation in conferences, festivals and large group meetings should be limited to client-related matters. Use of tele or video conferences as a substitute for in-person meetings is encouraged.
Employees who are returning from personal or business trips from any of the affected areas are asked to not to return to the office of any Omnicom agency for 14 calendar days (even if they don’t show signs of illness); contact HR to allow them to WFH during this period; seek medical attention if necessary and keep HR informed of any new developments or if assistance is needed.
The 14-day restriction also applies to any employee whose household member has returned from a trip to any of these areas, as well as to anyone visiting an Omnicom offices following such a trip. Those residing in an affected area were advised to follow the office attendance policies established by local agency leadership.
As per the firm’s blog (accessed March 12), the agency is closing its U.S. offices, effective end of day Friday, March 13, for one week, to implement an all-staff WFH model. This will be reassessed weekly.
A media contact for the network confirmed it’s “taking global precautionary measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus and ensure the safety of our staff.” These include restrictions on international travel, large-scale meetings, events and conferences, and advising staff on preventative steps such as remote-working arrangements and hygiene measures.
Does your agency have updated guidelines to share? Reach out to Marc Iskowitz at [email protected]