When medical marketing agencies went into pandemic shutdown mode in March, most companies prioritized maintaining culture over everything not involving their employees’ physical and emotional well-being. This, of course, was hardly unexpected: Culture has always been and will always be an agency-world calling card.

At the same time, Zoom happy hours and cutesy celebrations of “Dog-ust” (say it out loud) got old pretty quickly, especially as employees struggled to balance their newly virtual professional lives with parenting, caregiving and other non-optional pursuits. During the first few months of COVID-19, agency staffers told us that they had little difficulty connecting and engaging with their peers. What they needed was more support, whether through office stipends, technology upgrades or family diversions.

“How can you get anything done when you’re reshaping your life around the pandemic and caring for your kids and/or entire family 24/7? There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer,” says Heartbeat president Nadine Leonard. To that end, we asked a broad range of agencies to share details about the support they extended to their people during the first six months of the coronavirus shutdown. The responses evince the degree of sensitivity and forward-mindedness demanded by the unprecedented times — in other words, exactly the sort of creativity and problem-solving moxie that most clients want from their agency partners.

For the home office

Propeller: Our video team put together a kit with remote and self-capture capabilities for use in recording interviews and conversations to be integrated into various client projects. The kit included software, apps and professional lighting gear, which was packed in special gear cases.

AbelsonTaylor: We focused on several key areas, including service desk and infrastructure operations and information security. Our service desk personnel have a consistent connection to the office from their homes, allowing them  to image and deploy laptops to our workforce as needed and quickly address hardware failures and other tech problems. We have full redundancy across our infrastructure, from our local network to our next-gen firewalls to our internet circuits.

This ensures constant and secure connections to our internal, mission-critical systems, even in the event of a major power outage at the office. And using a variety of technologies, we’re able to keep our users’ software and drivers secure. We’re constantly evaluating and implementing new tech offerings (such as Mural and Klaxoon) to give our teams the best tools for how we work now and how we’ll work in the future.

Pascale: We began a laptop leasing program, where employees had the opportunity to upgrade to devices that would work faster and hold more information. By creating a survey we were able to assess our employee’s current workplace situation in order to provide them with any additional technology they need.

Benchworks: We have provided all employees with a cell phone stipend since day one. We cover 75% of the cost of purchasing printers for employees who need one to perform their job functions.

Dr. Reddy’
Dr. Reddy’s has planned a drive-in movie night, complete with a photo booth and costume contest, for its employees and their families and friends, to help create engaging activities during the pandemic.

For the family

W2O: Due to COVID-19, parents around the world have had the same challenge: How do they balance parenting and teaching, while continuing to bring their A-game to work every day? W2O Kids sought to provide a little relief and support, from online activities to virtual classrooms to connecting kids within the global W2O family. 

We based the content on insights gleaned from an all-employee survey, as well as primary research discussions with members of the W2O Parents Group. It focused on STEM activities, helping children explore the world around them through science, technology, engineering and math. In addition, the program benefited from the generosity of W2O people, in the form of access to vetted hospital-, teacher- and museum-supplied content.

Subject matter experts from around the W2O network (creative, social, media and IT) played a critical role by building the foundational elements of the program, including the creation of an unlisted YouTube page to house archived content. Sample programming included W2O Kids Connect (a pen pal program connecting children of W2O employees throughout the world) and Nana School (a weekly virtual class with Nana, a retired kindergarten teacher).

Elevate Healthcare: We held our first virtual summer outing, which consisted of a family-style BBQ dinner, custom mocktail kits, and a Food Network chef experience where we all baked cupcakes. Everything was delivered to each staff member’s home.

Syneos Health Communications: We launched Syneos Shares, a series of live Zoom sessions to engage and inspire the children of our team members. The sessions focused on activities including art, music, dance, exploring the world and language skills, and were led by volunteers from one of our 10 agencies. It was a great way to share our team’s creativity and talents with the next generation, and give our working parents a respite from the stress of being a parent, worker, teacher and playmate.

Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories: We created an inventive event for our employees this month: We’re setting up a drive-in movie theater in our parking lot and showing a double feature of Gremlins and Hotel Transylvania. The sound from the movie will be broadcast via FM radio transmitter into each car at the event. Employees, guests and children have been encouraged to dress up for a Halloween costume contest.

Elevate Vitual Summer outing_MM&M

The ongoing months of pandemic shutdown in the U.S. have pushed many people to the limit in their ability to manage their lives. A number of agencies, including W2O and Elevate Healthcare, created children’s programs, distributed stipends, hosted virtual summer outings and more to support the new needs of their employees.

For feeling well

Imre Health: As we transitioned to working from home, we provided each employee with a $200 “self-care” bonus to use as they wish. We also created imreBIKES, a program geared toward empowering employees to rethink how they commute to work. Those who signed up will be reimbursed up to $600 for the purchase of a bike or supporting equipment (helmets or locks), a membership/voucher in any bike share program (Citi Bike, Lime et al.) or a membership in a private bike parking garage.

CMI/Compas: At the beginning of the pandemic we knew masks were important, but they were hard to find. To ease that burden on our staff and help keep them protected, we partnered with a vendor to quickly source high-quality masks, sending two to each employee at their homes. We opted for washable cloth masks with filters because they last longer and are more environmentally friendly. We also included a fact sheet of information on recommended mask usage — which was particularly important, given how new mask-wearing was to most people at the time.

Merge: Each employee received a $500 stipend that allowed them to make any adjustments necessary to improve their work-from-home life. Parents or senior caregivers have the option to take advantage of the Bright Horizons service, which offers backup childcare (on-site and in-home) and connects users with registered CNAs, RNs and LPNs to provide care for aging parents.

Pavone: On Friday, April 3, the company’s three partners sent an email with the subject line “Order Out, Dine In” to all 84 employees who would normally be working from the company’s Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, offices. It read: We recognize that the monotony of sheltering in place may be starting to get to you. And we’d also like to support local businesses who aren’t as fortunate as we are in this time of uncertainty. So please order take-out from a local restaurant (value of up to $100) and enjoy a meal on PMG.

Heartbeat: Our parent company Publicis doubled our wellness stipend for the year. The qualifying expenses have been expanded to include nearly anything that could help someone feel better — whether that’s a Peloton membership, upgraded office furniture, remote tutoring for kids or even gardening equipment (personal hobbies are important).