A & M world Works from Home: Are we ready?

agencies work from home

In the face of a disaster, work from home becomes a preemptive solution. But are we ready? We take a look at how A & M organizations and agencies are dealing with the crisis by implementing work from home.

When the gush of morning greetings over mandatory coffee and inbox scrollings are replaced by the comforts of pyjamas and bed once in a while, work from home is a bliss. Coupled with social isolation, not so much. As coronavirus takes over news cycles and paywalls being dropped, agency life too is being altered. Despite a major chunk of work happening over groups chats and emails anyway, things change significantly when the entire setup goes virtual. Communication and language are key and so are guidelines when agencies opt for work from home.

The global teams of major digital giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter are being encouraged to stay vigilant and in cases wherever possible, to work from home. Same is true for agencies like WPP and Archetype that have a presence in international markets, including China. They have been doing it for weeks, proving that we can be done. However, it isn’t easy.

Running an agency remotely

Though most of the guidelines have been put in a document by company managements, there are several case scenarios they are anticipating a few days into the cycle where they will get a better understanding of where things stand. For SocioSquares, their business continuity plan helped them stay calm and inspire confidence in clients.

Gurgaon based 80 dB Communication has moved entirely to digital means of communication. Co-Founder and Jt. Managing Director Kiran Ray Chaudhury explains, “An internal tool Basecamp is used to monitor work in real-time. All team-members can monitor their ongoing work and their managers are therefore informed, to ensure that no committed tasks fall off the radar.  All client and vendor meetings are being conducted either on calls, Hangout or Zoom. Given the consultative nature of our business, moving all communication to digital mitigates service interruption.”

In terms of logistics, one of the key areas of concern for agencies is the design and production department. Amit Desai, Co-Founder and Chief Catalyst SocioSquares tells us, “In terms of logistics, our tech team has set remote access server where all work backup is been made available. The challenge is with regards work in progress files for designers and animator’s for which we are setting up their office machines at their respective homes.”

Managing employee well-being

The Other Circle’s Co-Founder Anurag Gupta explains how Mumbai’s public transport played a key role in their decision to go virtual despite the hurdles of managing a 25-member team remotely. “We are in the people’s business and we need continuous human interaction. The need and ability to be able to discuss something with the person next to you cannot be replicated in work from home. However, this was important from a safety perspective as we have people travelling from Dombivli and Thane and the scare is real.” The firm’s office is based in Bandra.

There are several psychological challenges too. Social distance isn’t as easy on everyone. Gupta tells us how the team is being encouraged to talk to each other on video calls and positive messages are being forwarded to office groups to boost morale. However, when you can’t walk up to other people and discuss work and concerns, there are bound to be misunderstandings.

“It may be very tempting to micro-manage while resorting to WFH measures, but remind yourself to work with trust in these testing times. If you’ve invested in building a great team, it’s time they’ll have your back,” says Bansi Raja, Chief Happiness Officer, Gozoop. The agency has assured employees on job security and disbursed a part of advance salary on March 13 to facilitate emergency expenses that may incur at such times, she adds.

Dealing with a crisis

Expressing concerns and lack of absolute clarity on how to manage everyday affairs in the current crisis, Adittya Joshi, Managing Partner of Bangalore based xGrow explains, “There has been a lot of fear because of the rumours. We do not have any strict guidelines around this. Educating our employees about COVID-19, declaring WFH for our employees, providing medical support (if needed) are some of the current steps that we have undertaken and for employees who insist on working from the office, we have ensured to provide utmost hygienic conditions.

Hamza Saifuddin Chhatrisa, Co-Founder & COO, DAB Of India feels the exercise is an opportunity for agencies to understand the dynamic between team members and how well aligned their processes are. “It’s a self-evaluation phase, a time to evaluate operations and intra-communication between employees,” he says.

Unprecedented choices

Acknowledging the concerns around work from home, Sarvesh, Creative Director, DigiChefs tells us, “WFH has always existed for the team to opt for whenever needed and for this, there are guidelines in place. However, the entire agency working remotely is unprecedented for us and so we are building upon the existing framework and taking calls as we go. It’s a learning that we’re sure will help build a stronger business.”

Delhi based Pulp Strategy has enforced a 3-week work from home for all employees who have recently travelled abroad. The agency has decided to go mostly mobile with a possibility of work from home as and when the need arises. “It is clear that safety precedes all matters. Having said that, we are in a collaborative business and there will be a productivity dip if there is a situation where 100% work from home is enforced by us,” says Ambika Sharma, Founder & MD, Pulp Strategy.

Cases of flu and the common cold have been advised by the agency to stay at home till fully recovered. Biometric access and non-essential travel have been discontinued. “At this time there is more preparedness, we have installed sanitizers and we have had briefing sessions to help a better understanding of the situation,” Sharma adds.

Pooja Jauhari, CEO, The Glitch says, “We are also prepared with contingencies and safety measures in place for city travel for a few of us who may need to be at our constantly sanitised office. By maintaining a tiny staff in office and majority working remotely we are taking the right steps for everyone’s safety. We are all prepared to make the most of all technology available to us to keep our economy running.”

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Managing public relations

As a part of PR mandates, public relation executives are required to visit publication houses and meet journalists on behalf of their clients. Even though both ecosystems are fully functional, meetings are not an option given safety concerns. Planned meetings are being postponed and messages are being conveyed over calls.

Elite Marque PR has shut its Delhi office, allowing employees to work from home for an indefinite period of time. The agency intends to reimburse the internet and phone charges the employees are incurring in the work from home setup. Founder and CEO Rajat Grover tells us, “Public transport has been strictly prohibited for any media rounds and client meetings. We have postponed all the meetings which were fixed and decided to do convey messages over the call.”

Most media firms already have the digital infrastructure in place, which helps them manage various facets of work from home in times of a crisis with ease. For everything else, decisions are taken on the go. “As an agency, we have already invested in software and services that let us work online seamlessly as a team to the transition wasn’t tough. But yes, team leaders have to be vigilant,” Chaittali Dave, Manager, Mumbai Nucleus PR tells us.

Ecosystem beyond agencies

medECUBE Healthcare, a clinical coordination company, has a unique set of challenges to navigate through in the current scenario. Dilpreet Brar, Founder & MD, medECUBE Healthcare tells us, “The sales team are being encouraged to stop face to face meetings. We are working with our team to train them on virtual meetings instead. However, since we are into care coordination business, there are a few team members who are visiting hospitals (if required and unavoidable) to coordinate with patients. They have been asked to take all necessary precautions.”

“We don’t know how many active cases there are right now which are not yet diagnosed because it takes up to 2-weeks to show symptoms. Even if there’s a productivity loss of 20-30% it’s worth it. Employers should help the country by practising social distancing and enforcing work from home. Flattening the curve is the only chance we have to fight against this. What’s happening in Italy is scary. We should do everything possible to avoid letting that happen here,” says Snehil Khanor, CEO, TrulyMadly.