As news about COVID-19 (conversationally known as Coronavirus) rolls out from news outlets and I see the impact inside my new agency home, Phase2, I found myself with a unique viewpoint to talk about the challenges that agencies are encountering. Agencies are now recognizing the importance of emergency readiness, so I want to share a couple of my “light bulb moments” as a new addition to the Phase2 team.
As an agency, we are the interesting “go between” in the overall business landscape. We are responsible for rolling out consumer-facing initiatives on behalf of our clients and are held accountable for at least some level of the clients’ success. Placed in the role of expert, expected to provide the highest quality experiences AND the best client service, agencies are uniquely affected by marketplace changes, consumer confidence, and the competitive landscape.
The Situation is Changing Rapidly
While most mature agencies are positioned well to weather the storms of new business competition and economic volatility, the Coronavirus is catching many businesses off guard. In my time at Phase2, I’ve recognized that our remote work culture has put us ahead of the readiness curve. We’re able to provide uninterrupted service to our clients, while seeing other agencies scrambling to deliver work and simultaneously respond to employee accommodations.
The CDC has been measured in the direction given to our country. “Wash your hands,” they say. What the CDC can’t tell us: how to keep businesses running when their livelihood is dependent on keeping momentum with current clients and on developing new relationships (which often happen face-to-face).
This week, several major trade shows (like ExpoWest with estimated attendance of 85,000+ in Anaheim) have been cancelled or postponed as a precaution. SXSW 2020 is officially off, but with sponsors like Twitter, Facebook, and Intel all dropping out of the event. I mention these events because they are often referred to as the “Super Bowl” for brands and agencies--where they meet the customers and partners that sustain their revenue for a full year and sometimes much longer. Should consumer confidence be shaken, it could lead to global growth being slashed in half, according to the NYTimes. Obviously, this is a frightening thought for any business. But, as the virus has now spread to both US coasts and across every demographic group, it is prudent for business to minimize the potential opportunities for employees to be at risk of exposure.
Deciding How to Respond
In an era of affordable and user-friendly technology, one would think that having our employees operate from home would be an easy solution, riding out this latest “storm,” and losing very little momentum. But, if an agency or any business operates in a traditional office environment or requires daily in-person interaction, the solution can be more difficult. This is especially true as the need for remote work, due to the virus, has spread faster than most businesses can respond.
Some businesses are visibly scrambling to adhere to the commitments they’ve made to their customers. Many are surely stymying progress and losing money to transition time, equipment installation, and personal time needed by employees to arrange for additional child care, home office setup/shopping for emergency supplies, and learning new ways of working. According to MarketWatch, the stock for Zoom (a video conferencing software) is up more than 50% since last Thursday, illustrating the urgency of finding a remote business solution.
While some are busy buying up software and equipment to adjust to the “new normal,” the remote-connected competitors are not only keeping pace, but gaining momentum. It’s unfortunate that it’s occurring under these circumstances, but my hope is that the resulting work culture IS the “new normal.”
The Way Forward
As an “everywhere” employee at Phase2, we keep momentum through:
Open, proactive communication with our clients and team worldwide. We’ve been able to respond to clients in the way that THEY need us to accommodate without skipping a beat. On-site workshop cancelled due to pausing team travel? We’re already prepped and poised for teleconference.
Reliable software and connectivity. Products like Slack, Google Hangouts, Asana, and Salesforce allow us to keep business operations up to date, no matter where we are in the world.
Flexing our time schedules. This makes us more available for global clients, and allows us to volunteer in our neighborhoods, take our kids to school and stock our own pantries.
Utilizing the best talent and highest performers for customer needs, no matter the neighborhood. This has allowed us to more effectively deliver on our commitment to hiring with a focus on diversity and inclusion, bringing the most interesting ideas to bear.
I write this article because Phase2 saw the benefit of remote work more than a decade ago and it’s already baked into our DNA. I’m proud of our blended approach, keeping bustling offices in DC, Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, and NYC, but understanding that our industry calls for geographic flexibility - even when there isn’t the threat of a global pandemic. The leaders of the organization took a chance when it wasn’t as popular to encourage remote work and it paid off. We’ve delivered large-scale, complex digital experiences for some of the biggest brands, all with a distributed workforce who lean into the benefits like increased productivity, diversity of thought and ideas, flex time, and accessible talent. That encouragement and foresight has embedded flexibility and agility into our culture, which are qualities that clients and employees crave.
While I can’t necessarily call myself an expert in remote work, I can tell you what I’ve felt during this time of fear, uncertainty, and frantic solutioning. The infrastructure and culture we have, one that relies on our ability to work remotely for any reason, keeps me calm on the work front.
As safe as I feel being able to work from home during this time, I have still stocked up on supplies and taken all the precautions, as directed by the CDC. If anyone reading this wants the latest updates and recommendations regarding COVID-19, please visit cdc.gov.