Just today, Hong Kong announced it will lift a ban on flights from nine countries deemed at high risk for COVID-19 as of 1 April. These countries include the US, UK, and Australia. The length of quarantine for incoming travellers will also be reduced to seven days provided they test negative, Bloomberg said quoting chief executive Carrie Lam. That said, Hong Kong is still retaining most social distancing measures and other curbs to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

On Sunday night, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said COVID-19 restrictions will be reviewed given that many financial institutions were "losing patience" with the city’s coronavirus policies. To date, the city has had one of the most stringent COVID-19 rules and as the Omicron variant sweeps across the financial hub, understandably sentiments across the country remain at an all-time low. Like many industries, many of those working in advertising are now returning to the work from home structure.

But unlike the initial days of lockdown, most agencies  MARKETING-INTERACTIVE  spoke to this time said they were much better prepared.

For example, as early as January, Dentsu Hong Kong ensured that should work from home (WFH) structures return, every employee would have the right equipment to ensure efficiency. Employees were given individual laptops and data subsidies to offset their data and phone bills. Some dentsu staff were also given spare monitors and old laptops for family members and children who might have needed them as online classes resume.

For the teams at GroupM, working from home was almost part of the norm since the agency had adopted a hybrid work from home structure. Like Dentsu, the agency ensured staff members were equipped with the right hardware to carry on with smooth function.   “We understand everyone has a different working environment at home, so it is important for us to accommodate and adapt to different scenarios. ​All our work resources can easily be accessed through our VPN and Teams and communication has never been easier. There is essentially no hindrance to their daily operations,” said a spokesperson from GroupM.

Independent agency Anonymous founder Simon Handford said that the agency also took steps such as limiting work hours to avoid rush hours and adding flexible lunchtimes. The agency is also allowing small teams to come in separately on certain days, as well as giving them access to the hardware they might not have at home.  “It gives us a chance to be in the same space once or twice a week,” said Handford.

Handford explained that Hong Kong is a particularly hard place to work from home 100% of the time for most people as space remains a constraint.

Team-wide consultations are conducted before any WFH policies are adopted to see what suits the individual, explained Handford, who shared that being together, helps with morale. He added that though it’s possible to work through Teams and WhatsApp, being in the same space, even masked, sanitised and social-distanced ,makes a difference.

Keeping morale high

It is well documented that being happy at work has an obvious impact on the output of work produced. Research by the University of Warwick found that happiness made people around 12% more productive. Having a happier army of staff also has clear benefits in the agency world where servicing clients is of the utmost importance.

Caroline Chan, CEO of GroupM said that keeping staff morale high and engaged is a key goal for the network. However, the agency life isn’t always the easiest to navigate with long hours and sometimes tough clients. Layered with the restraints of the pandemic, we ask Chan how the network ensures morale is kept up with its staff.

“We ensure that we communicate with each and every member often and our line managers spend a lot of time to keep their teams working together in a strong unit,” said Chan.

Chan added that training and career progression planning is also vital to keeping employees motivated. As such, the network has also rolled out initiatives such as “Future Rock Stars” training which allows it to develop future leaders.

Nonetheless, work is only part of the job. And play, is equally important. To keep the balance, the network frequently conducts virtual friday drinks and quiz along with virtual birthday parties where prizes and gifts are given out. For better mental and wellbeing balance, it also promotes healthy living by sharing home workout exercises to encourage our staff to keep themselves active at home.

Chan added that currently the company is actually in the talks of giving our staff two months subscription to NowTV entertainment so they can enjoy some good movies with their families.

“It is our duty as a company to keep pushing boundaries and add new ideas to keep our staff morale high,” said Chan.

Andreas Krasser, CEO of DDB Group Hong Kong added that by now, working from home has become a routine for most employees, and adminstative processes and approvals have all been made fully digital. To keep everyone across departments well informed, communication is key and the agency sends out internal newsletters with updates on work, campaigns, and staff memos to ensure transparency with management decisions. Like GroupM, DDB Hong Kong also has smaller group virtual happy hour gatherings, and of course, for those in isolation care packages are also sent over.

“Everyone is suffering from teams-fatigue, and WFH blurs the lines between work and private life even more. We have set some guardrails and etiquettes that we encourage our staff to stick to as much as possible – no late-night calls, no lunch-time calls,” said Krasser.

Meanwhile, Dentsu has enlisted a four-tiered approach, said Simone Tam, CEO, dentsu International Hong Kong. It ensures that personal messages from leadership are shared along with having a “Care Squad”, virtual fun and learning activities, and business and team get-togethers.  Representing her leadership team, Tam write to all staff members every Friday to share weekly updates and remain accessible to all across the agency.

Care squad : If any of Dentsu’s staff or their family tested positive for Covid, the Care Squad sends care-package to their home, and constant communication is ensured. Dentsu has also conducted a network wide survey to keep track of staffs’ wellbeing.

Fun and learn : Dentsu also has a virtual social team to organise fun learning activities. On Friday lunch breaks, the agency has a Mark 6 lottery everyone can submit their tickets and a live draw over Teams is done to find out the winners.  To continuously inspire each other, every Monday Dentsu also has a member of staff sharing their favorite 5 pieces of work from around the world.

Business and team get-togethers : Dentsu ensures staff stays connected to the business and its achievements by hosting regular virtual town halls. Team leads are also encouraged to conduct their own team building – such as virtual lunch together or happy hour.

Tam said:

What’s been most heart-warming is that we have had clients and partners around the world sending us lovely notes checking on us and sending our teams their blessing. That is a strong motivation for us to carry on.

Coping as a leader 

All of the agencies  MARKETING-INTERACTIVE  spoke to shared that several campaigns in the works had to be halted or pulled mid-way. Of course that puts pressure into long-term planning given the uncertainty of life in Hong Kong.  Tam added that in such times, it is crucial for leaders to remain optimistic. “This is the third year in a row where business in Hong Kong has been tough with all the social unrest and the pandemic. It pushes us to be smarter, more creative, and agile,” she said.

With the agency well on track to its goals, Tam says the hope remains to hire more professionals to join the Dentsu family.

Handford added that the past three years has made everyone more resilient and adaptable. “In the first year, we were telling ourselves it would be over soon. Now we’ve come to accept that we have to build contingencies into everything we do,” he said adding that the independent agency is lucky to have an agile team.  To keep busy, Handford added that the team is also looking at overseas markets for work.

“We’ll keep on seeking new types of clients and assignments, both here and overseas to keep busy. The pandemic is nothing new. We will either defeat it or we have to keep on living with it. Either way, we need to start bracing ourselves for life beyond it.”

Photo courtesy: 123RF

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