From working remotely to business as usual: How adland is managing coronavirus

The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic on Wednesday.

An eerie JFK airport in New York this week (Picture: Getty)
An eerie JFK airport in New York this week (Picture: Getty)

America awoke on Thursday morning to what felt like a strange new world for the first time since coronavirus became headline news. 

The NBA suspending its season, President Trump imposing a 30-day travel ban for Europeans entering America and talks about mass quarantine -- the situation continues to escalate. 

The marketing world is dealing with the disruption in a number of ways. Yesterday, Havas Group ordered all North America employees to work from home to test if its businesses can withstand remote working. Many agencies have already done this in recent days or are following suit. 

Meanwhile, major brands have too told staff not to come into the office. This includes Google, which put the request out to around 100,000 workers across 11 offices in the U.S. and Canada.

This article will be continually updated as the situation evolves. All comments have been sent from agency comms unless stated otherwise.

What are agencies doing to manage coronavirus for their employees? Allowing staff to work from home? Extra safety precautions? Putting travel bans in place? 

Interpublic Group

Our priority remains the safety and well-being of our people. We have in place a COVID-19 taskforce that is monitoring the situation daily, and connects regularly with our business units to keep everyone as informed as possible, and to provide consistency and continuity across our network.

IPG and its operating units are working as close to business-as-usual as possible and keeping offices open. In some isolated instances – where there has been potential exposure to the virus by an individual – we are taking appropriate action, including closing an office for a period to ensure that there is no risk to our employees.  This event has occurred at a few of our agency locations, some of which have already reopened.

We are communicating to employees that if they feel uncomfortable commuting or are at higher risk for COVID-19, that the employee should speak to a manager or to HR and establish a protocol to address their concerns, such as working remotely. Also we have reminded our people if they are not feeling well, then they should seek medical attention immediately and not come into the office. This has always been our policy, but it is important to stress now, so that we take common-sense precautions to keep our people healthy. 

In addition, all our operating units are testing their IT systems to ensure that – were there a large work-from-home situation – our technology infrastructure will perform well and that we are able to continue to conduct business on behalf of our clients.

We have limited all non-essential travel and in-person meetings that involve more than ten people, if the meeting can instead be conducted via video conference or other means.

MDC Partners

At MDC Partners our primary goal is to safeguard the health and safety of our people. Given the recent outbreak and spread of Coronavirus, we have put in place various controls to protect our colleagues, clients, families and communities, including travel restrictions, limitations on large group gatherings, and work-from-home programs. We are closely monitoring the situation and are updating our measures and policies as appropriate.


Internal memo by CEO John Wren sent to all 70,000 global staff on Sunday March 15.

These are uncertain times and we want to do our part to help limit or slow the transmission of COVID-19 while maintaining business continuity and helping our clients navigate this challenging environment.

At this stage, we feel a work from home policy is the right approach for our people. Starting March 16th, we are asking for the support of our agency leaders to make certain our people work remotely and only essential staff go into the office. If you have not done so already, please ensure in the next day or so that you collect what you need to work from home. In addition, we are encouraging all of you to follow the guidance of national, local and city regulatory authorities.

For those that do go into an office, please maintain the recommended social distance. We are also working with facilities management to add enhanced cleaning in our offices. 

We want to reiterate - please do not come into the office if you are sick or have flu-like symptoms or if a family member you live with or roommate is sick or has symptoms. Also, please do not come into the office if you or someone you live with has a higher risk of becoming very sick from COVID-19.

Lastly, if you are an essential employee and don’t feel comfortable coming into the office, please speak with your supervisor. We have instructed them to accommodate your needs. And we will continue to keep all travel restrictions in place.

We are very pleased to see marked improvements in China and Singapore with our teams starting to get back to business as usual. Our people there did a great job in keeping their businesses functioning during the past couple of months. I want to thank them and all of you for your efforts now and what we know you will do in the weeks to come.

Most important, please take the necessary precautions to keep yourself, family, friends and clients healthy and safe.

We will continue to update you on our measures as events evolve in order to support you in every way we can.


Internal memo from CEO Mark Read sent to global 100,000 staff on Saturday March 14.

COVID-19 is touching all of our lives. Our top priority in this unsettling time is your wellbeing, and doing what we can to mitigate the impact of the virus on our communities. Governments, scientists and medical advisors are asking companies to do two things: to help limit or slow transmission, and to keep economies moving and people employed so that societies are able to function

Given the growing threat, we are escalating our response and, from next week, we will be moving to a policy of Managed Remote Working on a global basis, and placing further restrictions on business travel.

Under Managed Remote Working, our offices will remain open for business – subject to local government policy – but we will take action to greatly reduce the density of people in our buildings and the amount of travel to and from work. Wherever possible, we will be asking you to work remotely. Where some functions need to be carried out in offices, your managers will work with you to determine how to cover what needs to be done, and will encourage travel at less busy times and greater flexibility in working patterns. 

We will maintain safe office environments with greater physical distance and cleaning.In addition, anyone who has concerns about coming into any office may work remotely, in consultation with their manager.Next week your leadership teams will provide you with more detailed information on the roll-out of Managed Remote Working in your company, what it means for you and how we will support you.It is important to state that we remain open for business. I have great faith in each of you to adapt to this new way of working and know we will continue to meet our responsibilities to our clients and each other. 

We have tested the approach in many offices and our experience in China and Italy – where our people have been working remotely for some time – also shows that we can continue to operate effectively, deliver to our clients and win new business.Let’s also remember what we can all do personally to help, like following official advice on regular and longer handwashing and social distancing, not coming into the office if you feel unwell, and observing the self-quarantine guidelines of your government or health authority.

We have restricted business travel for some time but are now moving to an enhanced policy of no domestic or international business air travel without permission from your company’s CEO. Unless in truly exceptional circumstances, that permission should be denied.I want to thank each of you for your commitment at this time. 

The next few months will be tough, but I have every confidence in our ability to come through this situation together.We are all worried about our friends and family, particularly those most vulnerable, and working remotely has its own set of challenges and anxieties.

I’d like to ask you to make sure that your colleagues are alright and show that you care about them. Small gestures can mean a lot at the moment so please do look out for each other. It’s important and will make a difference. As ever, if you have questions please speak to your company’s leadership or People team or feel free to write to me.

Publicis Groupe

Our priority at all times is the health and safety of our teams. 

Throughout this time, we have restricted travel, with a recommendation to prioritise video conference and Skype where possible. We have put into place a 24/7 COVID-19 support team across global time zones who are managing individual employee requests.

We continue to serve our clients with our business continuity strategy including mobile workforce enablement so that teams are able to work remotely in compliance with local regulations, our IT Security & Privacy Policies and specific client needs per regulatory requirements.

We are continuously monitoring the COVID-19 virus situation and in addition to the increased measures we are taking to ensure the safety of our employees, we remain in alignment with the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as advice from local authorities in our respective markets.


(As reported by Campaign US)

Havas Group North America has ordered all employees to work from home this week so leadership can test if its businesses can withstand a government-mandated quarantine. 

The remote work day will apply to all of the group’s agencies across U.S. and Canada.

An internal memo obtained by Campaign US states: "This test is to ensure that our businesses are prepped in the event of a regional or national quarantine. We’ll be testing for business continuity and capacity of our systems and tools in the event that we need to move to a remote work situation with immediacy."

Several of its offices will undergo professional cleaning in the coming weeks. 

Staff are being advised to cancel all large meetings and stagger their work hours either earlier or later ("11am-7pm or 7am-3pm") if they have concerns about using public transport. 

The memo stresses: "Do not commit financially to any future sponsorships, international travel or event or conference attendance until further notice."

It adds: "The health and safety of our staff and our clients is our top priority. We appreciate that the COVID-19 situation is uncertain, and we want to thank you for your care and attention as we navigate this together."

McCann Worldgroup

Internal memo to staff from CEO Harris Diamond

As ­­you know, events are moving very fast with respect to the virus and the impact that it is having on all of us, our families and our clients.

I want to make it clear that in the US, Europe and many countries around the world, we want you to work from home.

While every country is slightly different with respect to the rules and restrictions currently in place, it is important that we also continue to follow recommendations and advisories from local government and health care professionals.

This is a stressful time for all of us and I want you to know how much I appreciate the way you have all shown consideration and care for each other as well as continued support for our clients. All of our office managers are actively involved in working in combination with global and regional leadership, and with you, to ensure that you receive the support that you need as this situation continues to run its course.

Every one of you has my full gratitude – as well as that of many a client I have talked to -- for your extraordinary dedication, collaborative spirit and willingness to adapt to these ever-changing conditions. Please continue to take whatever steps you require to keep yourself, your family, friends and clients all safe and healthy.


Walrus is actively monitoring the situation to ensure the safety of our team members. Like many companies, we are employing a strategy of containment -- encouraging employees to stay home if sick, work remotely if they feel more comfortable doing so. We have one person who has taken us up on that so far. We have people working remotely on a regular basis, so this is nothing new for us. We don’t have a problem getting things done when everyone is not in the same room.


At VMLY&R, we have put in global precautionary measures aligned with WPP to help contain the spread of coronavirus. We began by restricting travel at the end of January, and our current policy includes no international travel to, from or through key affected areas and no domestic travel unless for business-critical needs.

As well, we are restricting large-scale meetings, events and conferences.

Along with these policies, we are working to reiterate protective hygiene measures in accordance with the World Health Organization (WHO).  

Lastly, in preparation for possible office closures, employees are preparing for remote working arrangements. We are monitoring the situation closely as it develops and taking every precaution to ensure the health and safety of our staff around the world.

VIA Agency

At The VIA Agency, we are (of course) putting our team’s health first. All VIAns have the choice to opt out of travel and we are evaluating meetings as they come to determine the appropriate approach. Hand sanitizer is stationed throughout the building all year.

We also have shifted many in-person meetings to videoconferencing, if the content allows, and are also implementing extra IT training to review for all employees how to access our servers remotely through VPN. VIA has an unlimited PTO policy, so there aren’t separate categories for sick, vacation, personal, etc.

We fully support our employees in their decisions to opt out of travel if they feel uncomfortable. If levels of concern about the virus increase, VIA will consider a full ground stop. We will rely on information provided by the US CDC and the Maine CDC, with input from Maine Health, who are working on a state preparedness program.

Sid Lee

Chantal de la Rochelle, Chief Talent Officer

As the Covid-19 crisis spreads and our employees’ health and safety evidently remains our top priority, we are closely monitoring the situation, addressing concerns, and planning the necessary actions to protect our community. Travel restrictions, remote working policies, awareness and support programs are some of the precautionary measures we’ve started deploying, but we’re also preparing ourselves to react quickly to changing circumstances.

We are adhering to the current risk levels and travel advisories. None of our artisans are required to travel and all trips to "identified risk zones" are temporarily restricted, including client meetings, conferences, and executive visits. We request those who have recently traveled to/are currently in these zones to work from home for 14 days.

Zoom and Slack will be our heightened allies during this period, as most meetings will be conducted virtually. A guide with tips and tools on how to best collaborate and manage virtually is in the works.

We want to ensure that we respond proactively and effectively to remain resilient through this uncertain period. While vigilance is on everyone’s minds, it’s crucial to focus on initiatives that will continue fostering our creativity and culture. As there are no easy answers, it is important that we include our employees in the process and come together as creative agencies to share insights, learn from one another, and support our communities.


Scott Goodson, Founder and Chairman 

The management team of StrawberryFrog informed all staffers inside the Empire State Building today that starting next Monday that it was recommending work-from-home. 

"We feel the need to be cautious about our team members and want to be proactive about protecting them from the virus. They are better protected if they do not gather in groups or ride trains, subways and buses," said Scott Goodson, CEO of StrawberryFrog. "This will also protect families, the broader community and StrawberryFrog. We are not doing this out of fear. No one is ill nor anyone associated to our teams. Rather we are recommending work from home out of strength and our ability to work as a larger team together remotely." 

For now, StrawberryFrog's management team will review its temporary work-from-home recommendation on a week by week basis as they thoughtfully monitor the situation in New York City. 

The new coronavirus has led to the cancellation of StrawberryFrog & Reputation Institute’s Decoding Brand Purpose Summit planned for NYC this week where the leaders of both firms were planning on launching the Power Purpose Index, the world’s first empirical brand purpose study. The virus has also led to cancellations of SXSW, Cannes and a number of other conferences.

We’re Magnetic

Jessica Martin Reznick, President

[All staff to work from home as of Monday March 16]

We wanted to send a note to share some of what We’re Magnetic is doing to proactively ensure that the health and safety of our employees, our partners, our suppliers, and your experiences remain our number one priority.

We’ve expanded our policies to make sure that any client or Magnetic staff that plans to come onsite to one of our experiences has acknowledged our revised policy surrounding restricted travel and signs of feeling unwell.

In addition, we’re making sure all events have the ability for hand sanitization, and we're being extra thoughtful about food service and types of activities that promote sanitary, yet still shareable moments.

We are also closely monitoring industry and health organization communications and recommendations so that anything we may recommend closely follows their guidance.


GroupM US is working from home [on Thursday] as a remote working test day.

We are confident that we can service clients remotely and conducting this test will help us discover, ahead of time, unanticipated issues in our preparedness. Exercising and testing remote working and business continuity systems are standard best practices, especially in an environment where telecommuting is a workforce reality for many companies.

The Richards Group

For now, our office remains open. We are closely monitoring trusted and respected health sources that include the CDC at and the World Health Organization at Because the safety and comfort of all our people is a priority, any employee may work from home if they feel that is necessary for themselves and/or their families.


John Barker, President and Chief Idea Officer 

There is only one thing in business more important to me than delivering extraordinary work for our clients, and that is the health and safety of our team here at Barker. 

Our agency is currently implementing an aggressive program to help protect employees and their families, as well as clients, vendors, and visitors. We are distributing new protocols regarding Office Attendance vs Work From Home options, voluntary commuting options, professional daily office disinfection, elimination of non-essential travel, guidance on personal and communal prophylactic hygiene, updated advanced best practices for infection prevention, and establishing a safe zone perimeter at our office doors. 

The second concern that we are aggressively addressing is Business Continuity and Risk Management. Using our existing Business Continuity Contingency Plan, we have already taken important steps to minimize any potential business disruption, including updating IT and AV resources that will optimize remote meetings, file sharing, cloud storage, information security, and distributed teamwork.

Venables Bell & Partners


The health and safety of our team is our top priority. We’re continuously monitoring updates from the WHO, CDC and FDA, and are also in frequent communication with other Bay Area agency leaders on how we can all mitigate risk and protect our employees and community. 

We recently shifted to a mandatory work from home policy through March 27. To help facilitate this transition and create productive work from home environments, our IT team has outlined WFH essentials and implemented a detailed IT support system for our staff. We are also significantly limiting business travel, and are wrapping up some productions outside of the Bay Area and will reimburse employees if they happen to get stuck. We’re now shifting to local productions, which will largely be led by our in-house post production team, Lumberyard. 

We’ve taken some additional steps including providing Pandemic Training for our employees last week, amping up cleaning services with our Facilities team, and providing things like masks and hand sanitizer for our employees. 

We recognize that these are scary times and will also ensure that our employees are supported in making choices that they feel are best for themselves and their families too. We’ll continue to monitor the situation closely and adapt our plans and preparedness efforts as needed.

Allen & Gerritsen

To give everyone the best opportunity to avoid the virus, and to do our part to limit its proliferation, we have made the decision that all employees will work remotely effective Monday March 16. We will reassess on a weekly basis--and provide direction to our employees on preceding Thursday afternoons on whether we will be working remotely the following week.

Our offices will remain accessible with employee cards/key fobs during this remote-work period, in the event that a team member needs to access the office for the use of onsite agency services (e.g. printer, copy machine, etc.). We're instituting daily stand-ups for all client teams and video chat for meetings of any size; even if we can't be together physically, it's important to see the faces of our colleagues and clients. 


Steve Parker, Jr, CEO and Co-Founder

As a service based organization, we are taking all steps necessary to limit the impact on our people during the unfolding COVID-19 crisis. The health and comfort of our employees is the most important thing to us right now. People are our best asset. Agencies services are not software tools, and we need people to feel great to operate effectively.

Taking these steps will not only ensure the wellbeing of our team, but allow us to protect and ensure focus on Levelwing's clients and our work for them, minimizing disruption to business. Some of these measures are ones we activate every year due to the threat of hurricanes along the Atlantic coast, so we feel well equipped to deal with this uncertainty. 

We have been taking all measures within our control to accomplish this, including: Limiting or pausing all business travel unless defined as "critical"; Cancelling our attendance at all near-term conferences (that have not already been canceled); Disinfecting and cleaning all offices twice per day; Departmental teams are also in the process of being physically moved around within our headquarters, to make certain that close working conditions are reduced as much as possible among direct teams in the same departments. This is to reduce any possible impact on one single team, should there be a case of infection

While our Charleston, SC headquarters are based in an area of the country that is not currently considered a "hot spot" we are assessing the climate regularly and are prepared to implement work from home or remote work policies if it should be deemed necessary, similar to how we engage during hurricane events. 


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