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Over  one week into the UK’s lockdown and many in the industry are still trying to adjust to the shift to working from home and how to deal with anxiety stemming from the uncertainty Covid-19's grip in the world has created. But many ad agencies have put in place a number of measures to try and support their staff during these difficult times.

Diana Tickell is the chief executive of Nabs, the support organisation for the advertising and media industry. She praised organisations for their “proactive” approach which meant many people were working from home before the government issued its mandate. “That’s taken some of the pressure off people,” she said.

However, there’s only so much preparation agencies could do and as client budgets have stalled and work has been postponed there’s been a noticeable uptick in calls Nabs' support lines have received in the last fortnight.

“Initially we were getting a lot of questions about job stability and concerns about what would happen. That’s calmed a little,” she said, pointing to the range of options employers were offered by the chancellor last week. “That’s reassured people quite a bit. But we’ve seen freelancers contact us more recently, more so than before. We’re seeing different waves of contact to us.”

Tickell went on to say that the “majority” of calls it’s taking are form people in need of emotional support, predominantly regarding their mental health, followed by advice on redundancy and financial assistance.  

Yoga, meditation and virtual coffees

In the immediate aftermath of the mass shift to remote working, many agencies were quick to implement processes and launch initiatives that would maintain some normality and preserve the company culture from a distance.

Publicis Group, for example, set up ‘Publicis Plug-in’ as a way to support the mental wellbeing of its UK employees. It’s a daily schedule of online activities such as yoga, coffee mornings, mindfulness sessions and foreign language tutorials that people are encouraged to tune into to help them feel more connected to their colleagues.

The agency’s UK chief executive Annette King said: “Publicis Plug-in is one of many initiatives we have to support the mental wellbeing of all our people. In challenging times and with the entire workforce working remotely, it is particularly important we stay connected.”

Meanwhile, Havas has ramped up the investment it’s making to the Havas Equalise programme. Much like Publicis’ Plug-In, it’s a regular schedule of events both globally and regionally for people to tap into. Its New York office, for example, has run online daily meditation sessions while global teams have hosted virtual hangouts, drinks parties, and pub quizzes to stay in touch.

As the lockdown continues and the impact of Covid-19 is felt across more offices, Equalise sessions will soon include more practical workshops on topics such as how to protect your mental health while working from home, how to build remote relationships, and managing your children at home as well as work. 

“This work would usually be done face-to-face within our Wellness Lounges, but is proving very successful via teleconferencing and online, and shows just how much we need to look after ourselves and each other at this time of unprecedented change,” said Chris Hirst, global chief executive of Havas Creative.

Much like its fellow agencies, WPP’s Mediacom has introduced, yoga, mindfulness and daily wellbeing sessions taking place at 12:45 each day to mark the start of lunch breaks and break the “always on” mindset. It’s also doing Mental Health Ally Check-ins which sees a network of over 60 Mental Health Allies in the Mediacom London office host twice-weekly check-in sessions to give people the opportunity to chat about how they are coping working remotely, any concerns they have or just a general chat that doesn’t revolve around work.

Outside of advertising agencies, media companies have also been trying to support their teams. 

‘Overwhelm’

We Are Social advised its employees to work from home the week before the government imposed it on non-essential businesses. Its managing director Lucy Doubleday said many of its global employees came together – like those mentioned before -  to launch a variety of initiatives to keep people connected.

“We have a ‘Home not Alone’ Facebook group which is for everyone to share things like yoga, HIIT classes, teach skill. There’s also a ‘We Are Social Cooks’ group for what to do with food in your cupboard to keep people eating healthily. To help with isolation we’ve put in ‘Cuppa Chance’ to have a virtual coffee with a group and we have a programme offering up to 12 free counselling sessions,” she said.

This was all established incredibly quickly by management and employees keen to ensure its workforce felt supported. But Doubleday said she’s since witnessed an “over-stimulation” at the company.

“There’s been overwhelm. There’s now understanding we’re in this for the long-term we need to find a routine as well as the different, fun activities,” she said. “So, now we don’t have stuff every day, we have a few things dotted in the week to remind people of the different moments when we can all come together.”

By far the biggest thing she said We Are Social has done to help people with their mental health is to ensure that there’s not a feeling of “this is great, let’s all high-five” and instead open up about the struggles we’re facing in this unprecedented situation.  that we’re in an

“It’s about accepting and admitting we’re all struggling,” she continued.  “After Boris issued his message about the lockdown,  I put a note out about me feeling overwhelmed. And our chief executive did a talk on Friday and said he was finding it really difficult and struggling with not seeing people. And that he wasn’t a good self-motivator at home. So, showing that vulnerability.”

With that in mind, it has set about trying to understand the individual circumstances of each of its 150 employees – from whether they were living in a crowded flatshare to trying to juggle childcare at home or if they had family in a country already badly affected by the coronavirus.

“We can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach [to supporting people]. We need to understand the individuals and how we comfort and manage expectations.”

Nab’s Tickell said that while the yoga and mindfulness sessions are encouraging, it can’t take the place of regular and honest communication with employees.  

“It’s brilliant so many organisations are trying to recreate their culture through new technologies. But the thing you must do the most is to communicate. Even if you don’t know the answer yet, telling people you’re working on it is just as important,” she said.

If you are struggling with your mental health and wellbeing, you can contact support services via Nabs. More information can be found here