McCann APAC shares everything agencies can expect from long-term WFH as China goes back to office

'Relationships have been deepened and strengthened.'

This is only week two of official work from home life for most Americans. And there’ll likely be many more before we head back to the office. 

But for APAC, workers are returning to HQs as the region slowly contains COVID-19. 

"It’s a new normal," said McCann APAC President Alex Lubar. "The government requires that all those coming to work complete a daily temperature check. There is still plenty of self-quarantining and mask wearing. Everyone is exercising a very high degree of caution, whilst still being cautiously optimistic."

McCann Worldgroup China teams went back into the office this week after a lengthy isolation period. Much of the region shut down for Lunar New Year celebrations at the end of January and didn’t come back. 

Just like Thanksgiving, many people travel very long distances to be with their families for this holiday, and McCann had to address the fact that people were then stuck in quarantined regions or couldn’t travel due to limited transport. 

It’s a very large market geographically speaking, and the group was contending with differing local government restrictions. Its Beijing office, for example, was closed until February 28, whilst Shanghai and Guangzhou opened on February 17 with flexible working and some staggered teams. Meanwhile, full resumption of normal office hours only restarted this week for Shanghai. 

Lubar said he’s "wary of saying we’ve ‘finished’ this journey, because many of our APAC markets are experiencing second waves of infection through imported cases, for example, Hong Kong and Singapore." 

He added: "There’s a lot of uncertainty and unease, but the key thing we’ve seen is that our people are both resourceful and resilient."

The president explained that working from home presented a whole new set of challenges for the group, including a big impact on production.

Lubar told Campaign US: "I, myself, have three children under five at home, and it’s hard to set boundaries when juggling family. Maybe you’re in a shared apartment, maybe your home internet isn’t great. These are all very real challenges that can be stress factors when trying to keep productivity levels up. We are empathic and appreciate that it’s not easy. We know that everyone is doing the best they can under challenging circumstances. 

"Because production was also affected, we had to re-think creative executions for many of our clients, repurposing old footage, filming with our mobile phones etc. We also had to courier and install the necessary large monitors for our creative teams in their homes, as understandably, it wasn’t possible for our colleagues to transport these themselves!"

When it came to client relationships, he said the key is clear two-way communication and being honest with each other. Lubar underscored that "everyone is experiencing clients making difficult decisions, but unanimously, our clients and our people were empathetic with each other and the circumstances."

In China, some of McCann’s clients postponed work, but at the same time, the group was also able to compete in and win virtual pitches. 

The leader stressed that a lot of positive came out of an isolated work state. 

He said: "Despite remote working, there was and is a very powerful, growing sense of community that has developed as we collectively tackle the crisis. Relationships have been deepened and strengthened.

"At the peak of the outbreak in China, our local team also conceptualized and launched the ‘Air-Hug’ campaign, using social media to share an air-hug with someone on the frontline of the coronavirus - doctors, patients, police, caretakers, etc, the premise being we are far apart but can still be together. 

"Ultimately, we’ve seen the best in our people emerge through this difficult time. It’s energizing and inspiring to see how we’ve come together to move forward. We will get through this, and we will do so together."

American has more than 86,000 proven cases of coronavirus as of this week -- that’s higher than any other country. It means the U.S. overtakes China (81,897 cases) and Italy (80,589). But the death toll in America stands at 1,300, which lags behind China (3,296) and Italy (8,215).

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