Accepting, Adapting and Persevering: The Covid Chronicles

Mar 16, 2021

One year ago, the world changed. Every aspect of our lives, how businesses do business, how we interact with our friends, colleagues, neighbors and strangers. I’m on 365 days at my home office (dining room) and reflecting on all the ways that we’ve had to change, and stretch, and honor all this change here at The Key.

When the pandemic hit, we had to make some pretty surreal decisions. It was unprecedented, and we didn't have a blueprint of how to keep our team going, how to support and nourish our teammates, how to create an at-home workforce, how to be Zoom managers and leaders.

When we set out to create The Key back in 2017, we aimed to be ultra thoughtful across all areas of how we built the business and our culture. I’m grateful that as a team, we created a series of Key Agreements well in advance of the Covid crisis, which helped guide our next moves when it felt like we were standing on quicksand.

Agreement: Take Care
We wanted to take the very best care of our clients, who were facing a complete economic unknown. And we wanted to take care of our media friends, who were being stretched thin - or laid off from the newsroom.

And foremost, we wanted to take care of each other. We made mental and physical care and safety our #1 priority. And it remains this way, a year later. For those that needed to take time off to adjust to the new reality, they could have all the time they needed. For those who needed to move home to be closer to family, we made it as easy and seamless as possible for them to do so, regardless of time zones. For those who needed to adjust their work loads, or schedules, to accommodate workouts, walks, grocery store runs, or just time outdoors away from screens, we encouraged them daily (sometimes hourly).

In the first few months of the pandemic, economic uncertainty weighed heavy on us. More than 22 million jobs disappeared, and we committed to not being part of that wave. We knew from the outset that we did not want to lay any of our teammates off, even though PR firms across the country were doing so. We lost several clients, including our largest, immediately. We are fortunate to work with an incredible finance partner, Shamese Campbell from General Ledger Group. She helped to rework our budget and forecast to prioritize keeping the team whole, and apply for a PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan to stay financially secure.

As we realized that we’d be working from home for the long haul, we re-examined all of our health and wellness benefits. We tapped into the Covid Disaster Relief benefit to ensure all of our teammates had proper ergonomic support at home. We instituted monthly employee wellness events - bringing experts in to help us stretch, embrace self-care, develop our financial literacy  - and have some fun too via virtual tie dye, wine tasting, and escape rooms.

Agreement: Play a Team Sport
We took this time to develop a strengths-based approach to creating superstar account teams, being particularly thoughtful about each person’s natural aptitudes and desires for their individual career goals. La’Kita Williams, our incredible business coach from CoCreate Work, guided us through an in-depth, many months-long process of deeply understanding where teammates thrive, where they wither, and how to best optimize teams for the best engagement and efficiency. PR is a team sport, and we’ve always thought the best work comes from individuals bringing their own unique super powers to make up a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Agreement: Take a Beat
Everyone was working so hard, all of the time, so we decided to give our team the chance to take a week off in the  summer. PR is often an always-on industry, and it felt good to be able to take some time away from juggling everything that it entails. (We’re recreating this same model with two-week vacations this spring - happening now - giving our team more time to breathe).

By winter, we recognized that what the team needed most was rest. The months preceding were taking a toll on all of us. We wanted to normalize taking time, taking a break, taking eyes off screens.  

Prior to our standard two-week winter break, we “blew up the work week”.  We recognized the being in the news all day - with the double whammy of Covid and election coverage - was super taxing on our team’s mental health. We reorganized our work day, stacking news reading and individual work at the top, because a team survey showed most people are most productive early in the morning. We concentrated meetings between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and protected late afternoons for dog walking, workouts, kid time, etc. We also created a rotating / “no Slack” Friday schedule, where only a handful of teammates are online to ensure client and media needs are met.

Agreement: Fight Oppression
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd in June, and the demand for justice and structural change that followed, we knew that one of our top priorities at The Key was to declare our intent and solidify plans to become - and remain - an actively anti-racist organization.  We partnered with DEIB consultant Dominique Hollins of WE360 to review all aspects of our business and create a game plan through 2021. We’re deep in the work now and proud of the structural changes we’re making, to ensure we are always keeping diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging top of mind across all of our decisions.

Those are some of the ways we have rethought and re-imagined work/life this past year. What are some ways you’re adapting?

We're on Instagram

Work with the Best

A lot of complexity comes from an unwillingness to commit to the things that insight and understanding surface.