InkHouse Virtual Workplace Experiment

May 19, 2020 Beth Monaghan

As parts of the country consider re-opening their physical locations, InkHouse plans to be virtual through the summer. We’re also giving our employees the option to work from home through the end of the year, and potentially longer. We are a team-based workplace, and it is challenging when we can’t sit side-by-side during client launches to pitch the media, or collaborate for interactive brainstorms. But we had a head start in migrating to a virtual culture because we work from home every Friday. And so far, so good.

InkHouse also works in an industry known for burning people out. We’ve been intentional about building a culture that encourages separation from our work -- because creativity and productivity require mental space. As we’ve gone virtual, we’ve discovered a few things. On the plus side, the integration of video into our daily meetings has made us closer to one another (especially across offices), and also to our clients, whose faces we’re seeing more of than we used to. On the negative side, we’re on video all day every day, and the boundaries between work and home have blurred. Some of us are parents who are now doing two full-time jobs, and working odd hours. Others have more time on their hands and are working around the clock, because what is time anymore? 

As we continue in this virtual workplace experiment, we’ll keep learning what works and what doesn’t, but our primary goal will be to maintain the kind of culture that helps us do our best work. We’ll keep evaluating these practices over the coming months and will judge our approach by two metrics: our client work, and our employee satisfaction. Here’s what we’re trying:

  • No Video and Summer Fridays. We implemented work-from-home Fridays because our jobs are so meeting-intensive. We needed space to write and strategize. Now we’re moving to no-video Fridays (and very few meetings on Fridays). We’re also going to close early every Friday between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Of course, we’ll have people on-call for urgent client requests. 
  • Unlimited Vacation is Still our Thing. Summer vacations are being canceled because many expect to be unable to travel. But we believe that vacation is important nonetheless (we offer it unlimited), so we’re encouraging time off -- even if it’s a staycation.
  • Workpods to Soften the Loneliness. Many of us miss the banter of sitting near one another and have been doing it virtually, signing in to a group call and hanging out while we work. 
  • Virtual Forced Office Fun (FOFs). We’re not giving them up. We’re just changing them up. Our Waltham team has been hosting virtual fitness classes in barre, strength training and POUND. Our San Francisco team has a resident DJ who’s doing happy hours. And we have trivia FOFs in the works.
  • Virtual Offsites. For the first time, we’re going to bring the entire agency together for an offsite, and we’re excited. We’re calling it an “Office INSite.” We’re planning cooking demonstrations so we can all prepare ourselves lunch from our homes, guest speakers, art classes, and PR workshops and #powerpointparties in between the sessions.
  • Video Check-ins. I’m sharing update videos periodically when there is news to share with the agency, and we host two to three 15-minute check-in video calls for each office over the course of the week. We cover client updates and any other important news, but our general managers have been folding in team-building with questions of the day, like, “What was your first concert?” and “What advice would you give to your pre-pandemic self?” We’re also collaborating on good lists for Netflix binging and even a crowd-sourced Spotify playlist, Great Music for a Nightmarish Pandemic,” designed to cheer us up (it begins with “MMMBop” by Hanson). 
  • Caregiver Flexibility. If you are a parent or caring for someone who is sick at home, you are doing two full-time jobs right now. There aren’t many options available. You can take paid leave through the CARES Act or you can tough it out, which is what most people are doing. We’re so grateful for those heroic efforts. We’re offering a few options: flexible schedules (6 a.m.-2 p.m. or 12 p.m.-8 p.m.) and the option to work half time and pair up with another caregiver within InkHouse to share the job. And we’re accepting all other good ideas!
  • Permission to be Unavailable. We’ve created a Slack status system so people know when their co-workers are out for a walk, eating lunch, or just heads-down working on a deadline. And we still have our no messages between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. rule. Permission to respond later has been granted.

More than anything, we’re learning as we go, and we’ll adjust based on what’s working. For now, we hope to see your faces online very soon.

Topics: Employees, workplace, Culture, Clients, COVID-19, Virtual Economy, Work From Home
Beth Monaghan

Since the early days working around her kitchen table, Beth has grown Inkhouse into one of the top independent PR agencies in the country. She’s been named a Top Woman in PR by PR News, a Top 25 Innovator by PRovoke, and an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist. Beth designed Inkhouse’s signature Storytelling Workshop to mirror the literary hero’s journey and to unearth the emotional connections that bind an audience to a brand or idea. She also uses narratives to build Inkhouse’s culture, most recently through two books of employee essays, “Hindsight 2020” and “Aren’t We Lucky?”

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