COVID-19 Lockdown Work & Wellbeing

Here’s how the ad industry is coping with the lockdown in Shanghai


By Shawn Lim, Reporter, Asia Pacific

April 26, 2022 | 7 min read

China’s major advertising hub, Shanghai, has been in lockdown since March, causing shortages of household essentials and leaving families separated. With much of the industry’s workforce now confined to their homes, we ask agencies in the city how they have been looking after their staff.

Jacquelien Postigo Brussee, chief executive, Jones Knowles Ritchie

We collect online wellness and mental health resources (such as meditation, training programs and webinars) every week and encourage staff to partake.

We understand that during this difficult time, we can all feel worried, anxious and tense. To openly talk about these experiences is important. It helps [staff] heal, gain strength and get the needed support. We held an all-hands virtual meeting on April 22 where we planned a series of individual sharing sessions, encouraging people to speak about their lockdown stories and find meaningful moments, even during a tough time.

It’s a warm relief to see people laugh and joke, and we even had staff livestream their kitchen storage conditions. It is these small moments that made us feel so connected, despite being physically away from each other. Our culture of people-first has enabled all of us to feel emotionally supported and definitely boosted our morale.

Our 30+ staff live across 10 districts in Shanghai and are facing different levels of government support. JKR was able to arrange the first employee care package on April 6, when we provided staff with a direct buy link to a reimbursable care pack that included essentials such as vegetables, fruit, bread, drinking water, milk and toilet paper.

Ren Siquan, corporate branding manager, Labbrand Group

When the lockdown first started in Pudong, Shanghai at the end of March, we were already aware of the tense situation and started to find resources to prepare countermeasures in advance.

During this time, there were still a few days before the lockdown, but due to the traffic control it had become very difficult to purchase supplies online.

During the lockdown period, the government did give everyone a certain amount of supplies, but the type and quantity were relatively limited. Through constant online searching and asking some suppliers we had worked with before, we finally found a supplier that could deliver to the individuals.

Each of our supply packages includes chicken, duck and more than five types of vegetables, fruit and eggs to ensure that our people get nutritionally balanced meals. So far, we have delivered two batches of food supplies to our employees.

A few days before the lockdown, many of the consultancy’s employees’ communities were already locked down due to detected positive cases in their neighborhood, and many of them had started to work from home.

Anita Shen, office manager, Media.Monks

Even though everyone thinks it is the supporting team’s job to get supplies for the team, the agency supporting team is working with the whole leadership team to [provide] the Monks’ families in Shanghai with all the possible support – not just supplies, but also mentally and physically.

Providing food and groceries to our employees has been our top priority during the lockdown. At the beginning of the outbreak, there were not many veggie box supplier resources, and every team leader was using their connections to find possible vendors for the team.

We encountered a lot of difficulties in finding suppliers, placing orders, orders getting canceled – a lot of dramas. It’s not like you could place an order to get the boxes delivered to everyone’s door, as each district in Shanghai has different restrictions on logistics. How to arrange logistics and ensure that the boxes can be delivered to employees is the most difficult point. Luckily, we managed to send necessity boxes every week throughout the lockdown.

Shashin Surti, managing director, Gusto Luxe

With a team of over 130 based in Shanghai, we have activated an internal task force to support the wellbeing of our people during the lockdown.

In the early stages of lockdown, we immediately procured care packages for our people and clients to ensure they had essentials such as eggs, vegetables and meat. Recently, with the lockdown continuing, we distributed a second care package to our people comprising of baked goods including bread and granola to give them a taste of normalcy.

In addition, this task force is also supporting team members who need additional assistance with emergency items, such as food, water, masks and PPE, and is working to get these items delivered as soon as possible.

We host regular sessions through our Reuter Academy initiative for its people to feed the mind and nourish the body. The staff has unleashed their creativity with the Gusto Luxe Master Chef Competition, cooking up dishes with ingredients from the company care package; others joined virtually for e-gaming, karaoke and mahjong.

Through a partnership with UPClinic, our team can also access a variety of live mind-body sessions including HIIT training, morning yoga and strengthening mental health through traditional Chinese medicine.

Chris Reitermann, chief executive officer, Ogilvy

Our priority now is to help clients in the short term and devise alternative strategies for campaigns to run smoothly, such as turning physical events into virtual ones and creating digital experiences fit for today’s circumstances. We have several offices across mainland China that remain open and run as usual, with teams able to help where needed.

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen staff volunteer their time and energy to get goods delivered to households in need. One of our teams saw a growing and pressing demand for pet food just a few days after the lockdown started. As pet owners themselves, they took the initiative to collaborate with our client, pet food brand Pjoy, asking if they would be willing to send an emergency batch of products to Shanghai.

Pjoy managed to ship a 2,000 box batch of its products to a warehouse in the outskirts of Shanghai, but due to logistical challenges couldn’t ensure ‘last-mile’ delivery of the products. Our teams worked relentlessly and managed in less than a week to find a delivery provider and volunteers, partnering with a pet association to ensure cat and dog food would go to pet owners who needed it the most.

Kirsten Johnston, founder and chief executive officer, JWDK

We have a staff check-in meeting every morning on Tencent Meeting as this allows people to chat about their situation and compound stories to vent any anxiety.

Work has continued as normal, however some clients have cited difficulty in paying bills due to a lack of access to ‘fapiao’ machines (for tax certificates) and are unable to approve contracts without physical paperwork and company chops. With many of our clients in different cities across China, this will impact our cash flow next quarter.

Thanks to the convenience of WeChat, many group-buy schemes started to emerge early in the lockdown to allow people to order deliveries in bulk with their neighbors. JWDK joined several suppliers offering emergency food boxes with medium success. The first few boxes were canceled when the stock suddenly ran out, but after our third attempt we managed to get two food boxes to each staff member.

Since then the government boxes have been more than enough to keep our team from serious food shortages, but we have been sharing recipes for cooking copious amounts of cabbage, pork and daikon (white radish), which seem to feature heavily in the boxes.

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