How Twist in Cleveland Plans to Balance Safety and Productivity in Reopening

Is your agency or company managing a reopening process? We'd like to hear from you about what your plans are.

As some states begin to ease restrictions on at-work activities for non-essential businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic, Muse is checking in with companies in the creative industries to hear about their reopening plans.

Today, we speak with Charlene Coughlin, managing director of creative agency Twist in Cleveland.

Muse: What's your broad plan for reopening the agency? 

Charlene Coughlin: To build a strategic approach that is the very best balance of safety and productivity. Ohio is still encouraging work from home at this point, so our team continues to focus on collaboration with clients and each other from our home offices. At the same time, our leadership team is working to finalize a plan for the necessary precautions to keep our employees, and our clients, safe. Luckily, we've been able to transition pretty easily to working remotely and have found that the projects are continuing to move forward without many issues. We've been in constant contact with our clients, as well as our partners, to continue to learn from one another since there's no set game plan for anyone at this point.

What specific precautions are you taking? 

Once we're back in the office, we will be taking the temperatures of employees upon arrival, requiring face masks and making sure that the office space is set up appropriately to keep everyone healthy. Our office space is fairly open, so we will be reviewing seating arrangements for staff, as well as how to best utilize our common spaces like the creative lounge, conference rooms and kitchen area. We're working with our vendors to make sure our office has cleaning supplies and disinfecting procedures, along with encouraging staff to adhere to social distancing and clean their personal spaces throughout the day. 

I think one of the biggest challenges will be our common spaces and face masks—the team often congregates to spend time together, brainstorm and review client work. That's a piece that we're going to need to think through and determine how to best have that face time with one another, while being socially distant. 

Do you expect a portion of staff to keep working remotely? 

For the time being, most of our staff will continue working remotely. We will have leadership team members going in occasionally for operations and accounting purposes, which we've been doing on a fairly limited schedule. We've encouraged our staff to let us know if they need anything for their home office to make sure that everyone is comfortable and able to continue to work effectively. If team members need to go in, we're requiring one individual at a time with at least 48 hours between all visitors to limit time and exposure in the office until our full reopening plan is finalized.

When do you expect production to open up that will allow you to shoot again? Will it look a lot different than it used to? 

Our film partner, Think Media Studios, has put in place a thorough set of guidelines as it relates to being on set again. We know that it will look different and that we will need to keep in mind social distancing, limiting team members and specifics for each potential set location. We will be taking each project on a case by case basis and working with our film partner to really determine the best route to go forward with both our team and our client team. 

What other limitations will the agency have to deal with that didn't exist pre-pandemic? 

Our face time with clients, partners and potential clients has looked very different. While we are doing video calls, it's still different and we're learning how to develop relationships in this "new normal." We're very used to clients stopping by or us swinging by their offices for reviews, or grabbing happy hours together, and we know that will look different. We are working hard on continuing to build relationships with our client teams built on trust first and foremost. That means in a lot of cases more communication via phone and email than in the past, but our team has stepped up to make sure our clients are taken care of. 

What have you learned from WFH that you'll retain as an agency going forward? 

I think we will continue to retain the ability to work from different locations. We do all appreciate the face time with one another, and with our clients, but we also have learned the value in some quiet space for team members to think, brainstorm and work on client work.

Have any particular processes, tools, platforms or services proven useful for the agency during quarantine? 

We've been using Hive for almost a year now and it's been a lifesaver for us. We can't tell people enough about how it's made our team efficient, able to communicate and track projects. We set it up last year in an effort to streamline our project management, but we can't imagine where we would be without it. We've also been continuing with our team's morning meetings, as well as an end-of-day check-in with each other.

Broadly speaking, what kind of work are your clients asking for right now, and how will returning to the office help you deliver it? 

We've been working on quite a bit of brand and messaging type of work for our clients. Many of our clients had plans that we established in January and February that we've had to pivot in order to respond appropriately in this new pandemic world we are living in. Luckily we've been able to continue to deliver on their needs without being in the office. In addition, we have a number of clients directly impacted by Covid-19 (e.g., healthcare clients) and we've had to quickly push out new creative and determine strong messaging in a time where everyone is working to get their message out quickly. Whether we are in the office—or our home offices—we will need to work differently to respond to client needs. 

Where do you see the industry and its creative output in 6-12 months? 

Personally I see a lot of opportunities for smaller agencies—those that can be nimble, respond to client needs appropriately and that put their clients' needs first. Building a relationship isn't easy during Covid-19; however, the benefits are lasting. Listening will continue to be important for agencies as we move forward—as clients navigate their new world, the way their customers are going to purchase will be different and we will all need to learn from each other. We are no longer living in the world we were a year ago, where we knew exactly the best way to market to a specific customer. Everything is different and will continue to evolve. Clients and agencies are being more empathic to each other, which I hope continues when we're back in the office and in our "new normal."

Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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