Inside Chemistry's Reopening Plans for Offices in 3 States

A blueprint for Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Miami

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 creative companies to hear about their reopening plans.

Today, we speak with Ned Show, CEO of creative agency Chemistry, which has offices in Atlanta and Pittsburgh, as well as a partner agency, Pinta, in Miami.

What's your broad plan for reopening the agency?

Chemistry's three offices are all on slightly different reopening paths as we work to align with each locations' guidelines from government leadership and health departments. As of Monday, May 18, our Atlanta office is open, providing employees the option to come in or work from home if they prefer. The Pittsburgh office continues to work from home under the guidance from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who has asked that companies able to function properly via telework/WFH continue to do so. Our Miami partner agency, Pinta, is planning for a gradual reopening in early June with a staggered schedule and plans to keep Fridays as WFH days for all employees. 

What specific precautions are you taking?

As the first of our offices to open its doors, we have made extensive changes to the physical layout of our Atlanta space. We pulled workstations apart and placed them six feet from one another. We added dividers for employees in between workspaces and confirmed acceptable heights for sneeze guards. We've added numerous sanitizer stations throughout the office, a new digital thermometer at the front desk, and employees are required to wear face masks while in the office.

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

I do, and it has worked more seamlessly than I imagined. My partners and I have always struggled with the work-from-home concept at Chemistry. The work done by agency staff can certainly be done remotely—freelance resources do it every day for 90 percent of the agencies in the country. Our challenge is trying to strike the perfect balance, because we believe an agency is more than the sum of its parts. You need human interaction, collaboration and conversations for great work to be created. Now and always, it's our No. 1 priority to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our staff, and we'll continue to evaluate our plans for reopening based on that priority.

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?

Production crews are already innovating with techniques that allow for talent to stay at home and for crews to remain lean with proper safety precautions. I expect this trend to accelerate even more as we'll see a shift to guerrilla-type shooting, small crews and agile locations.  

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

All meetings will be held via Zoom, even if some employees are together in the office. The reluctance of clients visiting our office or hosting us in theirs will be tough to navigate, as we always prefer in-person meetings. We're rethinking, as an agency and industry, what the future of personal connection looks like and how we can still maintain and build on these relationships virtually. Creative connecting and research sessions, which usually find us huddled in groups, will be handled with separation and more video. 

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

Chemistry's strong sense of teamwork and camaraderie has remained throughout this pandemic. Everyone is pitching in to help come up with creative solutions and new ideas as we all evolve together. That work ethic has always been there, and we're confident these trying times will make us all stronger moving forward.

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

We create and track all of our jobs through Webvantage, a content management system, but a majority of the tools and processes that have allowed us to continue creating great work are still good old-fashioned emails and phone calls. A good amount of work is also taking place on Slack, and we've replaced in-person meetings with Zoom conference calls.

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

Everyone is adjusting to their specific vertical and the implications within. Our sports clients, for example, have become "content companies," our restaurant clients have become to-go outlets, and our hotel partners are looking for solutions that reinforce safety and precaution measures. 

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

In six months, I see the onslaught of video with thought leaders and conferences. I see e-commerce taking a bigger role across all industries. Even personal appointments will rely heavily on digital to streamline and reduce human interaction. I think businesses will become smarter and invest in assets they previously put off, like revamping websites, building apps and installing office video cameras/screens. I'm an optimist who believes we will have solutions for the virus in the next 12 months, but we'll be thrust into a more digital and touchless reality either way.

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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