How Media Companies Are Deciding Employee Policies in the Age of Coronavirus

'We’re debating serious issues during a global health pandemic. It isn’t a time to fuck around.'

illustration of employees in a tech workplace
Media execs are trying to figure out how to keep employees safe and their businesses running.
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Key insights:

In mid-February, Vox Media’s leadership team began discussing how it would operate should the coronavirus move to the United States. It was March 10 when they made their first call—to encourage people to work from home. The following day, as they watched schools across the nation begin to close, the team took to their communication tools of choice, Slack and Zoom, to carve out what would be the company’s official policy on working from home 

(Adweek obtained that memo and is publishing it in full below.)

According to people who were in the virtual room, the guiding principle was simple: to keep all Vox Media’s 1,200 employees and their families safe. Vox Media declined to comment on the record for this story.

As media companies continue to navigate these uncharted waters, leadership needs to, well, lead. Vox Media’s 10-person leadership team, made up of the company’s C-suite and a couple other high-ranking execs, can make decisions pretty quickly, said a person close to this group. Sometimes in seconds.

For example, on Friday, the company said all full-time employees, including temporary workers, can take unlimited PTO “to care for their family members during the COVID-19 crisis while without childcare or are assisting their family members.” That decision, a source with knowledge said, “was made within seconds.”

“This was the obvious, straightforward thing to do. … It’s the right decision morally and ethically but also the right business decision,” said a person with knowledge of Vox Media’s leadership decisions. “Every company should be doing this; every company that has the means to stay in business should be doing it. We talk it over and make these decisions.”

Executives across the media landscape are trying to figure out how to keep employees safe but also keep their businesses running. But it’s no easy task. CEOs at media companies told Adweek that one of the most important things they are communicating is that the starting point of every conversation is safety, but then making sure people get settled into routines. People are creatures of habit, and the current environment has disrupted that.

That disruption has found its way to the offices of SHE Media, which operates sites like SheKnows and Hollywood Life, where 110 employees are navigating how to “switch modalities” from being always on with a clear break at the end of the day and leaving the office to always on and still being remote, said Samantha Skey, CEO of SHE Media.

To start the day, SHE Media is holding standup meetings at 8:30 a.m., 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. depending on where the office is located. (The company is headquartered in New York City but but also has offices in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Los Angeles.) “That gets you into your space,” Skey said.

The company is using video platform HighFive for these meetings as well as some daily meditation, something the company is starting today. SHE Media has a teacher trained in mindful meditation who will holds hourlong classes.

In addition to standup meetings and meditation, the company is doing a virtual happy hour at 6 p.m. to ensure the workday doesn’t end at 4:30 p.m., but also as a way to end the day on a positive note. And no, happy hour doesn’t have to be alcoholic, Skey said, nor mandatory.

The company, which was acquired by Penske Media in 2018 for a reported $40 million, has been operating under this work-from-home structure since Thursday. But it was a quick decision, Skey said, made after listening to the team.

“It was a communal decision. People were nervous to go to work. And instead of just doing audio, we did video. We shared our teams’ relative level of stress. I was surprised by the different concerns,” Skey said. “I didn’t think about elderly parents or people on medication that suppressed immune systems and what it would mean to be at work. As we heard all the challenges, we realized that mental health will be important.”

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