As a part of the interview series we did with the business owners from different industries about the effects of coronavirus, we had the chance to talk to Megan Driscoll. She is a CEO of EvolveMKD, a marketing and PR agency based in New York.
Given that they are in the digital space, their business wasn’t as affected as some others, however, they still needed to make changes and adapt to the circumstances. You can hear their story in the video below, or read the full transcript of the interview.
Workpuls: We are here today with Megan Driscoll from EvolveMKD. We are going to be talking a little bit about coronavirus – how it’s affecting their business and their clients, as well as what they are doing to keep their employees safe of course and to keep the business running, and how everything is going to be handled once everything is back to normal. Thank you Megan so much for agreeing to do this with me today. I would like to start off with just explaining a little bit about your usual business model, like you work from an office or you usually work from home.
Megan Driscoll: Yep. Thank you so much for having me. I wish it was obviously under better circumstances. So EvolveMKD is a Public Relations and Digital Marketing Agency home base right in New York City, our office is in Chelsea. Our usual model is we are working out of an office and we travel quite a bit. So obviously I think the coronavirus started to gather steam here around the beginning of March so we implemented pretty quickly that first week in March. We put a hoax on international travel for business. We also implemented, my preference is people not take public transportations, so I reimbursed everyone for Ubers or Lyfts to and from the office. Of course, I reminded everyone that if they were sick, please don’t come in and if anyone felt uncomfortable I obviously gave them the option to come talk to me and we worked out a plan for them individually. Then it became really clear on Friday March 13th, that things were going to not get better there, probably going to get a lot worse. So that day about half the office worked from home and the rest of the office left pretty early and then really from that day forward we've been working from home.
Workpuls: Did you have a remote friendly environment? Do people work from home occasionally or this is the first time you’ve been all out?
Megan Driscoll: So it’s ironic because we were just about to launch our work from home pilot, to figure out how to do work from home as an agency and we are just kicking off in March and then this kind of derailed it a little bit. We did use part of our prep, a work from home audit just to understand, make everyone go through a checklist of items, like: Do you get good cell service? Do you have a printer? Do you have a place where your internet is always consistent? Just some of those things to make sure that everyone was set up for success Because I figured once we went working from home during this it was unclear how long we were all going to be working from home, so we got to be set up for the long hall. So it’s ironic because now I feel like we are doing an agency pilot, so we will see. I think one of the things that people took for granted that now they are not is, I think, the amount of interaction that you get in person and the amount of efficiency that happens when you are actually all in an office together is really valuable. When we started this, we set up morning and nightly checking for the whole agency. We are all on Zoom, we see each other, very quick - 15 minutes. It’s basically like a start of the day and end of the day and I did this for a couple of reasons. One, to keep everyone on the schedule because I think it’s easy when you are working from home, especially under circumstances like this, it’s a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety - it’s easy to want to take a nap in the middle of the day or feel completely thrown off. So I wanted everyone to stay on a productive work schedule because we actually are still very busy fortunately. And two, I think it’s important New Yorkers really don’t spend that much time in their apartment, that’s part of the reason why you live in New York. So there are a lot of people on our team who live alone and I think it’s really important to actually see people and have that human interaction, even if it’s virtual. Then I think third it’s obviously been, I think a big team bonding experience in a weird way, we have learned a lot about each other in this time. I think we are 27 people now. So we did an exercise the other day where we all went around and talked about what we have learned about ourselves over the last week during the situation.
Workpuls: That’s good.
Megan Driscoll: And that was really sweet and good. I think in situations like this there is always a silver lining and for me this overlying so far as been truly what wonderful people I have on my team and how they’re really pulling for each other and pulling together for clients and trying to just keep our spirits up even if the world around us is not doing too well.
Workpuls: That’s good, it seems that you have it all figured out.
Megan Driscoll: I wouldn’t say that.
Workpuls: Christina mentioned that you actually even did a workout, that you had yoga all together.
Megan Driscoll: We did. I just knew that Friday when I called them, I was like this is going to be a long haul. It’s going to be strange because it’s not a normal work from home. Like you work from home and you still go out to dinner or you can still do things.
Like you are working from home and you are home all the time. So I think having an end to the work days is really important because you could absolutely work forever all night long and that’s not good. But I think fitness and moving is really important, one, obviously from immunity issue and just being healthy. But two, I think when your end situations are like this where you are not moving a lot, there is a lot of anxiety. You just don’t know what’s going to happen, there are a lot of unknowns. I think doing things like working out, we did yoga, we did a little bit of mediation. We've done some kind of HIIT training, we are doing some new ones next week. I think having that is just really important and so if it’s an opportunity to have everyone develop good habits, it’s another good thing to do.
Workpuls: Yeah, that's a great initiative, another way to bond the team even though you are all far away from each other.
Megan Driscoll: Yeah.
Workpuls: You mentioned that your business is still working properly, you are still busy; the clients are still working and everything.
Megan Driscoll: Yeah.
Workpuls: Not often that you hear that in these situations. I had a call yesterday with people who had their trainings cancelled and mergers cancelled and business that they were supposed to do within the next few months - everything was postponed. Why do you think it hasn’t affected you so much? Is it because of the nature of the job that you do, everybody still has to do marketing.
Megan Driscoll: Yeah. So it definitely has impacted us, we definitely had clients cut their budget for over the last two weeks, at least [06:53] too. We have had some things get postponed. We are doing a lot of scenarios planning. I think what’s been helpful though, I think is the nature of our business. A lot of it is digital so obviously there isn’t a reason that can’t continue. And two, a lot of the work we do for our clients is also a little bit more strategic. I think some firms that are straight publicity or straight events, they’re probably having a little bit of trouble right now. Our scope of all of our work is such a mixed bag of items, which is fantastic. We have gotten some new projects, so that kind of off set, some of the ones that have been cut, so I told that to the team last week. I just think this time we are at home is definitely going to be a roller coaster and even truly I think everyone needs to have their headset at the rest of the year. It’s probably going to be a roller coaster because who knows how long this will last. What does going back to work look like, it probably doesn’t look totally normal day one.
I think we just have to learn to become one with the things we can’t control but really the things we can control like our work products, being there for our clients, being there for each other, staying healthy; we absolutely should focus on that.
Workpuls: That’s good. Do you expect that you will be able go back to business as usual once this is all over, hopefully sometime soon?
Megan Driscoll: Yeah, I hope so. I think a lot of this depends on how long this last. Does it come back in the fall? Is this really, we are done with it? I think there are too many unknowns. I would say there are probably, it’s not going to be back to business as usual. There is probably going to be a new business as usual for a period of time. But I think the good thing about being in New York and being a New Yorker, we all got through 9/11. We got through Sandy.
We have had a couple of these things that have happened and this is like 9/11, Sandy and the 2008 financial crisis like all combined, which is obviously a lot but I think as a city pretty resilient so we will get through it. And also we have the cutest governor.
Workpuls: That’s what I have heard.
Megan Driscoll: I he is everyone’s crush right now.
Workpuls: There is something, there is an upside to it. I guess he is a lot on TV now and everything so that’s good.
Megan Driscoll: Every morning. It’s a must watch TV. Like the one thing keeping us all sane. But that also speaks to the importance of communications in a time like this, it’s like he is everyone’s favorite person to listen to because he is communicating. He is not sugar coating anything, he is telling us what the deal is but he is giving us facts. He is being very measured in how he tells us the information. He is being solution oriented. He is giving us updates. So I think, if anything, what this whole experience shows is that, the role of communication is even more important in times like this. I think you can see, you have a lot of examples right now happening in this country where you can see it done really well and you see it contrasted with being done very poorly and you can see what the outcome is of that.
Workpuls: I think it’s like that everywhere. I think it’s in every country no matter how big or small, you have a couple of those people who are really delivering everything in a nice way and trying to communicate everything properly and then other people who are not doing such a good job. We’ve been trying to do such a good job but the communication really is something that’s been… even for us! We are used to it, we are a remote friendly company, we do work from home quite often. We have people, at least some of us, work from home at least one per week, others work more frequently but this way it’s so weird. Especially because since we started working from home we don’t have fixed working hours. Because we talked about it and obviously with the stress of everything we decided that we can work a bit in the morning and then a bit more in the afternoon; let’s split it four hours in the morning, four hours in the afternoon so that it’s easier on everybody plus there are people who live with their families, they have kids, they have the dogs.
Megan Driscoll: When I think, that's actually the hardest thing. I think what’s going to be one of the challenges coming out of this is since so many schools have said that no one is coming back till the fall. All these people who work right now basically you are dealing with…We have a client who, she gets up at four and does her work, and then she has two twins, five years old. She is with them all day, they’re in kindergarten so they’ve got homework; she homeschools them. Put them to bed and then she works again from six to eleven o'clock at night. And so I think even as we start to get back the child care question is going to come to the forefront because they just aren’t, like if schools close, there aren’t that many options.
Workpuls: Yes. They actually started, it’s quite interesting. They started doing school over TV here...
Megan Driscoll: And they’re doing that here too, over Zoom and Google and things like that.
Workpuls: Here it’s on national television on different channels, so for all grades you have the schedule on the website. You can see the exact classes, when you have which class and they actually give them homework, and teachers have been really dedicated, working with parents through WhatsApp groups and things like that. It’s a really weird time for any industry. I guess that’s probably, let’s say the luckiest in this case are people who are in a digital environment. They have much better chances of going through this and surviving this as a business then other industries.
Megan Driscoll: Yeah, I agree with that. I think there are so many variables right now. It’s just impossible to predict. Here in the US we just passed a stimulus or it’s about to get passed. And it’s still... Even for businesses like mine, I am not 100% clear if that’s going to help. So I think a lot of this is going to come down to how long will this last. What kind of government, like stimulus do you have? Because basically all of my friends that are bartenders, hair stylists, fitness instructors have no jobs.
Workpuls: Yeah. Actually just before we started the interview I saw that data from last week that more than three million Americans applied for unemployment last week; that’s insane.
Megan Driscoll: Yeah, I know it’s crazy. And look, I think it’s different than some other things we have gone through as a country because I do think once this is over, people will get right back to it.
But I think there are some businesses that if this goes a long time that they can’t weather that storm and that’s, I think as a business owner that’s one of the things that has been so frustrating for me about this is truly, totally outside of your control.
But I also think that’s the lesson, you don’t have a lot of control. So it’s like coming to terms with, as control freak A type New Yorker, like learning to become okay with that.
Workpuls: Yeah, that’s one of my problems. I just can’t get used to the fact that I am not able to control everything that’s happening around me, and it's frustrating. It just gives you more anxiety and pressure about it. But you mentioned that, one of the, probably the biggest lesson is, you have learned from all this experience; first of all that you have an amazing group of people working with you. Second of all, how important communication is. What are some other things that you noticed about managing your remote team and having a remote company? And what are some of the tips you could share with people who are… almost any company in the world who is moving to work like this right now.
And I think a lot of people have no idea what they’re doing. And it can get even more stressful because you have anxiety like, “I have no idea what I am doing. What’s happening with my employees, what's happening with my projects”
Megan Driscoll: I think everyone right now is just like, fake it until they make it, because no one can handle the situation. When we went working from home there are a couple things I told my senior leadership team right away, is we have to do that opening meeting and that closing meeting, and I have to see everyone; I think that’s really important. Two, I wanted all of them to set up – obviously we work on different clients so we have different account teams within the agency. I wanted them to set up one weekly account team meeting. So that way there is an opportunity where those account team members are seeing each other talking about the work. Because like I said before, you do miss those running into each other in the hallway or shout across the office conversations, so I am making sure we are giving them an opportunity to have that. I also put in, our senior leadership team always would meet weekly, quickly but I put in, we basically meet now Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays just because so many things are changing so quickly. But from a financial perspective as well as the industries and all these other things that just have more checking; I think more is better than less. Then I would say the other things that I have been trying to keep everyone focused on…There are things that you can do during this time period that are productive to building the business. We have been working on redoing our website. We have been working on redoing our case studies and our business text; this is a fantastic time. We need to do that work anyway, so this is a fantastic time to do it and spend some time on it because when this is over we obviously are going to have to gangbusters business development. So let’s just queue up everything we can, to be ready for that. And then the other thing I keep reminding people of is, “look, I think right now obviously New York City is an epicenter so the most important thing is to stay healthy and so I keep reminding people that prioritize sleep over everything else. I think getting outside when the weather is nice. You just don’t realize how much that impacts your psych.
So really making sure that you are taking care of yourself and that you are also getting some alone time, everyone who lives with someone. I think you are around that person constantly now. So making sure you are building in, like walks by yourself or whatever you need to do. For other business owners I would say, I have really prioritized taking care of myself because I think my job now is not only keeping the business successful and solvent running but it also keeping the moral of my team members up and also being there for our clients because they are all having the same anxiety and stressors that we are all having. So making sure that I am in a good rested healthy place to be there for my team and also to be there for my clients.
Workpuls: We’re having demo calls with some people, where everybody is going out of their minds and thinking about what’s going to happen when people start working from home. How is this going to work? How are we going to communicate? What’s going to happen here, what’s going to happen there. I read a tweet from Slack’s co-founder that they had an insane number of new users in the past two weeks because everybody is now working remotely and nobody knows what they are doing.
Megan Driscoll: Yeah, and Slack for us, we implemented Slack actually earlier this year and I would say I am so glad we did it. We get Slack and Zoom. We really do stay connected and I think you can send funny things to each other and I think it just really helps; everyone feels like they’re connected even if you are not seeing people in person.
Workpuls: We've been using Slack since the beginning, even before we started working remotely, while we were in the office and everything, and one thing I noticed after just a couple of days of working from home, I realized that we are using the #random channel so much more often than we used to because we were sitting in the office…We were sitting in the office, making jokes in the office talking about whatever in the office, but now everybody is sharing funny things through #random, and everybody is talking there on a daily basis.
Megan Driscoll: Yeah, we did it. We did a thing the other morning, in our morning meeting where everyone had to share their favorite coronavirus meme and that was really fun.
Workpuls: That’s a good one.
Megan Driscoll: It’s good to keep things, you need some levity.
Workpuls: Definitely, we did a couple of Houseparty App meetings over the weekend just to talk about what’s happening, how we are handling everything and it’s very important. We are very tight, we are a small company and we are very tight with each other. We go out together, we spend time together outside of work. So it has been really strange not having those people around everyday. And those little meetings and little talks even if it’s just a chit chat and not work, especially if it’s not work related.
Megan Driscoll: Yeah. Well, I think sometimes while I get a normal work day you are not always talking about work related stuff.
Workpuls: Of course.
Megan Driscoll: You are gossiping. So Slack allows us to sort of mimic that a little bit.
Workpuls: Yeah, that’s good. Is there anything else you like to share with the business owners who are struggling with this right now.
Megan Driscoll: One of the things that I feel has really been helpful for me and I know not everyone might be in a position to do this but philanthropy is a really big part of Evolve culture and philosophy and it was really important to me from day one. So actually every week, and not a huge amount of money. But every week we try to find an organization that we can donate to during this. So this week we donated to a Restaurant Workers Fund for all the restaurant workers in New York that have been laid off. Last week we did the Food Bank of New York City for folks doing food deliveries, we are looking at what we are going to do next week. It’s a good week reminder for me even when things get yucky or clients are cutting their budgets, that we have purpose that are greater than this and so I recommend whatever you can do, like finding moments like that as a business owner and I think that keeps you going.
Workpuls: That’s a good initiative, I like that. Well, that would be all. I would like to thank you very much for participating in this. It was a pleasure talking to you and discussing all this, and seeing how things look like on the other side in New York, and I really hope that this is going to stop soon.
Megan Driscoll: Me too.
Workpuls: And that we are all going to come through this a bit stronger than we started; in this we definitely going to come out stronger through this. I really hope that you will be able to get the business back on track completely once this is over and that your team will actually get used to working remotely..
Megan Driscoll: Yeah. I think we’re all gonna be pros after this is over.
Megan Driscoll: I don’t think anyone is ever going to want to work from home ever again.
Megan Driscoll: I agree.
Workpuls: Yeah. We are like, well, we should probably work a bit more from home and then now I don’t think anybody is going to be working from home for a long time.
Megan Driscoll: I totally agree.
Workpuls: Okay, so thank you very much. I wish you a good day and have a wonderful weekend and stay safe.
Megan Driscoll: You too, and stay healthy.