The novel coronavirus has killed more than 4,000 people, as of the beginning of March, and there are approximately about 121,000 more confirmed cases worldwide across in at least 81 countries, with six COVID-19 related deaths in the US alone.
As the coronavirus spreads across other parts of Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the US, and numbers begin to rise dramatically, a number of major companies like Microsoft, Hitachi and Chevron are asking their workers to work remotely as a measure against the quick-spreading disease to ensure that their staff remain healthy and safe during the pandemic.
Similarly, major companies like Oracle, Twitter, Apple, and Nestlé are restricting all non-essential business travel to keep the virus from spreading.
A number of other ad holding companies are also stepping up and taking precautions with their staff, including;
- WPP – Employees are now restricted from traveling to China, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Japan or Italy as borders close, and must work remotely for 14 days if they are returning from those areas.
- IPG – IPG recently sent out a memo to all staff detailing the company’s similar travel policy, which restricts travel to China and South Korea “until further notice” and requires employees who are returning from those countries to work from home for 14 days following.
- Omnicom – Omnicom had recently shut its London-based office for 48 hours after a potential scare with the virus. Since the closure, the holding company updated its travel guidance postponing travel to China, Japan, Hong Kong, Iran, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, or Northern Italy until further notice. Employees returning from those places have also been asked to remain home for 14 days.
- Dentsu Japan – Dentsu simply just told employees to work remotely, as it’s the safest option. The company has also restricted travel to affected countries and cities and told employees to work remotely. The company also released a statement: “We have a robust business continuity team who are working at global, regional and local level to safeguard our people and react in an expedited way, where required. We are continuously monitoring the situation, particularly regarding high risk markets and are adopting all local government recommendations.”
- Havas – Havas sent employees a memo issued personally by their CEO, Yannick Bolloré, outlining that business travel to areas including South East Asia, Milan and Venice is suspended. Employees coming back from a business trip in those areas have to work from home for 14 days.
“The coronavirus is going to be a tipping point. We plodded along at about 10% growth a year for the last 10 years, but I foresee that this is going to really accelerate the trend,” Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, said in a recently statement to CNBC.
According to research on workplace in 2017, a study found that 43% of employees work remotely with some frequency.
Additionally, among the increase in confirmed cases, all agency groups’ stocks have taken a large hit alongside the broader market. For scale, WPP’s shares fell 15%; IPG is now down 5%; Omnicom is down nearly 4%; Dentsu Aegis fell 2.5%; Publicis Groupe is also down 5.6% and continuing.
“So I think the reason we were not specific was just because I think at the moment, it’s really just unknowable,” WPP CEO Mark Read, during the earnings call when asked about the business impact of coronavirus on WPP’s China business. “It’s more unknowable today than probably it was Friday, if we had this meeting Friday of last week, we may [have] given you a different answer then we give you today.”
Omnicom CEO John Wren also addressed the threat of coronavirus to the holding company’s business during Omnicom’s earnings call earlier this month, noting that the company’s events business in China will likely be affected due to cancelations. “With respect to China, we, like most other people, are playing it day-to-day at this point,” said Wren. Wren also noted that “China is an important market, but it’s not a terribly large market for us and our numbers.”