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Why a performance marketing firm is asking employees to get out of the office to build company culture

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Over the last year, companies have increasingly adopted a remote-first or hybrid work environment in light of the pandemic. But as Zoom meetings replace water cooler chats, performance marketing agency Gupta Media wants to maintain company culture via networking events and volunteer opportunities.

It’s an effort to build up relationships not just within the company, but in the advertising industry, according to Kelly Heath, head of people at Gupta Media. It’s also an opportunity for staff, especially new hires and recent graduates, to develop the soft skills needed to woo clients.

To get all 75 employees out of the office and into the field, Gupta Media is gifting tickets to networking events, panels and awards that staff can go to both locally and in other cities, hosting its own events in its Boston office, and incentivizing staff to use paid volunteer days. Currently, 10% of employee bonuses is tied to using those volunteer days during the work week, according to a spokesperson for Gupta. 

The company has a flexible policy, with staff coming into the office an average of four days per week over a four-week period. There are also “WorkFromAnywhere” weeks throughout the year, in which staff can request to work remotely, and “SummerFlexFridays” in July and August, where the whole office goes remote. During Covid-19 spikes, Gupta Media protocol is weekly pooled PCR testing in-office for all staff, regardless of vaccination status.

Digiday caught up with Heath to talk more about Gupta’s workforce efforts, the importance of soft skills and how to maintain company culture in a hybrid, flexible working environment.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. 

What was the catalyst to get Gupta Media staff out and back to in-person activities?

We’re about a year into this experiment of bringing people back into the office. One of the things that we found was that there was some real atrophy in social skills, soft skills that everyone within agency world knows is crucial to developing that next generation of leaders within an organization. You can teach them technical and tactical skills, and they can get really good at those. But it’s the soft skills that set that next generation apart. Many of our staff that we were bringing in as recent graduates, they had their internships canceled or gone fully hybrid or remote. We saw some of the challenges that they were facing. Team members that we had hired pre-pandemic were still doing really great work remotely. But again, those opportunities for them to develop those social and soft skills, they’re behind where we would expect them to be two, three or four years into their job.

How did leadership notice the lack of social and soft skills?

As we started to get out into client meetings, we were seeing workplace professionalism that people [should] have developed, whether it’s in dress, mannerisms or just pure presentation, they were out of practice. There’s also that opportunity to network that we found was really a problem. It’s one thing when you have a scheduled meeting on the books with one or two clients and their contacts. But getting into a client presentation, where there’s multiple in the room, it’s having the opportunity to socialize, meet new people within the organization that helps build that rapport and communication beyond Zoom. 

For staff to leave work and head to these events or workshops, does that impact PTO at all?

We consider this part of the work. Because the stronger they are in these soft skills, the better they’re going to be as a member of our team as we grow them. So no. We’re not asking them to do this on their own time. We are looking for them to be a part of their workday. 

There’s been a recent spike in Covid-19 cases in recent months. Any concerns around that with this new initiative? 

We have been heavily promoting vaccination and boosters here at Gupta media, we have about a 99% vaccination rate. We have been adamant since day one, that remote work is still an option. If somebody doesn’t feel well, air on the side of caution. We have been supplying rapid tests since the beginning for our employees And again, we’ve been doing weekly Covid testing here to ensure that we are getting ahead of any potential outbreak.

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