Digital Innovation Digital Publishing
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Unexpected wins for publishers facing prolonged work from home

It is not often that the global news industry faces the same challenge as it does today with the Coronavirus pandemic. In our latest webinar in our Future of News series, a discussion on the status of work from home was sparked. With a very global audience, publishers came from 27 different countries, there was a wide range of situations. The biggest group, 34%, doesn’t expect to go back to the office until at least 2021. 23% are planning to go back in sometime in the next few months, while almost 10% don’t plan to ever go back into the office at the same frequency as before.

With this in mind, we’re looking today at some of the unexpected wins publishers are seeing today with the prolonged state of work from home.

More attractive offer for tech talent

Before the pandemic, there was limited working from home in many news organisations, most often something happening on an occasional basis. In what felt like a matter of days this was flipped on its head in March, with employees from all levels of news organisations quickly figuring out how to make their work possible from home. Who can forget the many audio journalists having to record in closets?

The tech titans, whether they’re in Silicon Valley or elsewhere, have long attracted top tech talent with remote working offers. Newsrooms have been slow to do the same, which has made employment offerings less competitive.

Now publishers are in a better situation to compete for tech candidates as they have been forced to quickly adopt more flexible work environments. Of course, there’s still the salary element that makes some tech platforms more attractive. Still, publishers have a strong mission component that can help attract talent.

Even when a sense of normality returns, many publishers plan to still keep flexible work arrangements. The Financial Times is planning to re-open their London headquarters in a phased plan as of October, but with voluntary attendance and restricted numbers. A spokesperson told Press Gazette that the long-term future of work at the FT will be “more flexible and involve remote working”.

Intentional collaboration spaces

For publishers who are in the process of returning to the office, this has come with new logistical challenges to tackle. One such publisher is News UK who have started their phased re-opening of their London HQ, now operating at a maximum capacity of 30%. 

In this new work environment, masks must be worn, there’s a one-way circulation system, and a clear cleaning system has been set up. Still, most meeting rooms are closed and so meetings are still often held remotely. While some might want to return to the office, they’re wanting to return to the offices of the Before Times. As The Guardian’s Martin Belam recently wrote:

It feels like going back will just be going from one strange isolating experience straight into another strange and unusual experience.

Martin Belam, Social & New Formats Editor at The Guardian

That’s why some publishers have taken this opportunity to reconsider what their office space should look like, knowing that what has served them in the past will no longer work going forward. McClatchy has announced six of its newspapers will leave their offices and continue to work remotely through the end of the year, then reassess what they need going forward.

We know that the office space of today is not what the office space will be for tomorrow as it relates to social distancing and keeping our employees safe.

Aminda Marqués González, publisher of the Miami Herald

For Condé Nast, a survey found that 70% of its workforce was interested in some form of flexible work from home arrangements going forward, so they are now looking into breaking their lease which was meant to last until 2039 in favour of a less expensive location elsewhere in New York City.

What the office of tomorrow will look like it still unknown but the BBC published a thought exercise recently of what this could entail. A key takeaway is that offices will become places for focused collaboration.

Of course, some publishers have also taken this opportunity to cut costs further by doing away with their offices, including newsrooms, permanently. We have seen this happen primarily in the US, with Tribune Publishing deciding to close some of its newsrooms permanently. What we lose when we close a newsroom is still to be seen — as always, we’re curious to hear from you so drop us a line if you have thoughts on this.

Positive impact on national journalism

For national titles, this remote working environment means their employees can work from anywhere in the country. Prior to the pandemic, one in five US newsroom employees lived in New York City, Los Angeles, or Washington, D.C. according to Pew Research. That meant that 20% of the news was coming from where only 5% of the nation’s population lives.

There’s been this conversation for a long time about how do we get correspondents out into communities where they might not otherwise be. Why does a big newspaper have its national staff all kind of clustered on the coasts or in a handful of big cities, and what’s the hesitancy about people living elsewhere in the country?

Ann Marie Lipinski, curator of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University

While this positive impact might only be seen in widespread countries such as the US, it’s an interesting development worth exploring further. Could this further connection between local and national have an impact on the struggle of local news?

No matter how long this state of work from home lasts, news organisations need to ensure they are focusing on what it means to be a company that is majority telecommuting. After all, we have already seen what happened in our last industry-wide challenge when we tried to bring what worked in one medium to the new one.

Companies should never just implement telecommuting without changing anything else. They also need to shift their culture and norms to support the new arrangement.

Kristen Shockley, Ph.DIndustrial organisational psychologist

Mary-Katharine Phillips
Media innovation analyst @ Twipe

Original content republished with permission of Twipe

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