Publishers push plans to reopen offices until summer, but employees expect delays until 2022


Publishers are now expecting to fully open their office doors to employees in the summer. But their staffers aren’t expecting it to happen until next year.

The New York Times, Reuters and other media companies previously targeted this month to bring back employees not already in roles that kept them going to the workplace, like print production, but have had to push back their estimates amid the ongoing pandemic.

  • The Times now says July 6 is the “earliest date” it would require staff to return to any of its offices worldwide.
  • Thomson Reuters extended its voluntary work from home policy to July as well.
  • Last November, The Washington Post said it is now “unlikely” employees would return to its offices before June.
  • Vox Media told its staff that no one would be required to return before September.

Most of the publishers interviewed for this story said they are continuing to consider their work from home policies amid the coronavirus crisis as they hold on to their New York headquarters.

Since last September, Bustle Digital Group opened its office for two days a week for employees who voluntarily want to work there or need access to gather items. Entry is “closely monitored and limited to a select number of employees at one time,” said Trisha Dearborn, evp of human resources at BDG.

“With new vaccines being rolled out, we are anticipating to reopen the office this fall and while it will look very different to pre-COVID times, we are confident that we can create a hybrid model that works for all employees,” Dearborn added.

A BDG employee said they had not yet heard an update from management on reopening offices.

“I want to work in an office again,” the staffer said. At home, “I’m not as productive as I want to be. I work best when I’m in an environment where I can collaborate with other people.”

Digiday spoke with four employees from BDG, BuzzFeed and Reuters for this story. Trading anonymity for candor, some expressed missing the newsroom environment and being around their colleagues, especially during the big news events of 2020.

Nearly a year of working from home “has not made it any easier to adapt — if anything it’s made it harder,” the BDG employee said. The news cycle of 2020 was “suffocating,” and being stuck at home made it more difficult. Having said that, the employee does not want to return to the office “until the science says it’s OK,” and believes leadership at the company feels the same way.

However, the BDG employee does not believe that a return to offices will happen this year and that a majority of employees prefer to continue to work from home. “Some people have discovered they have adapted well to the work from home environment — that they’d rather be working from home,” they said. “But I’m kind of old school. I wish I was at a desk. I wish I was in a cubicle.”

BuzzFeed formally extended its work from home policy for most employees until at least Aug. 31, but Albert Samaha, an investigative reporter at BuzzFeed News, is among those expecting not to return to the office until 2022. “Everyone is assuming it’s indefinite until things seem safe again,” said Samaha. Another BuzzFeed employee said they believe returning to the office in August is “certainly possible” and that updates from the company give staff “plenty of time to figure out leases and living situations.”

An internal survey conducted several months ago at BuzzFeed revealed a majority of staff plan to continue to work at least partially from home in the future, Samaha said. He is one of them.

Samaha does not miss the two-hour round trip commute to work every day, and has been using the extra time to learn to cook and catch up on reading. “It’s a privilege,” he said. “I feel very lucky to stay safe, be indoors, learn some hobbies, report on the phone as much as possible, and make the best of it.”

A Reuters employee said media companies should use this situation as an opportunity to give up expensive office real estate and cut costs. The employee said they previously “worked for so many organizations that were too hung up on having butts in seats.”

“Journalism is strapped for money,” the employee continued. “You could invest in people instead.”

Samaha also wondered if there will be a reckoning on where media companies are based in the future. “In some ways it seems counterproductive to have all these news organizations based in the most expensive cities in America, especially with more remote workers now,” he said.

Working from home could lead to more journalists not living in these cities, Samaha added, “because we have all seen and proven that we don’t have to be there … in order to be productive.”

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