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Issue for July 2021

Reconceptualizing the Workspace

Posted on Thursday, July 29, 2021 at 8:58 PM

In the news: How publishers and other companies are reimagining office layouts, and the concept of work, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

After a year-plus of remote work, some companies are opting not to turn back the clock to prepandemic conventions. Tony Case of Digiday.com explores how some companies are shrinking their office space footprint and reimagining work as “‘a set of activities, not as a place,’” to quote Daybase CEO Joel Steinhaus. Case examines how companies such as Daybase and Angi are adapting to a new way of working that will endure long after the pandemic is declared over.

At Angi, Case reports, CEO Oisin Hanran has opted to trim office space and will be “reinvesting that capital into his team and company culture initiatives…. Angi plans to reduce the footprint of two of its three offices in the U.S. In doing so, it is eliminating all personal offices (including that of the CEO) in favor of an open office plan and more conference rooms.” Read more here.

Also Notable

Gannett Sells 24 Publications to Local Owners

Recently, there’s been a trend toward larger publishing conglomerates selling local news outlets back to community-based owners. Kristen Hare of Poynter.org discusses this migration of local news ownership this week and offers a complete list of publications that have been sold to local owners, including the Miami News-Record and Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror. See the full list of titles here.

Challenging Times for Outside Magazine

This past winter, iconic outdoors magazine Outside was purchased by MapMyFitness app developer Robin Thurston, who also owns, among others, Backpacker, Climbing, and Trail Runner magazines. Thurston tells Murray Carpenter of the Washington Post that “print publications need to fight declining subscriptions and ad sales, attract younger audiences, and compete against an avalanche of free online content while also remaining authentic.” It’s a tall order, especially for a brand that has struggled with ailing print revenue in recent years. Carpenter says, “His solution is bundling digital subscriptions to all of the magazines into a $99-a-year Outside Plus subscription. Members get print subscriptions to Outside and another magazine of their choice, plus perks such as a mapping app, two books a year and reduced entry fees for athletic events.” Read more here.

White House Reporters Masking Up Again

This week, the White House announced that its reporters will be required to wear masks again. According to Alex Gangitano of TheHill.com, “The mask requirement for the White House press pool is reimposed for all indoor spaces at the White House.... The move follows updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which adjusted its mask recommendations on Tuesday to advise fully vaccinated people to wear masks in ‘public, indoor settings’ in areas of the country with ‘substantial’ or ‘high’ levels of transmission.” Read more here.

Self-Care for Burned-Out Media Professionals

This week, Hannah Storm of Journalist.co.uk shares her self-care tips for journalists feeling overworked and other media workers. Among them: reducing notifications and limiting meetings. Read the complete list here.

Is an Editorial Brain Drain Happening?

With magazine publishing in a constant state of flux, made more pronounced by the pandemic, some editors are using their positions as a stepping stone to jobs in other industries, particularly tech. Read about it in BusinessInFashion.com here. (Note: Content is behind a paywall.)

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Calls for Back-to-the-Office Are Running Amok

Posted on Thursday, July 29, 2021 at 8:58 PM

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the post-pandemic workplace. Decision makers who believe otherwise risk losing existing talent and prospective hires.

By William Dunkerley

Return to the office? Not so fast, boomer! That's how some in newer generations are perceiving demands to come back. They won't do it, many are warning. They see this as a generational divide. But is it?

This isn't a phenomenon limited to editorial offices; it's widespread.

According to a Bloomberg Wealth headline, "Employees Are Quitting Instead of Giving Up Working from Home." The story explains: "The drive to get people back into offices is clashing with workers who've embraced remote work as the new normal."

For some, returning to a physical office is a step back in time, almost like a throwback to the days of moveable type.

Whether workers' reactions are largely generational is elusive. Office search company Hubble.com claims, "Gen Z and millennials are much more pro-office than Gen X and baby boomers." But are they right?

What Employees Want, Generation by Generation

A research report from Citrix groups together the millennials and Gen Zers and calls them Born Digitals. Citrix found that "90 percent of Born Digital employees do not want to return to full-time office work post-pandemic, preferring a hybrid model instead." Citrix says that "these young employees are different from previous generations in that they have only ever known a tech-driven world of work."

Citrix reports a fundamental disconnect between an organization's leaders and the employees. It disclosed that "when it comes to understanding what engages and motivates younger workers, leaders are out of touch.... Leaders overestimate office appeal." The research found:

--Over half (51 percent) want to remain working from home most or all of the time.
--18 percent would like hybrid working with more time in the office.
--21 percent would like hybrid working with time evenly split between home and the office.
--Only 10 percent would like to be in the office full time.

"But 58 percent of leaders believe that young workers will want to spend most or all of their time working in the office," Citrix added.

A Conference Board study found that 55 percent of millennials question the wisdom of returning. That's higher than other groups. Only 36 percent of the boomers do. They're more amenable to going back. Gen Xers are in the middle at 45 percent.

That seems to show a close correlation between willingness to return and age. Older: more willing. Younger: less willing.

Company Role Factors into Preference

That correlation breaks down when you factor in an individual's role. There are more significant differences related to a person's level in an organization. The Conference Board reports, "The lower the employee level, the more they question the need to return to the workplace." Only 18 percent of CEOs are questioning it. For others it's 56 percent.

How do you explain that? One obvious factor is that the CEOs have to consider what's best for the organization. Others are thinking of their personal preferences. The presence of this disparity can be quite problematic for management.

The New York Times cited a case example:

"David Gross, an executive at a New York–based advertising agency, convened the troops over Zoom this month to deliver a message he and his fellow partners were eager to share: It was time to think about coming back to the office.

"Mr. Gross, 40, wasn’t sure how employees, many in their 20s and early 30s, would take it. The initial response—dead silence—wasn’t encouraging. Then one young man signaled he had a question. 'Is the policy mandatory?' he wanted to know.

"Yes, it is mandatory, for three days a week, he was told."

The Times commented, "The decision to return pits older managers who view working in the office as the natural order of things against younger employees who’ve come to see operating remotely as completely normal in the 16 months since the pandemic hit. Some new hires have never gone into their employers' workplace at all."

Meanwhile, a July 2021 Harvard Business Review article extols the benefits of office-based work. It places them in three categories:

"Culture. It’s hard to start a brand-new job remotely. We learn how to navigate a workplace’s culture by watching other people and how they interact."

"Collaboration. It’s harder for institutional knowledge to make its way around in a remote environment. A lot of information sharing happens through short, informal conversations between people over the course of a normal workday."

"Purpose. Another benefit of spending time with colleagues in the office is that it reinforces the sense that you share a common mission. The phenomenon of goal contagion is a reflection that when you observe the actions of other people, you often adopt their same goals."

The Reality: Things Have Changed, Some Irreversibly

The above are very valid issues. But in a longer perspective, the HBR article commits a kind of "because it was, it will be" fallacy. In other words, it does not take into account what seems to be a technology-driven cultural change in how we communicate and gather together. It may not be good for the organization to buck that trend. Is work from home our evolutionary destiny?

If you think of ways of getting to offices historically, things began with people residing in cities and walking on foot. As cities grew, that became somewhat impractical for all workers. As a result, public transport by horse carts emerged. They were later replaced by motorized trolleys. People could live farther from the central city. The transportation systems focused on that hub. Later the technical innovation of private automobiles made outlying destinations practical. People could live and work outside the hub cities.

Now it is possible for us to go to work electronically instead of physically. It’s a new concept, a paradigm shift. Talcott Mountain Science Center founding director Dr. Donald P. La Salle decades ago was an early advocate that "it makes more sense to move electrons than to move people whenever possible." That's exactly what we've been doing lately, going to work by moving electrons.

So where does all this leave editorial managers? Data USA reports that the median age of editors is 43. That places them at the younger end of the Gen X group, approaching millennialship. They're not likely to be as docile toward returning as boomers.

How to Proceed at Your Publication

So how to handle things at your publication?

I suggest starting with a no-nonsense assessment of how necessary returning to the office really is. Some managers may be grappling with a sense of lack of control from when Covid sent staffers home. Don't require people to come back just because of that. Find some other way to deal with the anxiety.

That said, if in your particular situation having an office contingent is really important, try to be flexible in dealing with that.

You may find that while some of your staff want to remain at home, others will feel more comfortable and at home when working in the office. Be accommodating of both groups. For still others some kind of hybrid arrangement would be best. Be accommodating of that, too. Insisting on a one-size-fits-all solution may be counterproductive.

Before the Covid experience, working part-time from home was reserved as a perk for senior staffers. That's changed. It's no longer just a perk. It's a viable option for all, and not only for part-of-the-time schedules.

A new survey just in from Breeze, a disability and critical illness insurer, targeted workers that have or are seeking jobs that can be performed completely at home. Below are some interesting key findings. They may or may not be applicable to editorial positions.

Workers are willing to make compromises if an employer offered the option of working remotely full-time:
--15 percent would take a 25 percent pay cut
--65 percent would take a 5 percent pay cut
--39 percent would give up health insurance benefits
--46 percent would give up 25 percent of their paid time off
--15 percent would give up 100 percent of their PTO
--53 percent would work an extra 10 hours per week

That means that a work-from-home option could be a hiring and retention benefit for the employer.

The Bottom Line: Maintaining Workflow

A very important consideration in all this for editorial offices is workflow. Producing and publishing an article involves the sequential participation of several people. That requires a certain amount of compatibility in the hours each person works.

Problems can crop up if there are unnecessary delays. I saw this some years ago with a publisher that put his staff on a four-day work week. (He wanted to spend long weekends on his yacht.) Each employee could choose working Monday through Thursday or Tuesday through Friday.

This was not a well thought-out plan. It meant that, for instance, a Monday-Thursday person could finish his work on an article on Thursday. Next, a Tuesday-Friday person wouldn't get to do her work on it until Tuesday. That put a four-day delay into the schedule.

In closing, keep in mind: The Covid environment has proved itself to be in a continual state of flux. Plans need to consider that. Thoughts of a predictable end to the pandemic may be more hopeful than realistic.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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Discovering the Music of Language, Part I

Posted on Thursday, July 29, 2021 at 8:58 PM

Listen to your words.

By Peter P. Jacobi

The Listening Book is a slim volume by W. A. Mathieu. Its subtitle is Discovering Your Own Music.

Matthieu is a composer and teacher. He postulates right off: "The eyes are hungry. When we see," he argues, "all other senses seem to show it off. We miss at least some of what others tell us. The world of sound becomes less distinct when we shut our eyes, to let ourselves listen; we can discern the flowers of sound, the glorious messages that reach us through the years, through listening."

"When you close your eyes," Matthieu writes, "your brain opens to your ears; sound rushes in to fill the sphere of the skull. Your mother's lullaby just before you drop off to sleep. Earphones on, lying on the couch, Beethoven's Seventh, your arm over your eyes."

Matthieu asks his readers to listen -- to music, to rain, to francs, to breathing, to laughter, to the squeezing of tin cans -- and thereby open their senses to a heightened sense of existence.

Listen Intensely

Another composer, the quixotic and experimental John Cage, in his own way asked us to do that some years ago with his composition 4'33". For it, a pianist sits quietly at the keyboard for just that length of time, not striking a note. Silence. But there really is no silence because of coughs and whispers and paper rustles and the hum of electric lights and sounds of traffic outside the theater. Listeners were being asked to listen more intently.

Question to the writer: Do you listen when you write? Do you listen intensely?

In an earlier column, I listed as one of a writer's 10 commandments to "be a listener." Well, I urge again that you listen to what you write.

We don't listen. As human beings, we tend not to listen. Our minds wander back and forth, tuning in and out, catching just enough of the elements of what is being said or produced, but missing the beats and maybe the best.

A writer hasn't that luxury. The listening chambers of a writer's mind must be tuned in fully. To what is round about. To what is within.

First of all, the listening sense, if applied to what is experienced in the outside world, can add immeasurably to the completeness of coverage and the description. We do ourselves a disservice when dealing only with matters of sight. What we hear (and what we touch and what we smell and, on occasion, what we taste) enriches our informational pool and gives us far more to write with and about.

The Power of Language and Composition

Second, what we hear from inside ourselves can add to the power of our language and composition. What tones and rhythms and timbres are discernible from the words chosen to tell, to show, to explain?

It is not enough merely to look at words. They're comprised only of letters, symbols to make other symbols. But listen. How does each word sound? How do the words in the union sound? Do they contain a melody? Harmony? Tonal color?

The eyes will lead the writer astray, not as he gathers information, of course, but as he shapes that information into language.

Writing Not Listened To

"Designed in 1792 for $500 by James Hoban, an Irish architect, John Adams became the first US president to reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," a magazine writer tells us. That's writing not listened to.

"Thursday afternoon at four there will be a meeting of the Little Mothers Club. All wishing to become Little Mothers, please meet the minister in his study," a church bulletin notice announces. Writing not listened to.

Test Writing Against Ears

Listening is essential just to make sure we're making sense. But more than that, as I wrote in detailing my 10 commandments, "the eyes cannot hear the naturalness of chatting, the flow of conversation reality, the feel of linkage from word to word, sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, idea to idea.

I suggest that what you write to be tested against the ears. That way, I said, you'll be freed of convolutions and, in place thereof, "be embraced ... by the radiance of flowing, crafted language."

I'll continue with this theme next time. We'll also get into the topic of a melodic flow. Meanwhile, practice listening.

A classic article from a past issue in tribute to the late Peter J. Jacobi, longtime EO writer and author of The Magazine Article: How to Think It, Plan It, Write It.

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Free Assistance

Posted on Thursday, July 29, 2021 at 8:57 PM

During this time of crisis recovery, we stand ready to answer privately any specific questions our readers may have, time permitting. You can contact us at: crisis-help@editorsonly.com.

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