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Back to the Office or Play it Safe?

Posted on Sunday, June 28, 2020 at 9:00 PM

Editors discuss their plans for telecommuting or returning to the office in the near future.

By William Dunkerley

As the Covid-19 pandemic hit, many if not most editors headed home to work remotely. Now some political leaders are calling for a "reopening" of the economy. How are editors responding?

"The New York Times will not require staff to return to offices until January 2021, at the earliest," reported MediaPost.com. The story says a few staffers may be asked to return before then. But the paper will honor individual choices to not return.

The Times' staff policy seems in line with the paper's overall view on the matter of "reopening." NYT opinion columnist David Leonhardt wrote, "The bottom line: If the country reopened now, we would probably end up in lockdown again soon, while also needlessly increasing the death toll from the virus."

To reopen or not to reopen has sadly become a political issue, judging from stories in the general news stream. One side is pushing for a blanket, albeit staged, reopening of businesses. Others favor a more selective approach. That would involve a process that prioritizes strategic economic necessities.

Editors Only readers are telling us that they are mostly taking a cautious approach. Some even say they've learned some valuable takeaway lessons from the Covid-19 disruption.

Amy McPherson, managing editor, American Journal of Botany

Working from home every day means really having to organize a working space, and figuring out a schedule that allows a semblance of work-life balance. We also have a lot of calls and meetings online. They are usually productive, but somehow even more exhausting than meeting with people in person. I do foresee a lot of work-from-home in the future, and perhaps a lot less travel to meetings. A mixed bag.

Paul Rauber. senior editor, Sierra magazine

We're still remote and will be so until the end of August at the earliest. We're making do, but it's getting old.

Gary Vasilash, editor-in-chief, Automotive Design and Production

Much of what we do is sit in a room and write. The rooms the team uses have changed. They are kitchens and dining rooms and porches. But with a good internet connection -- certainly not as good as what's in the office, but good enough -- and a phone, we can still do our jobs of connecting with people that we report on.

One major change -- one that doesn't seem to have a reversion to the norm anytime soon -- is that we had spent plenty of time traveling to attend auto industry events to obtain information about new vehicles by spending time behind the wheel as well as by talking with engineers, designers and executives. All of that is gone. As are the various automotive conferences -- physical conferences, not the variants that are now taking place on our screens.

What have we learned? For one thing, to appreciate seeing the people both internally and externally with whom we work. Funny how just passing someone in a hallway of the office is something we miss.

Loren Edelstein, content director, Northstar Meetings Group

We are all working remotely; no plans to return to offices soon. Not much difference in the workflow or communication!

Mark Zusman. editor and publisher, Willamette Week

Our staff has been working from home since March. While our office is open and a few people are working there, there are no current plans to require anyone to return to the office. We have put rules in place for those who do choose to return (wearing masks).

Dave Zoia, editorial director, WardsAuto

We continue working remotely, and that likely will remain the case for at least another couple of months. The main things we've learned from this are that we are capable of working from home and attending to the needs of the business without negatively impacting productivity. We've used TEAMS and other online portals to communicate regularly as a staff and conduct interviews or hold backgrounders. Some of our business is built around conferences and events, and we've moved those to digital-only this year with good success. That's also been a learning experience for us in terms of the technology required and in discovering best practices, and that will continue to be valuable knowledge gained for us even after we've moved beyond the Covid-19 stage.

Bill Wolpin. editorial director, American City and County magazine (informa.com)

With 11,000 employees worldwide, our company has decided to start to re-open the office slowly beginning in September. We have the option of not coming back to the office. That's the long and short of it at this point.

C.G. Masi, cgmasi.com

We are not "reopening," as we've never really been "open" in the first place. We started "guerrilla publishing," which involves all-remote work (writing, editing, and production), in 1995, and haven't looked back since.

Where Have All the Editors Gone?

We've recounted above the success stories of editors who have acclimated to the changes imposed upon us all by the Covid-19 crisis. But that's not the whole story.

Each month when we email subscribers the notice that a new EO issue is available, we typically get back a slew of "out-of-office" responses. Some of the editors are off interviewing subjects, others are away at meetings and conferences, while others are enjoying a vacation break.

That's all changed in this Covid-19 era. Auto-responses are now dominated by notices of retirement, furloughs, and "no longer works here" messages. That seems to be a raw measure of how starkly our profession has been struck by the pandemic. And then there's the matter of how many of our new-issue notices are going to inboxes that no one ever sees anymore. There's no way of gauging that.

There is reason to believe that things will never return to exactly how they were before this crisis. It has been disruptive enough to have made a sociological impact on our work culture -- perhaps even on our society in general. And some of that change may end up being for the better. It may be a growth experience. We'll see.

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

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