Lessons for managing a hybrid newsroom
As COVID-19 rates go down in parts of the world, employers are starting to ask workers to return to the office. The wrinkle in this plan is that many workers don’t want to give up remote work, and so flexible remote work policies and hybrid offices are becoming more common.
Quartz CEO Zach Seward recently shared lessons from one month of managing a hybrid newsroom. (Quartz is allowing everyone to work from home indefinitely, but keeping its office space in New York for those who wish to come in.) For him, one of the big takeaways is that, in practice, “hybrid” actually means “remote.” “Even when you’re in the office, the work itself is still best done with the assumption that everyone is remote,” he writes. Plus, some of the necessities of keeping an office—like having hot desks instead of designated ones—leave people cold.
Learning to effectively manage a hybrid newsroom is crucial, especially because the decision of whether to come into the office versus work from home is not random. Research suggests that, among college graduates with young children, women want to work from home full-time almost 50 percent more often than men do. Failing to make remote work seamless can unfairly penalize this group.
Though remote or hybrid work is new for many, some have been experimenting since before the pandemic. At ONA16, Nasr Ul Hadi, Mandy Jenkins and Rebecca Eisenberg hosted an event on Keeping It Together When the Newsroom is Everywhere. Here are some of their best tips for managers, combined with insights from the International News Media Association’s 2020 report on The Potential Impact of Work-From-Home on Newsrooms:
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- Keep the technology gap and equipment equity top-of-mind. That means being sensitive to differences in access to WiFi and other tools. Make sure people have the technology they need and build on-boarding processes that include training in various remote technologies. Don’t leave it up to less tech-savvy employees to figure it out on their own.
- Have clear remote work policies. Even a simple, written teleworking policy can be helpful so people know what is and isn’t allowed. Have an internal wiki that is frequently updated with processes. This should have an organization chart and other representations of structure and roles so everyone knows who everyone else is, even if they never run into each other in a hallway.
- Be mindful of work-life balance and hours. Put in writing clear availability expectations for employees.
- Set expectations for how to communicate. Don’t leave people hanging about whether they should Slack, email or call. Set consistent standards on how to communicate when something is urgent versus non-urgent. Use phrases like “Feel free to ping, feel free to ignore” and [RRR] = Rapid Response Required, etc.
- Find a way to make sure people get to speak up in meetings, especially when everyone is on mute, or some people are in the same room and some are calling in. This can mean someone using an emoji to “raise their hand” or typing a keyword in a chat, and someone else keeping track of the queue and orchestrating the conversation.