Commentary

'Hartford Courant' Closes Office As Pandemic Forces Rethink Of Real-Estate Needs

The Hartford Courant in Connecticut will close its office by the end of the year as the pandemic leads many businesses to re-evaluate how much real estate they need.

I suspect the arrangement will prove to be temporary. I'm optimistic the health crisis will subside next year with the distribution of vaccines that have shown promising results in tests.

The Courant, the oldest continuously running newspaper in the U.S., will vacate a building it has occupied since the mid-1940s, on Dec. 27, according to its own reporting. Advertising staff, reporters and workers in other departments already had been working from home since March, leaving the offices mostly unoccupied.

The newspaper is owned by Tribune Publishing, which decided to cut back on office space. The New York Daily News, the Orlando Sentinel in Florida, Carroll County Times in Maryland, Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, and the Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., also closed their newsrooms rather than lease facilities that sit mostly empty.

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These disruptions are a good opportunity for every publisher to assess the changing nature of the workplace, and the best ways to keep people motivated, foster collaboration and get things done more efficiently.

The publishers I've talked to since the beginning of the pandemic say their salespeople miss the social aspects of the job, with events and meetings being replaced with Zoom calls that lack the warmth of face-to-face contact.

For younger adults in cities like New York, where having at least one apartment-mate is common, the lack of space for a home office can be maddening. Meanwhile, some parents who juggle responsibilities, such as looking after kids who can't attend school in person, are practically begging to get back to the office and be surrounded by other grown-ups.

Like many schools that have adopted "hybrid" education models, including a mix of online learning and classroom attendance, publishers are likely to develop permanent measures that give workers the flexibility to work from home, while retaining the option to come into the office for meetings or to use office equipment with higher-speed internet connections.

I suspect that as the pandemic is contained by next year, publishers that have closed their offices will start making announcements of plans to reopen in settings that provide greater flexibility.

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