Hybrid work will soon be the norm for the vast majority of journalists in many news organizations, according to new research from the Reuters Institute, with 79% of respondents saying their companies are on board with the shift to hybrid work, and even more, 89%, saying they themselves are committed.
It’s all part of the return to the workplace amid the ongoing COVID pandemic, a return that’s proving more complex than the rapid shift to remote work in March and April of 2020.
One-third of respondents (34%) indicated their organizations have already decided on major changes and are moving to implement hybrid work. Over half (57%) said their organizations are still working out the best ways to manage hybrid situations. Fewer than one in 10 respondents said their companies are looking to return to a model as close to pre-pandemic operations as possible.
Instead, organizations are pressing ahead with plans to redesign offices, upgrade technology, reduce desk space/office space and renegotiate contracts with employees to accommodate more flexible working.
One-quarter of respondents (27%) say they have already redesigned office space and 46% are planning to do so. Another quarter (24%) have already cut the amount of office space, with 16% looking to do this in the near future.
But many organizations — employer and employees alike — worry that the full implications of the hybrid newsroom have not been fully worked through, including concerns about the loss of creativity, communication and culture.
The report is based on a survey of 132 senior industry leaders from 42 countries, as well as a series of in-depth interviews. It was conducted between Sept.1-24, 2021. Participants hold senior positions in editorial, commercial and product. Nearly one-quarter of the respondents — 22% — were from the U.K.
The findings suggest a divergence between workers and managers.
The majority of executives (64%) say they would prefer to see employees back in the office some of the time, with only a minority (11%) saying it should be the individual employee’s choice. A fifth (20%) of respondents said they would like employees to be back all or most of the time. “This signals that some managers remain reticent or even hostile to these changes, perhaps worried about the possible loss of operational efficiency or control,” Reuters said.
In terms of specific skills, the survey indicates publishers are still struggling to attract and retain technology and data specialists, who are in demand elsewhere. In contrast, most respondents — 63% — remain broadly confident about keeping newsroom staff. Around half of respondents (47%) felt the pandemic has made recruitment and retention of media staff harder, with less than a fifth (17%) saying it was easier.
As with every industry struggling with the new forms of work, this survey is split on the value and the challenges.
The majority of respondents (70%) say flexible working has made news organizations more efficient. Online meetings have often been shorter and more business-like, while reduced commuting time has freed up time for more productive work. Six in 10 respondents (61%) felt remote work improved the employees’ well-being, although many expressed concerns about burnout and the mental health of some employees.
Conversely, almost half of respondents (48%) felt creativity had gotten worse and more than four in 10 (43%) felt communication had suffered.
Among collaboration and communication tools, Microsoft Teams was most common, cited by 38% of respondents. It was followed by Google Meet, at 36%, and then, surprisingly, by Zoom, a distant third at 21%.