18 months ago, Martin Cloake would have never believed he can run a large sub-editing operation from home. As a head of editorial delivery at business websites Capital.com and Currency.com, his job is to make sure the organisation is running smoothly and that is a challenge at the best of times, let alone during a global pandemic.
In some way, the team was well-prepared to work remotely as the organisation has five newsdesks around the world, from Bangalore to Vancouver. Online meetings and working virtually were part of everyday life.
"I have never been a fan of presentism and I have seen it a lot of it in the industry," says Cloake, whose mission is now to shape the working model at the company for the months and years to come. The main challenge is to balance the need for in-person presence, building a physical office culture, training junior staff and accommodate requests to work from home.
The hybrid future
Working from home is here to stay, according to Cloake, so publishers will have to find a way to make it work or else they will struggle to recruit. The question is, what is the right approach? Should staffers be able to choose the days they come to the office? What if everyone wants to stay at home on Thursdays and Fridays? Would it be better if the employer imposed one rule for everyone? Should seniority matter when making these choices?
Cloake worked in the business for 30 years so he has done his fair share of commuting and office life. In many ways, working from home is welcome.
"But when you are young," he points out, "you want to be around people and soak up their experience." He worries that while many may relish lie-ins and home-cooked dinners, junior employees will miss out on crucial training in the newsroom. Staying in an empty office for the best part of the week, while senior staffers work from home, seems pretty pointless.
For Cloake, the best solution is flexibility at both ends: employers should recognise that allowing people to work from home on some days can be beneficial, but employees must also understand they are needed in the office. The tricky part is to work out what the right balance is.
"In my view, there is a rampant individualism in our business," he says, adding that people cannot just expect that companies accommodate all of their wants.
"[We are forgetting that] journalism is a collective endeavour that relies on working together.
"As white-collar professionals, we are lucky we can work from home and we have to recognise it."
In many ways, these workplace conflicts are not new. When it comes to questions like priority for parents to take time off during school holidays, teams can go into fierce arguments and it is hard to make everyone happy.
This is not just the problem for existing teams - the hiring process is also a minefield. For instance, if you require someone who lives in Aberdeen to come to the office in London once in a while, should you be paying their expenses while not paying those of regular commuters? Or will team members resent that someone can work from home full-time because they live far away, while others have to commute just because they live in the area?
Cloake is well aware that one important factor that will weigh in any decision is the balance between managing stress related to commuting and the loneliness of working from home. He sees mental wellbeing as one of the most important parts of a company’s health and safety rules. Another argument is opening up opportunities to people with disabilities who could not have accessed some jobs before. But there is the counterargument of the need for professional development and no one seems to have nailed that one yet while working remotely.
The shift in the work culture
Before the pandemic, work was often at the centre of people's lives. Many have now realised that this is not the case anymore. There also used to be the sense that you have to fit into a particular mould in a company. Working from home has changed that too.
But some things have not changed and the need for collaboration and workplace camaraderie is one of them. With about 50 staff in its London office and a roster of some 10 freelancers, the outlet is making an effort to keep in touch with everyone. When possible, the managers organise physical get-togethers, book a pub or come to the office.
"You need to show interest in people," concludes Cloake, adding that even when teams work remotely, the social aspect of work is extremely important.
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