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September 23, 2022updated 07 Oct 2022 7:16am

WFH? RTO? Or hybrid? The US news media’s latest return-to-office policies explained

By Bron Maher

Unionised New York Times journalists have ended their coordinated refusal to return to the office. But some staff continue to stay at home, backed by the Newsguild of New York.

Following the Times’ call for workers to return to the office (RTO), Press Gazette asked around other major US news organisations, including Reuters, Associated Press  and Gannett, to find which companies are compelling their staff back.

Below, Press Gazette rounds up which news organisations have which policies on returning to the office. Want us to add information about your company? Get in touch at bron.maher@pressgazette.co.uk.

The New York Times: It’s complicated

The New York Post revealed earlier this month that, faced with the call to return to the office, more than 1,300 New York Times staff had signed a pledge to defy the requirement last week.

The Newsguild of New York, the union representing many Times staff, is in the midst of lengthy contract discussions with the paper’s management over pay and benefits.

According to the Post, the Times expected staff to return to the office three days a week beginning Monday 12 September. (A New York Times spokesperson told Press Gazette “We have not specified a set number of in-office days on a company-wide basis.”)

But amid the stalled pay negotiations and growing food and travel costs, workers at the company’s news, back-end tech and Wirecutter (product recommendation) departments declined the instruction.

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New York Newsguild spokesperson Wen Zhuang told Press Gazette the action was only due to last one week, however. “Although there’s no longer any action around RTO [return to office], some people are still not going in.

“The Guild’s position remains that the company can’t mandate RTO without bargaining as a part of a complete agreement and we have [an unfair labour practice complaint] about this that we filed months ago.”

One NYT staffer said that office attendance this week, while rising, remained low.

New York Times external communications director Charlie Stadtlander told Press Gazette: “We have not specified a set number of in-office days on a company-wide basis. We continue to believe that allowing people the flexibility to work together in the office at times and remotely at other times will benefit everyone by ensuring that we maintain the strong, collaborative environment that has come to define our culture and drive our success.”

Stadtlander also passed along a note sent to staff by the Times’ chief human resources officer in February saying the company was “intentionally not detailing what hybrid looks like company-wide, but rather leaving it up to each department to determine what works best for their teams.

“We want to give our newsroom and business leaders — and all of you — the flexibility to shape your team working environment while remaining true to the Times’s mission, values and business needs. There will inevitably need to be adjustments to plans that we previously announced, and new plans developed as we learn more.”

The Washington Post: Three days in the office, or else

The Washington Post reportedly told staff to return to the office three days a week back in June – to much employee annoyance.

The Daily Beast reported at the time that the Post Guild representing unionised employees sent a note to management lambasting “a lack of concern for the ongoing pandemic; an absence of trust in employees; a gross misunderstanding of how employees do their jobs and a willful disregard for the constantly evolving needs of employees.”

Both the Beast and Fortune report that Post chief executive Fred Ryan is keen to get staff back in the building, with the latter writing earlier this month he had been “monitoring how many staff members come into the downtown D.C. office, even requesting records for video calls to measure productivity.”

The Post confirmed the three day minimum to Press Gazette in an emailed statement, saying: “In this initial phase of return to office, staff based in one of The Post’s office locations must be in office at least three days a week. This allows for both in-person collaboration and increased flexibility as we continue to evaluate the best future business model for The Post.”

Reuters and AP: Two days in the office

A spokesperson for Reuters – which had its own staff walk out recently over a proposed 1% pay increase – told Press Gazette: “Thomson Reuters hybrid working arrangements are centred on the principles of connections, trust and flexibility.

“Our general guidance is an average of two days per week in the office for hybrid roles.”

An Associated Press spokesperson told Press Gazette that in April the agency’s staff “returned to its offices globally on a hybrid basis”.

Staff “generally work from offices on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and are welcome to come in on additional days if they wish.”

Gannett and WSJ: Leave it up to the teams

A Gannett spokesperson said: “While operational areas of the Gannett business, such as our production and circulation facilities, have remained open and operational, we have implemented a flexible workplace model for our other divisions.

“Local newsrooms set their own norms and office cadence as appropriate given the nature of news. We believe this model aligns with our values and reinforces our commitment to our employees and the communities we serve.”

The New York Times reported in February that Dow Jones, the Murdoch-owned parent company to The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s, would leave it to each team to determine what level of attendance would be appropriate.

Buzzfeed and BDG: We’re flexible

Bustle Digital Group, which owns brands including Elite Daily, Gawker and W magazine, told Press Gazette it does not require office attendance.

The company’s chief people officer Trisha Dearborn said: “Since the pandemic, we recognise that the workforce has transformed, allowing employees more flexibility on where they work. 

“BDG implemented a voluntary hybrid work model early on, giving teams the option and space to come into the office to interact, collaborate, and ideate, but in-person attendance is not required.”

A spokesperson for Buzzfeed Inc – which owns both Buzzfeed and Huffpost – said the company “offers remote/flexible work to all employees, unless a role is specified to be required to be in-person.”

Picture: Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images

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