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March 18, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:07am

One year since lockdown news industry survey: Business confidence returning but few plan full-time office return

By Aisha Majid

Many media professionals are not so gloomy about prospects for the industry and most aren’t expecting a full return to work in the office even when the Covid lockdown lifts, Press Gazette has found.

The findings come from a survey of 592 people in the last month carried out by Press Gazette to learn how the pandemic has changed working practices and prospects for professionals in the media and related industries.

Even before the pandemic, there was no typical work day for a media professional, with jobs ranging from traditional office-based nine-to-fives to roles on the road with unsociable hours. But the research still underscores how the Covid-19 pandemic has changed most people’s day-to-days.

Of the responses received, 90% were from workers based in the UK, while 10% came from people in 30 other countries. Most respondents came from the news industry (83%) but we also received feedback from people in sectors such as technology and education.

Read more: ‘Swings and roundabouts’: What Covid-19 remote working has done to newsroom productivity

Read more: ‘The more chaos, the more people need independent news’ – news industry shares lockdown lessons

Most people are working remotely – and more productively

It will come as no surprise that most readers (74%) who answered our survey still do all their work from home. This is almost four times as many people compared to before the lockdown (16%) and far more than the country overall. Thirty-six percent of all working adults in the UK only worked from home according to the latest figures from ONS in early March.

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Only 5% of our survey respondents are not working from home at all – compared to 28% before lockdown.

When it comes to specific media sectors, people working in television still spend the least time working remotely (an average of 62%) echoing the pre-lockdown picture. Respondents working for B2B and specialist publications by contrast, currently spend an average of 99% of their time working from home.

Much has been said about the potential challenges that come with working remotely – such as balancing work with home-schooling children. But despite this, the overwhelming majority of respondents reported that working from home has had either a positive effect (38%) or no effect (44%) on their productivity.

The productivity boost was most prevalent among people working in B2B/specialist media and the tech sectors with almost half of people in these sectors saying that remote working increased their productivity. People employed by news agencies were most likely to report a decrease in effectiveness, with 30% who said working outside the office made them less productive.

A significant number of respondents put efficiency gains down to not having to commute which meant they could achieve more in a working day but some also reported their creativity had taken a hit as a result of working in isolation from colleagues.

Work-life balance has suffered – and happiness has too

There’s been no shortage of research showing how Covid has eaten into a healthy work-life balance with a recent study from business support company NordVPN finding that in the UK the average length of time an employee working from home is logged on at their computer has increased from nine to 11 hours during the coronavirus crisis.

Our survey findings are broadly in line with this as 38% of respondents reported they typically work more hours now than they did pre-pandemic. Just 19% said they work fewer hours.

We found similar figures when it came to happiness levels.

Almost half (44%) of respondents reported no change in their happiness at work, but 34% said they enjoyed their jobs less now, compared to 22% who like their work more. For those that are less content, a big factor seems to be the lack of opportunity for face-to-face interaction with colleagues, clients and sources as well as limited networking opportunities.

Back to the office – but only for a bit

Looking ahead, once all restrictions are lifted, most people are expecting to mix remote-working with some time in the office. Twenty-one percent of people think they will be only working remotely once the pandemic subsides while 8% expect to be back at the office full-time. TV is the big exception, with 37% of people working in this sector not expecting to work at home at all once lockdown lifts.

Of the 80% of respondents who expect a return to the office, the majority foresee a partial return, with almost 70% of those believing that they will still work at home more than half the time.

Most people are not so gloomy about the industry and their careers

Despite a tough year for many in the industry, when it comes to how they see their careers our results indicate most people (70%) feel the same or more confident about their job path compared with a year ago.

Those most likely to feel downbeat were people working for regional press – 42% of which said they felt less or a lot less confident about their job prospects. People working in TV and the tech sector on the other hand, were most sanguine.

Buoyed no doubt by a good year for many tech companies, as we’re spending more time online, 62% of people working in the sector said they now felt more or a lot more confident about their careers than a year ago.

And despite the sharp losses in advertising and event revenue that have affected many media companies in the past year, almost two thirds (65%) of respondents reported that they feel no less optimistic about the business prospects of their employer with most people feeling the same or even more hopeful than before. Just 35% of people told us that they feel less optimistic about the outlook for the company they work for.

Confidence levels varied, however, by sector with people working in national press, radio and the regional press most likely to say they felt less confident or a lot less confident about their employers’ business prospects.

In contrast, just 8% of people working in technology had reservations about the outlook for their employer’s business.

Image by Marcelo Endelli / Stringer / Getty Images

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