Johnston Press creates virtual office for weekly with journalists and ad staff all working remotely

Johnston Press has created what is believed to be the first virtual office for a major UK regional newspaper.

It has sold the office of the Hemel Hempstead Gazette and the five journalists on the title, which has a paid-for weekly circulation of just over 9,000, now have no office and work remotely.

Whereas it has become common for staff on local weeklies to be moved from town centre offices to remote centralised locations, this is believed to be the first time a major publisher has tried publish a newspaper without an office altogether.

Pages are put together and sent to the printers remotely using the Atex content management system and reporters can upload website stories themselves.

All staff are equipped with a laptop, which can be used for video-conferencing, and with a smartphone, which can also be used to shoot video and stills.

The mobile numbers and email addresses of all the reporters appear on the Hemel Today website.

The  ad sales team have already been working remotely for 18 months and have a central admin centre in Aylesbury.

The paper had been at the same site for some 150 years, but in recent years the front office reception has been closed.

Staff use the Hangout functionality on Gmail to keep in touch throughout the day and have live text chats.

The plan is to hold two staff meetings a week at various community centres and other venues around the patch.

Editor John Francis said: “What we are trying – and if it doesn’t work we will be looking for a new base in the town, but I think we’re well set – wouldn’t have been possible a couple of years ago, but now it makes perfect sense.

“Our staff have laptops and smartphones and they can get into the publishing system anywhere they can plug in, which I know is not possible for many other publishers. I’ve been working part remotely and part in the office for years, but now everyone in the team can do it.

“The potential of Gmail as a tool is enormous and we have only just scratched the surface, but we have already set up a system of calendars, timed hangouts and video calls to add to our regular meetings on patch which are part of the weekly diary.

“And it certainly puts an end to the old reporter gripe that they just can’t get out of the office – now they have to plan ahead, fix meets with contacts and spend more time meeting and talking to people.

“To my mind what we are trying is far preferable to what has happened elsewhere, when offices have been closed and staff have been relocated miles away. We’re still where we should be, we just don’t have that familiar base. The most important thing is to make sure that nobody feels isolated.

“The only two downsides I have encountered so far are having to change our main phone numbers for exchange reasons, and not having anyone around who can be persuaded to make me a brew.

“Our meet-up sessions will be on a rolling programme taking in as many parts of the patch as possible – as a new town Hemel Hempstead has a clutch of welcoming community centres and lots of other key players in the town are keen to play host for obvious reasons.”

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