Covid-19 remote working and newsroom productivity - Press Gazette

'Swings and roundabouts': What Covid-19 remote working has done to newsroom productivity

newsroom productivity while working remotely

More than a third of media professionals believe they have exceeded newsroom productivity while working from home during the coronavirus pandemic – however some shared concerns that the quality of their work had dipped.

Some 38% of 592 respondents to Press Gazette’s survey to mark one year of lockdown working said they had been more productive, while 44% said the year’s events had no impact on their productivity.

In the free-text section of the survey many readers cited the time saved from not having to commute – although many said they now work longer hours instead – and no longer dealing with the distractions of office life.

[See the full results from Press Gazette’s lockdown survey of the news industry]

But the absence of face-to-face contact was also a problem raised by journalists who feel they have suffered from not being able to meet interviewees or interact with colleagues amid the buzz of the newsroom.

Some called it “isolating” and many said they were slowed down by the extra steps it takes to have a conversation via tools such as Slack.

One regional journalist said: “The nuts and bolts of the job are easier with fewer distractions. However those distractions, it turns out, are an important part of the job. Story progression, heading off problems, HR, team bonding. All are these are much harder to do through occasional Zoom/Teams chats.”

And productivity does not necessarily translate to happiness: as one national press journalist put it: “I’d say I’m generally more productive but I’m not as happy – I work longer hours, I miss having colleagues to speak to and building relationships with new co-workers. It’s been tough.”

Dealing with home-schooling was also a common theme, indicating that productivity could go up again as distractions lessen with school-age children back in the classroom.

[Read more: Women journalists warn of Covid-19 equality setback]

Another common hurdle was having a less concrete “switch off” time, leaving people struggling to step away from their laptops at the end of the day.

“It’s all too easy to keep working when you haven’t got to factor in travel time and the computer is there set up and waiting,” was a frequent sentiment shared by one regional journalist.

Writers in fields such as golf and the performing arts noted their productivity had been hit in the sense that there was naturally less for them to write about during the lockdowns of the past year.

Others noted that although they enjoyed remote working, it was difficult for new-starter colleagues who miss out on the usual “informal knowledge-transfer”.

It was also seen as being better for helping people get solitary tasks done, but worse for holding meetings and completing informal problem-solving.

One reader said: “Working remotely is great for solitary tasks that require a lot of concentration – such as writing a feature. It is not conducive for informal knowledge-sharing.”

One national press journalist who has worked remotely for 40 years shared some words of wisdom for editors looking to adapt long term: “Newsdesks never acknowledged that remote working means that people in the office need to make more effort at communicating with those elsewhere.

“I hope the pandemic will bring an enduring recognition that remote working requires change at the centre, not just at the margins.”

‘I can take time out to walk the dog’

One media professional who responded to our survey is so keen on remote working they said they have already given all their suits away.

Dog owners were among the keenest on the new way of working.

One reader in PR said: “I save six hours a week not travelling. I am at my desk before 8am, walk the dog for 40 mins twice in the day, and can pick and choose when I golf or fish and fit work around it, early or late.”

Another respondent, from the B2B sector, said: “It’s great working from home because I can take time out to walk the dog when I need a rest. The only problem is I never know when to end my day. I just keep working until everything has been done!”

One national press journalist, who already worked remotely a quarter of the time before lockdown, said they were selling their London home and plan to continue working from home after the coronavirus crisis ends.

Another said: “The office is a toxic environment and not spending two hours a day wedged between commuters on the tube is brilliant.”

Some have also benefited from being able to access more contacts as everyone is in the same situation.

One radio worker said podcasting had “provided an astounding opportunity to interview the biggest names remotely via Zoom. It’s easier to contact them and easier to make arrangements. I think this is the future of news provision and gathering”.

In the regional press, one particularly happy journalist said: “I have been indecently happy! I now stare out onto my lovely garden with the songbirds pecking away, apart from the tedium of a 10am editorial conference I am spared office politics and obnoxious colleagues’ disgusting eating habits at their table and tedious anecdotes.”

Another said similarly: “Working remotely has been brilliant. I no longer have to waste time on my commute, I save money I might have spent on coffee and lunches, and I can be there when my children set off for nursery and come home. My home office is at the top of the house away from family noise and I can work as productively as before if not more so. I never want to return to the office again.”

‘Swings and roundabouts’

Many said they had been more productive in their output but faced a wealth of new issues and distractions. Some expressed initial hesitance but have adapted and found ways to make the situation work better for them as the year went on.

One regional journalist summed it up: “No commuting but not in the same room as colleagues with less efficient comms.”

This was a common theme: “It’s more productive but you miss that time interacting with people. The talking and chats that might make you ‘less productive’ but have a human side.”

One reader, who works across radio, TV and online, said: “I don’t have to commute so much but I spend that time working so I work longer. I get a lot done but everything is a bit more time consuming and there are domestic distractions sometimes.”

As one national journalist succinctly put it: “It’s frustrating, but remarkably doable.”

‘Completely burned out’

Notably, several respondents said their productivity frequently fluctuated along with their motivation during the past year.

One magazine journalist said: “I am completely burned out. I feel like a lot of my job is meeting people to get stories and that simply can’t happen during the pandemic. I have been running on empty for some time now.”

Others were enjoying their work less despite considering themselves productive: “I am as productive but enjoy my job less and find it harder to get off the ‘treadmill’ of daily news than when regularly meeting contacts and surrounded by fellow journalists,” one B2B journalist said.

Some were suffering from the monotony of lockdown: “The issue is not so much working remotely, as working in the same room, day after day, with no imminent prospect of change…” said a national journalist.

One pointed out that working remotely when there is a pandemic is “not really comparable” to non-Covid times.

Quality and creativity

One sub-editor revealed: “I probably spend more time at the keyboard but without my clever and creative colleagues sitting around me, the quality of my work is probably poorer.

“As a sub-editor, I have noticed a decline in the quality of copy from reporters, which I suspect is because they, too, are missing the creative buzz of the office.”

Others raised similar fears, including missing news stories from a lack of networking and other face-to-face conversations. A national journalist said they were more productive but “less inspired”.

“It isn’t just a matter of productivity but creativity,” said another. “I don’t have colleagues around me to discuss events and news, to randomly receive and give ideas.

“Working as a journalist remotely is like being on a to-do-list treadmill. You have to be constantly challenging yourself on what you’re doing because no one else will. It’s a lot less fun.”

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