However, they are finding that having some staff continue working from home also has benefits.
The 125-year old legacy newspaper, which employs 180 people, has turned heavily towards digital and features one of the world’s most expensive digital subscription offerings at NOK 699 (€64.35) per month.
“We want to ensure that we develop new digital content and features to justify the price point we are asking from our customers,” said Ingeborg Volan, Editor for Publishing Strategy and Visual Journalism at Dagens Næringsliv (DN), during WAN-IFRA’s recent Indian Media Leaders eSummit. Volan talked about the distributed approach to a traditional newsroom and whether it’s here to stay even after the pandemic.
DN employees have been working from home since March, even though Norway was not hit as hard as some other parts of the world. Now, the company is back to partial usage of the newsroom and other facilities in Oslo.
Managing the crisis, keeping operations going, being creative in a remote setting
Like many others, DN spent the first few months of the lockdown trying to find its feet in dealing with the impact of sinking advertising on business, cutting costs, while being stuck at home and trying to do quality journalism.
“If you had asked me in February if we’d be able to put out a printed newspaper produced from people’s homes, I’d have laughed it off,” said Volan. “A month later we demonstrated that we were perfectly capable of doing that.”
The print news desk at DN is happy to be working from home. The company invested in a new online print production technology and analytics tools in the past two years that ensured a smooth transition to working from home.
While the layout and copy editing teams are happy being undisturbed at home, the Print Assignment Editor is one of the people operating from the office to interact with the Online Publishing Editor and the Breaking News Editor to designate stories for print.
DN started steering the company towards a more digital and innovative and less print-driven operation, about two years ago.
“We have not had even one day of not producing a newspaper because of the pandemic. We began training our staff a couple of years ago, but we were still not fully prepared to deal with COVID, and had to handle it as each day unfolded,” said Volan.
“Nobody is sure when working remotely is going to end. This pandemic is about beyond crisis handling and learning how to be creative, build culture, and drive change while working remotely,” Volan said.
Positives and negatives from the pandemic
At DN, the introverts of the team are thriving working from home, staying focused, maintaining uninterrupted workflow and getting more work done than they did at the office.
“Newsrooms were built for extroverts. The pandemic has revealed how a few people would have liked to be working from home all the time, an opportunity they haven’t been presented with before. People will step up and get the work done,” said Volan. “I didn’t know that a team culture could be possible without getting together, but it turns out that several people working remotely are happy to continue doing so for as long as they are allowed.”
The company also took note of the obstacles that working from home could not alleviate. Working and running a breaking news operation in the digital space demands quick collaboration and communication.
Volan said that while a Slack channel, or live audio stream could be used as communication tools, there is nothing that beats seeing and hearing each other when a news story breaks.
DN was unsuccessful in completely facilitating breaking news operations from home and so, when the newsroom reopened, the breaking news desk and coordination between managers were the first two things the company prioritised.
“Reporters are more or less happy writing stories and talking to sources from home but covering breaking news and deciding which story gets published where, when, how and by whom requires in-person communication,” Volan said.
Another obstacle the company faced was running creative meetings, getting people to pitch stories and develop ideas.
“Bouncing ideas off each other is part of the creative process, even if you are able to get your work done in a solo setting,” Volan said.
Managers as leaders
The newsroom of the future must have the capabilities to adapt to changes quickly.
DN has decided to prioritise breaking news, production and focus on the creative and social aspect of the workplace once functions resume.
“The employee’s well being will take a conscientious effort from managers. What do people actually need to thrive while working from home? Writing, editing, copywriting and administration can continue to be done from home, but the primary challenge is learning to care for your employees,” Volan said.
The second, more practical challenge arises in the form of infrastructural working conditions for the staff.
Do the employers have a responsibility to provide their employees with ergonomic furniture or bigger screens?
“Whether or not a news media company is responsible for facilitating people’s working conditions from home is an important question for the future,” Volan said.
The third challenge is the most critical – learning to build culture and drive change in a more flexible and strangely organised newsroom.
Most newsrooms have emerged from the pandemic learning that they are perfectly capable of handling day to day operations digitally. However, driving change, implementing new strategies, and building a culture require social interaction.
“We could probably bring in people for socially distanced seminars in smaller groups, or go out for meals in a socially distanced setting. Managers need to take on leadership roles now, more than managerial roles,” Volan said.
She added that she would allow her staff a lot more flexibility in the future, as long as the work gets done on time.
The biggest immediate challenge DN faces is to figure out how it can get the right people together in the office at the right time for creative solutions.
“Striking a balance between giving people more control and choice in how they do their work is something we should look into immediately,” Volan said.