April 8, 2021

Before the pandemic, there were full days when my colleagues and I barely spoke. I worked from home. They worked at Poynter.

I was used to the quiet. I talked to people all day in interviews. But I missed a lot — the banter, the jokes, the heads that pop up when something happens, the wide eyes when you could hear one side of an interview going sideways. I treasure what’s called deep work, which I found a lot easier at home. One day in the office was perfect.

Now, my coworkers and I talk a lot on Slack. One of them will widen their eyes in a Zoom meeting and I have to hold my breath to keep from laughing. For the last year, one of the biggest changes, for me, has been working remotely while everyone else does, too.

That will change again, eventually, but after Poynter’s editorial team has experienced a year of it, I bet we’ll keep talking in digital spaces more, too.

This week, I wrote about what we’ve lost and what we’ve gained from more than a year of pandemic work-from-home. The 19th*’s Amanda Zamora talked about understanding her remote employees in a way she couldn’t have otherwise. The journalists I spoke with felt like they’d lost community, both the ones they cover and the ones they work with. But they gained new relationships, time with family, and flexibility that no one trusted before 2020.

This month and next, I’m going to be exploring the physical spaces where we work and how we work in them. What should we keep from our pandemic lives? What did we lose working from home?  Here’s what you said:

Flexibility

“I really appreciate being able to see my kids more,” said Erin Skarda, digital director at Yoga Journal, on Twitter. “When my oldest was a baby, I felt like I missed so much. Now I get to see my youngest at times throughout the day.”

And lost: “I miss having small, uninterrupted pockets of time to myself — my commute, lunches alone, etc.”

“I have gained technical skills that give me a lot more flexibility,” said Stacy Jacobson, a reporter at WREG in Memphis, via Twitter. “I know how to access video and write stories from anywhere. I can also screen record content and record my own interviews on Zoom.”

And lost: “I’ve lost camaraderie with colleagues.”

“As someone who was pushing to be allowed to work from home pre-COVID, I love having the chance to prove to my supervisors that I can thrive in a WFH environment,” said Mike Denison, audience engagement editor for Science News, via email. “Working from home helps me maintain work-life balance — I don’t have to dread late-breaking stories snarling up a delicately balanced train+bus commute. I can work on my personal desktop PC, which has been tuned just the way I like it in a million subtle ways.”

Deeper focus

“Not having people stopping by my desk has helped me focus,” Tasha Stewart, senior manager of engagement at WCPO in Cincinnati, said on Twitter. “And yet somehow it feels like I talk to people even more now than before, between Slack, texts, calls, Zooms and emails.”

Lost when going back: “Also not looking forward to wearing pants again. Considering how to lean into leggings full time.”

“The positives of working from home is the lack of distractions we have in the office that slow down productivity,” said Kathy Portie, senior editor at Big Bear Grizzly in California, in an email. “Sure, there are new distractions because we are home, but we have found our work day extended about two hours longer when we work in the office when looking at productivity.”

Lost: “Working from home creates a physical barrier to the public and we work in the public’s interest. That access is important to maintain. We are back in the office (there are only two of us here on a daily basis), but office hours for the public is 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Appointments can be made for other hours. We have found, after a month, that most people are used to contacting us via email and phone and no longer wander into the office. And finally, with the federal government removing deductions for a home office from income taxes for those of us who are employees, our personal expenses rose significantly. These were expenses that the company did not reimburse us for and there are no plans to do so in the future. Small newspapers in particular can’t afford reimbursements, so employees are finding their expenses rising while salaries remain low or stagnant. Or, in worst case scenario, jobs are cut.”

Wider access to sources

“For roughly 3 months out of the year, I work remotely for my station (KSTU) covering our state legislature, so when COVID-19 hit, it wasn’t much different for me personally. TV reporters still have to do a lot of things in person, so we masked up and just met photogs out in the field to shoot stories,” said Ben Winslow from Salt Lake City in an email. “But a positive aspect of working from home? Thanks to tech like Zoom and WebEx, I was able to expand my list of sources. Everyone was using those platforms, so I could interview people across the state instead of driving as much as five hours to meet them or having to settle for a phone interview. I actually hope that continues so I can continue to provide viewers with a wider variety of perspectives and sources from across the state.”

“I’ve gained an easy in with the people I work with,” said Amber Hair, a reporter at Pacific Coast Business Times in California. “Pets are a great conversation starter, and my cats are constantly jumping into frame or curling up in my lap.”

Lost: “I’ve lost a lot of the connections I was forming within the community. I was only at my paper for three months before the shutdown hit, and I haven’t been back to my office since about May. I haven’t been to the uppermost county my paper covers in about that same amount of time, and I know I’ve missed stories because I wasn’t able to connect with sources in person. I’m going to have to rebuild a lot of those connections once I can meet people in person again.”

Joseph Shaw, executive editor of the Press News Group in Southampton, New York, emailed something that’s struck me, too:

“I discovered something I suspected but we never had the courage to try: that our industry can, in fact, fully function with most of us working remotely. We lose plenty of collaborative energy (Zoom just doesn’t allow for that in the same way as face-to-face does), interviews can be a little less personal and insightful, and it can be clumsy until you figure out the best way to make it work for you. But you can, and I don’t think our publications have suffered nearly as much as I thought they would during the pandemic. We did work that is among my proudest in a 30-year career, despite the challenges. Doing what we do every day, every week, is hard to begin with. It was a little harder — but that’s OK. We figured it out.”

Now we gotta figure out what comes next.

This piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter devoted to the telling stories of local journalists

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Kristen Hare covers the people and business of local news and is the editor of Locally at Poynter. She previously worked as a staff writer…
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