Dear readers, dear insiders,
Exactly nine weeks ago, on March 12th, we went to many home offices with the entire team from NewsABC.net Germany. Now we are slowly starting to return to our newsroom in Berlin.
I would like to report on how we have fared in the past few weeks, what we have learned and how we are now taking the cautious return to the office, the return to a new normal.
In retrospect, our decision was correct and (still) timely
Brief review. The second week of March will be remembered by all of us as the days when events overturned. Today it may seem natural that we left our newsroom at the time. But I still remember very well how difficult it was for us to make this decision. It was correct and timely.
We based our withdrawal on two main reasons: We wanted to protect our employees and their loved ones. And we wanted to do our little bit to stop the virus. In view of the debates today, it is worth remembering what it was all about: preventing conditions in Germany that were already visible in Italy at the time (and later became visible in New York).
In retrospect, we took this step in time. So far, our employees have been spared serious illnesses. And in Germany, the infection curve has been flattened. If we could make a small contribution, it was worth it to us.
On March 12, I wrote: “We are not walking fearfully or contrite, but are convinced that we are doing the right thing. And we also see this as an opportunity for us. ”
Nothing went wrong, a lot was good. And although we have spread out, we have also grown together
So how did it go for us: From the first day, the decentralized work from many home offices worked very well. Nothing really went wrong. Although we have spread out in the city and across the country, we have grown together. Feeling the team spirit and passion of everyone in the team for our work was and is a great experience.
We benefited from the fact that the corona crisis offered fascinating topics for journalists as a major news situation and we could sense your enormous interest in news, information, backgrounds and classifications every day. Our work has reached more readers than ever before. In March there were almost eight million.
We not only kept our productivity in the home office, we increased it. We have published more articles, including lots of exclusive news and extensive background pieces. This high intensity was of course also due to the news situation. Even now, nine weeks later, we are still publishing more articles and achieving significantly more reach than before March 12.
We quickly found our rhythm with daily and weekly conferences (which is not that different from the routines in the newsroom). We have learned to deal with video and audio meetings quite well, Slack has become more important for quick coordination, mail has become less important.
We have learned to appreciate smooth technology even more – and the importance of creative workarounds. We meet for virtual lunches, coffee breaks, for after-work beer or just for “chatting”. There is also team yoga and new rituals such as the “evening song” in the Slack group “homeofficewarriors”.
Home office and great news location: Corona as a state of emergency and adventure
The first few weeks were tough and somehow easy at the same time. State of emergency and adventure. Intense and long days with a lot of adrenaline. We have learned that we can work together efficiently, even if we don’t see each other all the time. After that, we quickly learned that we need to take breaks and take care of ourselves, each for ourselves and for us as a team.
It is said that regular actions become new habits after 21 days, which will then be difficult to remove. This is also becoming interesting.
We also notice that something is left behind if we are not in the newsroom together. We notice that we have to take special care of some things that just happen in constant cooperation. We have to learn to read other signs and recognize signals to know how others are doing, how to find ideas and the product.
Home office is good for the first few weeks in a Corona state of emergency. But these weeks in the Corona state of emergency are far from being a new normal. In order for decentralized work to work well in the long term, many conditions must be met.
Teach on the way to normal normalcy
Working from your home office or anywhere is not an end in itself. How and where we work has to fit twice: to the tasks and roles and also to the people and their living conditions.
Living conditions and the personal environment play an important role. Does someone live alone or with others? Is there space and quiet for work? Are there children? In which age? Are they taken care of? Is someone new and alone in the city or integrated into a social network that also works at a social distance? How does someone get along?
Working in the home office has advantages. All of them also have a disadvantage. Of course, this also applies to working in the newsroom. Our most important task will be to find the right balance.
The big and obvious advantage of the home office is calm and focus (if the conditions are there). A constant, alternative without rest can also exert effort and drain strength.
Another advantage: there is no commuting to work from home. This saves time and energy, depending on where you live and the circumstances, this can be a strong factor. Others just miss the commute – the movement, the view of the city, the spacer between work and leisure.
An important topic: If the home becomes an office, where is the boundary between the office and home? I myself noticed that it is difficult for me to find a good balance and separation between work and non-work at home.
What is missing: “Journalism is chatting in the hallway” (Henri Nannen)
The home office cannot do many things that a newsroom can do. “Stern” founder Henri Nannen once defined journalism as “chatting in the hallway”. That was Nannen’s homage to the unplanned communication. Good ideas rarely arise when you are alone, and even rarer in organized meetings, but much more often through chance encounters, permanent exchange and discussions, through spontaneous comments and in editorial offices, especially through spontaneous contributions from uninvolved people.
We can manage our current program decentrally well. We can also be decentralized creative. But I am convinced that we can develop our journalism, our products and ourselves better better when we are together, when we see ourselves as unplanned, when we also work together spontaneously. We also have to rub each other. We need our newsroom.
NewsABC.net Germany is growing. We also had interviews with applicants during the weeks of exile. During this time, we hired several colleagues and took them on board. We even announced a big change and started our association with the start-up scene.
Integrating new colleagues, bringing together two teams, all of these are major challenges in normal times, and all of this can also be done decentrally – but of course all of this would be easier if we meet, if we speak face to face, get used to each other and immediately could work together.
So now we are slowly and carefully looking for the way back to a new normal. This also includes the way back to our office.
Our guidelines for returning to the office
We are guided by three goals: 1. We want to protect the health and well-being of our employees 2. We want to do our part to control the pandemic, 3. We want journalistic quality, our productivity and ourselves as journalists, Advancing as a team and as a company.
The beginning of our return to the office is voluntary and bound by rules. In the first step, we made it possible for everyone to work in the newsroom who, for very different reasons, would like to or must do so. We then want to gradually expand our presence in the newsroom and thus approach a new normal.
There are strict requirements for working safely in the office. Because there was one point we were wrong about moving out of the newsroom: At that time I wrote: “We don’t know when we’ll be back in our newsroom. But then we celebrate a nice party here. ”
The party doesn’t turn out to be anything.
Mouthguards instead of parties: our rules for safe work in the office
The Coronavirus and Covid-19 will change the world of work. Safer Work will become an everyday discipline in office management. At least until there is a vaccine, medication or predictable therapy, but probably far beyond.
For our first steps towards this new standard, we have given ourselves these rules, which we are of course constantly reviewing and developing.
· Initially, no more than ten people work in our offices at the same time. So we can guarantee the safety distance at any time. If more than ten come in, we will take turns.
· All employees are asked to pay attention to symptoms. If there are any abnormalities or symptoms, the office may not be visited.
· We trust that all employees stay at home for 14 days with symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath or loss of taste and / or smell.
· Anyone who has had close contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 stays at home for 14 days
The way to the office:
We ask that you do not use public transport as much as possible.
We provide an additional bicycle garage with charging stations for e-bikes.
· If employees can come with their own car, we provide parking spaces.
· The elevator may only be used by a maximum of one person.
Rules at the workplace:
· Everyone gets a permanent job and only uses it.
· The desks are arranged and staffed so that the safety distance can be maintained.
· Personal work areas and surfaces are disinfected every evening.
Rules in the office:
· We provide all employees with three-layer mouth-nose protection.
· All employees wear a mask when entering the office. It must also be worn when you move around the office and especially if you are less than a safe distance from other employees.
· The mask can be removed from your own desk if there is sufficient safety distance.
Everyone is asked to wash their hands frequently and to disinfect them regularly.
· We ensure an increased cleaning frequency.
· All colleagues take great care to keep a safe distance from other colleagues.
Encounters at common meeting points such as coffee kitchen and copiers should be avoided.
· The kitchen should only be entered individually.
· Guests cannot be received for the time being.
“See you in spring”
When we said goodbye to the newsroom nine weeks ago, it was still winter. “See you in spring,” was our farewell greeting. It is far from certain that this will really work for everyone.