FEBRUARY 10, 2021

3 Major Staffing Implications for News Organizations Embracing Remote Work

producing news remotely

The last year has been transformative for news organizations around the world. Widespread lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced broadcasters to spin up remote capabilities virtually overnight, and long-standing cries about how it "can't be done" have fallen by the wayside as news teams tackle the monumental technical challenges and staffing implications of a fully remote workflow.

News anchors are acting as their own camera operators and lighting techs to broadcast from their living rooms and backyards. Producers and directors are calling the shots from makeshift digital control rooms on dining room tables. Reporters, camera operators, and assignment editors are gathering by videoconference for daily story meetings.

What many have discovered is that while fully remote news production isn't always easy or pretty, it works.

The Pandemic Is Ushering in New Staffing Implications for News Organizations

As pandemic-related restrictions begin to ease, newsrooms are slowly repopulating. Many news organizations have chosen to adopt a hybrid model that blends on-site and remote work to ensure safety amid subsequent waves of COVID-19. While no one knows what the "new normal" will look like post-pandemic, these newfound remote capabilities offer a number of benefits and possibilities for broadcast staffing.

Greater Flexibility and Work-Life Balance

The most obvious benefit of remote work is greater flexibility and a better work-life balance. It removes the daily commute, freeing up time for employees to work or just go about their lives.

Many journalists have discovered the efficiencies of working from home, throwing in a load of laundry while waiting for a source to return a call or warming dinner while finalizing a show's rundown. Parents who need to care for a sick child don't lose a day's work. Dog owners can walk their four-legged friends in the middle of a shift.

Numerous studies, like this one from Boston Consulting Group, have found that employees who work from home are happier and more productive, which can in turn reduce absenteeism and staff turnover. One potential downside, however, is that it further blurs the line between home and office—a line already heavily eroded by mobile phones and laptops. In the 24/7 news environment, employees may feel like they're always "on" and no longer have a sanctuary to return to. It's a recipe for greater stress and burnout. Managers and employees need to set—and stick to—clear boundaries about when they are on and off the clock.

Truly Embedded Local Journalists

Before the pandemic, many reporters and camera operators were already working remotely thanks to mobile technology and remote access to on-premise systems. However, they usually started and ended their days in the newsroom among their colleagues.

The pandemic has demonstrated the potential of truly embedded local journalists. Rather than driving to the newsroom for the morning story meeting, a reporter can join via laptop from home or a local coffee shop. Getting more visibility in the community and having their "ear to the ground" enables journalists to foster a greater connection with their audience. Reporters and videographers equipped with gear embedded throughout the community, rather than in a central newsroom, can respond quickly to breaking news.

The downside is that this model can be isolating. It's harder to bounce ideas off coworkers, and some journalists miss the camaraderie of the newsroom. While instant messaging platforms and videoconferencing help keep teams connected virtually, occasional in-person meetups or social events help keep team spirit high.

An Expanded Talent Pool

If you want to work in television, you go where the TV stations are. That usually means major population centers, with their associated traffic congestion and high costs of living. A longer commute might be a necessary trade-off to live in less pricey communities.

Remote work changes this, and widens the talent pool in the process. Those who can't afford big-city living or who prefer a rural setting may start considering distant jobs if they can work from their current location. Managers will be able to search farther afield for employees, particularly when it comes to producing online content, which can more readily be edited or repurposed from a virtual workstations than "traditional" broadcast content.

Of course, that relies on access to stable, high-speed internet, which is not a given everywhere. Troubleshooting technical issues with equipment or software remotely can also present a challenge.

Are Remote Broadcast Workflows the Future?

As the entire industry navigates the impacts of COVID-19, news organizations have to take a serious second look at which tasks can be automated or done remotely and which tasks truly require brick-and-mortar operations. 2020 has shown that a remote broadcast workflow is possible—and while few broadcasters would choose a fully remote workflow in other circumstances, there are undoubtedly elements of remote work that present an advantage. Whether in good times or in bad, the digital technology is there, and it's only going to get smarter.

  • Cindy Burgess Headshot

    Cindy Burgess is a Toronto journalist, educator, and entrepreneur with more than 25 years of experiences working with video.

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