In our Brave New World of telecommuting, the question of whether remote working leads to a lack of organizational cohesion applies to many fields, but journalists may have a unique perspective. After all, our forebears were tele-working pioneers. Centuries before iPhones and Skype, correspondents were doing their jobs thousands of miles from their Mother Ships. Now, with ever advancing technology, it’s possible even for broadcast reporters and editors to do their jobs without ever darkening their stations’ doors. This is useful, not just when the story is half a world away, but even when it’s on the other side of a traffic-clogged downtown.
For many stations, public ones especially, it’s financially prudent to locate in the burbs where, let’s face it, real estate is cheaper. That’s not so efficient for journalists who need to be able to rush out to press conferences and interviews, which usually take place in the city center. Sometimes, I ask reporters who live close to downtown to work from home on days when breaking news is expected, so they can be nimble and get where they need to go quickly and easily. Likewise, when news stories stretch into evenings and weekends, it simply doesn’t make sense for the reporter and editor to traipse into the station just to do an edit. Most national programs do remote edits as a matter of course – it’s good enough for them, so it’s good enough for me!
Some would argue, however, that having a geographically distributed newsroom creates challenges for morale and cohesion. I can see both sides of the argument, but I generally come down on the side that the payoffs in efficiency far outweigh any diminished espirit de corps. I also think there are ways to promote collaboration, even among far-flung contributors to the news product. I’m seeking input from journalists and others who work in organizations where people regularly telecommute. How does your company or station or publication foster collaboration and a shared sense of purpose among its far-flung employees? What works and what doesn’t? Please weigh in. And by the way, public radio folks, if you’re going to be at the PRNDI conference this week and have something to add, I’d love to talk to you in person.