As the new year approaches, media companies’ “crawl-walk-run” plans to return to the office may be bearing closer semblance to a game of “red light, green light.”

While many media companies have begun to reopen their doors, some like Group Nine and The New York Times are leaving the timelines open-ended for when employees will be required to be back at their desks, which could help them adjust to the Omicron variant’s potential threat.

“We are continuing to monitor the situation especially given the novel Omicron variant,” said a Group Nine spokesperson. 

A spokesperson at Politico said, “Like the rest of the world we are waiting on the data and seeing how it changes the pandemic and safety measures the CDC implements.”

Publishers have been continually updating their office return plans throughout 2021. In January, many announced they would start asking employees to return to the office in the summer. By June, many media companies had set July as the start of a phased reopening and with a hybrid model instituted by September. But by August, those timelines got pushed back due to concerns around the Delta variant.

Now, some publishers are determined to reopen in early 2022, while others are hesitant to commit to a specific date. Most of the companies that Digiday spoke with for this story noted that the health and safety of their employees are a priority and that management will continue to monitor developments. Below are the latest updates to media companies’ return to office plans.

The key details:

  • Media companies like Politico, The Washington Post and theSkimm have set dates for when the next phase of the hybrid model will go into effect in January 2022.
  • Publishers like Bustle Digital Group, Condé Nast and Hearst already opened their offices this fall, joining other companies like Politico that have had them open on a voluntary basis this year.
  • While in-office work is voluntary at companies like BDG and Forbes, other publishers like Hearst have a set number of days that employees should be in the office. theSkimm will also have a mandated number of days in the office starting in January.
  • None of the media companies Digiday spoke to for this story mentioned full in-person returns to the office in early 2022.

BDG

Have the company’s offices reopened for employees to work voluntarily?: Yes

Has the company set a date for when employees will be required to return to the office?: No

After Labor Day, fully-vaccinated employees who voluntarily wanted to work from the office began returning a few days a week. Teams created their own schedules based on variables like business needs and meeting schedules, according to a spokesperson. 

Condé Nast 

Have the company’s offices reopened for employees to work voluntarily?: Yes

Has the company set a date for when employees will be required to return to the office?: No

Condé Nast began bringing people back into the office on Nov. 15, according to a memo from chief people officer Stan Duncan sent on Nov. 3 — Condé Nast’s most recent communication on the subject. In that memo, Duncan wrote that management is “hoping a majority of our teams will begin to use the office again” between Nov. 15 and the end of 2021 (the office is closed the weeks of Dec. 20 and Dec. 27 for the holidays). 

“If for some reason you cannot join us in person between now and the end of the year, we look forward to seeing you in January. In the new year we will start our full hybrid approach that provides new flexible work schedules,” he wrote. Teams are working with their managers now on January plans, according to a spokesperson. About 70% of staff in New York have come into the office over the last few weeks, they added. 

Digiday spoke to a member of the New Yorker union on Nov. 10, who said individual departments are working with management to determine flexible work policies. Duncan’s memo “seems to suggest that nobody is going to be penalized for not coming in… before the end of the year. But they strongly encourage people to return to the office,” said the union member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Duncan added that the people team at Condé Nast will help “build flexible plans” for some employees’ “unique needs and circumstances.” Vaccinations are required, as are masks in public spaces. 

Forbes

Have the company’s offices reopened for employees to work voluntarily?: Yes

Has the company set a date for when employees will be required to return to the office?: No

On Aug. 9, Forbes CEO Mike Federle sent out a memo to staff postponing the return to office, which was scheduled for the week of Sept. 13, due to the Delta variant. “Our current plan is to monitor the situation, and when we think it is safe to return, we’ll let you know at least four weeks prior to the new re-opening date so that you are able to plan,” Federle wrote. Vaccinations became a requirement for going into the offices starting Nov. 1. 

When Forbes does reopen its offices, it will adopt a hybrid model with flexible schedules for anyone who wants to return, Federle announced in June. Those that don’t want to come in can choose to continue to work remotely.

Group Nine

Have the company’s offices reopened for employees to work voluntarily?: Yes

Has the company set a date for when employees will be required to return to the office?: No

Employees will not be required to return to office until at least 2022 and the company will give 30 days notice before it fully reopens, as well as a 60 day grace period. Vaccinations and masks are required.

Hearst

Have the company’s offices reopened for employees to work voluntarily?: Yes

Has the company set a date for when employees will be required to return to the office?: Yes, staff are already coming in twice a week

Hearst began returning to the office with a hybrid schedule in mid-November. Staffers are required to come in two days a week, which will be the case at least through the first quarter. Vaccinations are required to enter Hearst’s offices, and masks are recommended.

The New York Times

Have the company’s offices reopened for employees to work voluntarily?: Yes

Has the company set a date for when employees will be required to return to the office?: No, but aiming for Q1 2022

The Times plans to bring employees back into the office in the first quarter of 2022, after pushing back its return “indefinitely” in August. The Times requires proof of vaccination to enter its offices in the U.S., as well as mask-wearing in common areas and anywhere where an employee cannot socially distance from colleagues.

Politico

Have the company’s offices reopened for employees to work voluntarily?: Yes

Has the company set a date for when employees will be required to return to the office?: No, but a hybrid model will be adopted starting Jan. 18

On Nov. 22, Politico announced “a systemic return under the hybrid model” would begin on Jan. 18. At that point “hoteling software” —  which allows employees to use a reservation system to find and claim a workspace or resources — will be up and running to give employees “more flexibility for a voluntary return to the office,” according to a spokesperson. The hybrid approach means that nearly all non-management employees who wish to keep working from home can do so, they added. The spokesperson did not respond to questions about what kind of hoteling software would be implemented and how it differs from the current system in place at the office before publishing time. Proof of vaccination is required for employees to enter Politico’s offices in Virginia and New York.

theSkimm

Have the company’s offices reopened for employees to work voluntarily?: No

Has the company set a date for when employees will be required to return to the office?: Yes, Jan. 11

Starting Jan. 11, full-time employees must come into theSkimm’s New York headquarters three times per month. Staff will work with their managers to determine which days they must come in. The office will remain closed on Mondays and Fridays.

The Washington Post

Have the company’s offices reopened for employees to work voluntarily?: Yes

Has the company set a date for when employees will be required to return to the office?: Yes, Jan. 10

In September, The Washington Post set a return to office date of Jan. 10. The D.C. office remains open to fully-vaccinated staff.

This article has been updated to include mention of Forbes’ planned hybrid work policy, which Digiday had previously covered.

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