It’s been more than five months since any of us who edit, produce or write for this Opinions section worked in the same room together. Hopefully you, dear reader, have noticed no ill effects.
Wrong. Very wrong.
Of course, the owners of the New York Daily News and the Charlotte Observer in North Carolina are scrapping their newsrooms to save money. But implicit in their decision is the idea, which we’re hearing from other kinds of business too, that we really don’t need that office space. We’ve shown during the pandemic that virtual meetings are good enough; why get back together?
Certainly, what The Post has accomplished since most of us abandoned our K Street headquarters is remarkable.
Of course, many of my colleagues can’t work from home. Our pressroom, taking all possible precautions, hasn’t missed a day in producing the print version of The Post; our carriers haven’t missed a day in delivering it. Many reporters, photographers and videographers have continued going out into the world to keep the rest of us informed about protests, politics and more.
Still, with the help of The Post’s ace engineers, we in Opinions, like much of the operation, are working remotely in ways we never imagined possible.
Some of our columnists always worked from their own offices. For them, the closing of the newsroom hasn’t been that big a change.
But our op-ed editors, the copy editors who maintain our standards and the operations team that helps our content reach its widest possible audience were accustomed to constant contact and have had to find new ways to work. So have our editorial writers, who meet — now virtually — three mornings every week.
They’ve been resilient, creative, adaptive. Almost everything is harder and seems to take longer.
It’s emotionally more difficult, too, as millions of Americans are finding. Bad news hits harder and stays with you longer.
Last Thursday morning, for example, I woke to the news that the courageous Russian dissident Alexei Navalny had apparently been poisoned and might not survive. This is a fate that has befallen numerous brave journalists and activists whom Russian dictator Vladimir Putin counts as enemies. This attack seemed particularly brazen, an especially ominous harbinger of a world in which the United States no longer stands up for human rights or the rule of law, and brutality is ascendant.
My colleagues responded just as we would have in the office, and by week’s end, we had published an editorial and powerful pieces by two of our contributing columnists: Michael McFaul, former ambassador to Russia, and Vladimir Kara-Murza, who himself has survived two poisonings. I think we all felt fortunate to have a job where we could do something.
But each of us was left to deal on our own with this feeling of dread. Humans do better, in good times and bad, together.
We miss each other, in other words.
Well, okay. If the only objections to remote work were some practical and emotional challenges, some discomforts and inconveniences, you might say, never mind, suck it up, let’s save on real estate costs.
But in at least two other ways, both of them I think applicable to many workplaces besides our own, working remotely forever seems unsustainable.
First, we’re managing now because we know each other. We’ve been colleagues, in many cases for years. Without giving it much thought, we’ve chit-chatted about each other’s families and favorite television shows, adapted to each other’s quirks, come to share in a workplace culture.
Now we’re drawing on that social capital, in a sense, without a good way to replenish it. Over time we will begin to lose track of each other’s children, pets and interests. We’ll have fewer points of common reference. Inevitably, some of us will leave, others will be hired — and how will the workplace culture be passed down then?
If we have to, we will find ways to answer that question. But they won’t be as satisfactory as sharing physical space.
Even today, when we still know each other well, we’re losing a lot by being apart. Some of our best ideas grew out of casual, accidental conversations as we waited for coffee to brew or watched side-by-side out our eighth-floor windows as a thunderstorm approached.
An exchange over the previous night’s speech blossomed into a thought-provoking column. A shared reaction to a movie led to a brainstorm of an outside contributor to solicit. An argument over some news story challenged a reflexive assumption.
As in many workplaces, we’re doing our Zoom-best to replicate those moments. I know my colleagues will continue to produce great journalism from their social distance for as long as necessary.
But let’s not pretend this is just as good. We need our newsroom. We need each other.