Spiking omicron cases spell delays for publishers’ January RTO plans

remote working conditions

During a COVID-19 outbreak at Hearst last month, an employee got sick with the virus — and is still unwell. Another employee at Condé Nast said colleagues have been falling ill with the virus since the holidays. They are far from alone.

Stories like these are why publishers have once again decided to push back or pause their office return plans. The U.S. is averaging over 700,000 new COVID-19 cases a day — more than at any previous point in the pandemic, due to the rapidly spreading omicron variant. 

TheSkimm, Condé Nast, The Washington Post and Politico initially planned to begin new office reopening phases this month. But those dates have now shifted to at least the end of the month, and in some cases delayed till March. Hearst, which required employees to go back to work from its New York City office in November, has temporarily reinstated the option for employees to work remotely. Publishers are also adopting more health and safety measures when they do plan to bring people in: vaccination boosters will be required at Condé Nast, theSkimm and The Washington Post.

Condé Nast 

Original RTO date: End of 2021

New date: Not before Jan. 31

While Condé Nast began bringing people back into the office on Nov. 15, chief people officer Stan Duncan sent a memo to staff on Nov. 3 saying the beginning of 2022 will be when the company “will start our full hybrid approach that provides new flexible work schedules.” Individual departments were working with management to determine those schedules back in December. But last week, staff were notified that there would be a delay to those plans.

“We are continuing to monitor the rise in COVID-19 infection rates and have decided to pause our flexible return to our U.S. offices until Jan. 31 at the earliest,” a spokesperson said. While offices are open for essential employees and production teams, all other staff are back to working remotely.


Original RTO date: November 2021

New date: TBD

Hearst employees have been working two days a week in the office as of November — the first phase of its return plan. In December, COVID-19 cases started to spread among staff, who were notified the first week of January that the company would reinstate a flexible work policy through Jan. 31, meaning employees can choose to work remotely at least until then.

“Our intent is to return to our hybrid schedule of two days a week in the office, three from home. That said, we are continuing to monitor developments,” a spokesperson said.

In an almost immediate sign of Hearst monitoring developments and adjusting accordingly, the company updated its RTO timeline within hours of this article publishing. On Jan. 13, Hearst Magazines president Debi Chirichella sent a memo to the publisher’s employees to notify them that the option to work remotely is being extended “until further notice” and that the company “will provide at least two weeks’ notice once we have confirmed our new return date,” according to a copy of the memo obtained by Digiday. A Hearst spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent on Jan. 13.


Original RTO date: Jan. 18

New date: March 1 

Politico staff were told in November that the company would move to “a systemic return under the hybrid model” on Jan. 18 — giving nearly all non-management employees the choice to continue to work from home if they wish. Politico informed employees last week that the start of that hybrid schedule would be moved to March 1.


Original RTO date: Jan. 11

New date: TBD

theSkimm had told full-time employees that starting Jan. 11, they would need to come into its New York headquarters three times per month. TheSkimm informed staff on Jan. 4 that it would not re-open offices this week, “given the recent spike in cases of COVID-19 and the omicron variant,” a spokesperson said, citing the need to prioritize the safety of its employees and support working parents, “many of whom are dealing, once again, with remote learning.” 

The company is monitoring the state of COVID-19 in New York City “to determine a new timeline to reopen the office,” they added.

The Washington Post

Original RTO date: Jan. 10

New date: Feb. 15 

In September, The Washington Post set a return to office date of Jan. 10. On Dec. 16, the Post pushed back that date to Feb. 15 — which is when all employees will need to work from the office at least three days a week. The Post is bringing in managers two weeks prior to help prepare for employees’ arrival.

This article has been updated to include a memo that Hearst Magazines president Debi Chirichella sent employees on Jan. 13 to extend its remote work option.


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