G/O Media asked all employees to return to work in the company’s offices on Monday—the first day back in more than a year and a half. But many didn’t show up.
Leadership at the digital media group that includes Gizmodo, Jezebel, The Onion, and a number of other notable sites mandated staff return to work in person beginning on Monday. But multiple company insiders told The Daily Beast that while some staffers did trek to the company’s Manhattan office, a significant portion of the editorial team opted to not show face.
A spokesperson for G/O acknowledged to The Daily Beast that “clearly a few did indeed stay away,” but “on balance it was a very good showing.”
The in-office absence of many staffers on the first day back was the latest move in an escalating battle between G/O and its employees, many of whom have protested the company’s insistence on returning to in-person work.
In a letter sent to all employees on Friday, G/O brass claimed they had “been transparent about our plans for a return in general for many months,” and repeatedly set dates for a return to the office. The company also pointed out that the COVID-19 cases in New York have continued to drop in recent weeks, and that G/O has taken a number of safety precautions, including requiring vaccinations and allowing a rotating work-from-home schedule.
But the letter, obtained by The Daily Beast, also insisted that staffers were less productive outside the office and, as such, a return to a physical office space would be necessary to improve G/O’s performance.
“Without question the company as a whole performed admirably during the depths of the pandemic but just as clearly coming together in our respective work locations will allow us to be much better,” the letter asserted. “The pandemic has taken a toll on everyone, everywhere. It is time to move forward with our lives.”
While “The company is focused first on our employee's well-being,” management further declared, “It is also focused on building a better company. We feel strongly that our plans allow us to do both.”
The G/O letter came just hours after employees sent their own note to management expressing concerns about a return-to-office mandate.
In the letter, signed by more than 80 employees, staff argued that there had been no dip in quality over the past several years of remote work, and noted that breakthrough cases of COVID-19 “remain a serious concern to even vaccinated unit members.”
“Management has yet to put forth any rationale as to why allowing employees to work from home presents an undue hardship to the company, nor has it addressed our concerns that the current return to office plans pose unnecessary risks to our health and safety,” the staffers wrote. “The mandate also threatens to cause anxiety, distractions, inconvenience, and conflict that could interfere with our ability to do our jobs and could easily be avoided with a more reasonable policy.”
A number of major media companies, including The Washington Post and CNN, among others, have pushed their return-to-office dates back until at least January 2022. Condé Nast is requiring staffers to be fully vaccinated, and recently asked all employees to submit proof of vaccination by mid-November in anticipation of an early 2022 return to office. The New York Post, on the other hand, has asked employees to prepare for a December 2021 return, but will not require employees to be vaccinated.
Other news organizations have been more forceful in returning employees to a physical workspace.
Staffers in Bloomberg’s D.C. office were frustrated when the company mandated twice-weekly appearances in the office without requiring vaccination, The Washington Post reported—a decision some claimed may have led to several positive cases among employees.