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Community Broadcaster: Distant Tension

How can stations maintain a productive work culture remotely?

The author is executive director of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. NFCB commentaries are featured regularly at

Since last year, many radio stations have favored remote work due to the pandemic. It is expected they will keep staff at home still further into this year. So much isolation for staff and volunteers, though, is pushing us to think about maintaining a productive station culture.

Whether fully staffed or all-volunteer, local radio stations thrive, keep good people, and attract community interest in no small part by good word of mouth. A strong internal culture where people feel a sense of belonging and believe leaders care is key in this regard. Yet, fostering a station culture when everyone no longer is in person can be formidable.

[Read: Community Broadcaster: How Biden Helps Radio]

The consequences of not paying attention to station culture are serious. Recently the New York Times highlighted the problem of distance work creating staff problems. Longtime colleagues and peers are seeing their bonds fraying. Behavior people would never engage in at the station — from aggressive political posturing to disengagement at meetings to rude or uncompassionate treatment — have become the norm in some places. Instead of treating people like coworkers or fellow volunteers, experts note, people are treating these interactions like they’re dealing with online friends. However, these casual and sometimes pointed chats don’t vanish into the ether. As the Times points out, they are becoming the basis for harassment, discrimination and hostile work environment litigation — this time, with a digital footprint to demonstrate such.

For any business, these problems are daunting. For radio stations, especially local, community-based broadcasters, the many priorities related to content, technology and service crowd our to-do lists. Media itself is in the hot seat too, and its people surely are weighed down by the negative views the public increasingly says it feels about media. Station culture, as a result, only suffers.

How can your radio station have support its people and ensure a better culture when so much work is remote now? There are a few key issues.

Transparency is central to trust. Remember back when you were at the station and could walk over to someone’s space and talk about an idea, clear up a misunderstanding, or explain yourself? With that precious in-person interaction gone, it takes extra effort to let others know the full story to anything. Promoting communication and relationship-building is integral today at stations. Telling people about decisions and why they were made makes people feel more included, particularly when they can no longer have access to the traditional channels to learn and talk.

Handling conflicts consistently and proactively is necessary as well. At the station, disagreements can pop up from time to time, or more frequently. Managing conflicts fairly and evenly just as you would any station policy. And do not just let tensions simmer, or pretend like something didn’t happen. Handle it directly, lest it get worse later.

Finally, it’s important to be aware of the mental health and well-being of your volunteers and staff. Wellness vaulted from the realm of essential oils and yoga mats into the mainstream ages ago, so it’s time to embrace it. Isolation can have debilitating effects on your physical and mental health. You can offer your staff and volunteers many low-cost wellness resources to ensure they are happy and healthy. Such investments will create a more harmonious work environment, even remotely.

Sadly, remote station work is not going away soon, so it is up to stations to reimagine work to ensure the best stations possible.