A social media giant’s decision about its workplace prompts questions of culture. It also has resonance with dialogs at community radio and college radio stations at this moment.
The Northern California-based Twitter announced that it would permit employees to work from home forever. It is one of the most stunning reactions among corporations, many of which have had to make major adjustments in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak. Many companies are choosing to have staggered returns or other models to protect employees. Twitter’s decision is a rarity, though it remains to be seen what “forever” really means.
Across the nation, community radio stations are having similar deliberations: when will a station return to normal operations, and what will normal be?
As I wrote about in a previous column, there are a range of considerations for stations. They include understanding volunteers’ relationships with vulnerable communities and their own risk for illness; determining protocols for access to the public and in-studio guests; what live performances in a station look like during a pandemic; and how to keep a studio clean and safe. And, to be sure, plenty of organizations had to scramble mightily to come up with the means to continue to deliver programming and serve their audiences.
At several stations, there is intense internal pressure to have live DJs back in the studio immediately. At others, the approach is still very measured. Wherever your station falls in this spectrum, a step back to look at why we’re here — community service — is crucial.
Now that so many stations are slowly finding their programming groove, and the ability of volunteers and staff to deliver radio-quality content from home for pennies is easier than ever, maybe it is time to ask if this new normal is potentially beneficial to community radio stations and to volunteers.
There are, of course, tremendous benefits to having many people interacting in one place. Learning has long been proven to be much more impactful when it is done with others. Exchanges of ideas take place. And, for many volunteers, community radio is exemplified by live programming.
However, what Twitter and others have acknowledged is also true. You can be very effective and deliver excellent content outside of the building. So long as the quality and the effort are there, it can be a nice perk for volunteers to produce remotely. For staff members, especially those whose work may not require constant presence on the premises, remote work has its plusses too.
Staffing questions after an economic calamity abound for many community radio stations. Large public media organizations are looking to reduce pay and change up the workplace, as projected economic declines loom. Community media organizations seldom have the same financial reserves as the larger stations, and one might expect such reductions may happen among community radio stations, while possibly keeping work-from-home days to save staff commute time and giving them extra hours to spend with family.
No one wants to lose staff or the culture a station holds dear. There are no good guys or bad guys when everyone is concerned about stations’ future. Nevertheless, it is incumbent on every station to think about how they serve the listener most effectively. If the way things have always been done serves best, great. If this period has opened up new questions, now is the time to consider them as well.