Work-From-Home Needs Pose New Challenges to 45- to 60-Hour Work Weeks
Working 45 to 60 hours a week is nothing new to most B2B editorial managers. That’s a good thing, because the workplace changes caused by the pandemic are making work weeks even longer and more challenging. Supervising scattered work-from-home teams is a daunting new challenge for many senior B2B editors. But it is just one of a slew of new challenges they face.
The demands on B2B editors and their publications during the pandemic are even more stringent than you might expect, as I learned in recent interview with six experienced editorial managers.
For most editors, there is at least one benefit to the new COVID way of life: The day no longer begins with a long commute to the workplace. But from there it’s uphill—or downhill—depending on your mood that day. The hurdles you’ll need to leap will most likely address one or more of these four challenges:
- A schedule dominated by management concerns other than basic editorial supervision. Such matters may take up as much as 70% of weekly activity. In many cases, editorial managers will need to delegate editorial oversight to other staff.
- Figuring out how to maintain connections with industry sources, many of whom have become harder to reach or less available because of the pandemic.
- The fulfillment of rising workloads when budget cuts have reduced staff size as well as freelance allowances. When the cuts include editorial pages, publications are opened up to a beating by competitors who put out more editorial content.
- The need for formal in-house editorial training, even where the smallest staffs are concerned, has ramped up. Traditionally, such training has not been a strong suit of B2B management. Instead, training has been meted out in bits and pieces each day, as in-person, one-on-one opportunities arise. But now, with remote staffing in play, the opportunities for casual, informal training have dropped precipitously.
These matters and many more were identified by six superstar editorial managers who graciously made time for interviews. So let’s find out what they had to say
Industry Outreach More Difficult
Travel cutbacks present problems in terms of maintaining national coverage, said an editor-in-chief. For the time being, she adds, don’t expect that to change. “Nobody has an urge to travel anyway. It will be at least another six to nine months before travel activity can return to normal.” Only then, she said, will “national conferences that were eliminated be resurrected.” In the meantime, editors are looking for—and finding—effective work-arounds.
“Externally we have to find more ways to reach out to the industry,” said one editorial director. “We are not talking to industry executives as much as if we were attending in-person events.” To address that problem, one alternative event in the planning stages is a virtual conference.
“Editors who relied on regular field trips consisting of accompanying executives on their rounds can no longer do so,” an editorial group manager told me. “We have to settle for telephone interviews instead,” he added. This process becomes a time-eater, he explained “because we can’t take our own photos and have to wait for story sources to provide illustrations.”
Like other editors, one manager I spoke with faces difficulty in replacing the content gathered by attending six to eight national conferences a year. “Some events have gone virtual,” he said, “but it’s not the same as the spontaneous input you get when being on the spot.” However, he points out, there is one bright side. Some story sources “are even more eager to contribute expert articles as a way to get in front of potential customers they no longer can meet at industry events.”
As a group editor told me, the absence of in-person events poses huge problems for industry newcomers looking for exposure. One solution: “As a substitute, our publisher has arranged media days where manufacturers will review important product developments during luncheon meetings.”
Competitive Threats Intensifying
Work-from-home requirements eliminated long commutes for staff, but concurrent budget cuts have meant increasing output requirements for a depleted editorial team, warned one editorial director. In this case, it doesn’t seem to trouble top management that a limited staff is delivering an astonishing amount of content that one competitor produces with an editorial staff three times the size.
One award-winning editor-in-chief who carefully tracks her editorial page counts offered these suggestions: “Typical editorial pages per issue in the past was 40. Now it’s down to 30. So I try to focus on topics where I have an obvious advantage. In some cases where salespeople have become used to certain hooks, it becomes necessary to point out that advertising once attracted by those topics no longer is being placed.”
In response to these changes, she adjusted her staff’s approach to content: “Budget cuts eliminated freelance writers,” she said, increasing volume requirements for an already short-staffed team compared with their competition. “We realized that when it comes to news, we can’t beat anybody in speed of delivery. But we can take the same story the opposition receives and conduct interviews to find a better angle. We aim to provide the what a story requires—not just the so what.”
Another approach that makes sense, said an editorial director, is cutting back on long news sections in the print magazine. “News is of limited interest,” she claimed. “Most of the time, visitors already have read about it online.”
Speaking of content changes, here’s another possibility. You could consider handing all new-product editorial content over to the advertising department. Just imagine—no more negotiations with sales staff eager to get product announcements in the next available issue. Of course, in some markets, information about new products is of high interest to readers, so take this step with care!
Training activity critical
Among B2B publishers, ongoing in-house training is increasingly rare. Several of the editors I interviewed here have pushed back against that trend, launching monthly conferences for training purposes. But some view this activity, while necessary, as yet another demand on their time. Of course, it’s much easier to maintain training levels if you have senior editors to engage as session leaders.
One editorial director I spoke with has put in place an impressive training regimen for her team. “We have increased the number and types of meetings, whether one-on-one, training workshops, or subgroups focused on particular initiatives. One-hour meetings are scheduled monthly. Topics have included feature writing, podcasts, Q&A interviews, and news trend writing. Session attendees are encouraged to bring samples of past work that could be instructive to the group. Also useful in the past but less possible now is a training format involving input from visiting industry executives.”
Finally, here’s one more comment from an editorial director desiring to step up training opportunities: “In-house training has been maintained. The editorial team devotes several sessions to editing basics, but not enough time to editorial craft. Now we’ve gone above and beyond in that effort. One way that goal is being achieved is via arrangement with an outside staff, where editors can select one-hour sessions from a choice of options.”
A few of the topics touched on by the editors quoted herein have been addressed elsewhere on this website. If you want a deeper dive, here are three possibilities:
- Contribution of content by vendors has its pros and cons to consider.
- Do you suspect that a competitor has overtaken you in the amount of content delivered? If so, a quantitative match-up should be undertaken. An entire how-to series is available on this website.
- You also may be interested in a recent article reviewing the results of my recent work-from-home report as part of my monthly round-up of Twitter posts on this and other B2B management concerns.