Hachette Book Group To Reopen Offices in September

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The North American division of Hachette outlines its program of optional and mandatory in-office work for staffers, with dates for reopenings in various US installations.

The question of when and how to begin reopening major publishing house’s offices has begun to come into focus, as executives and employees work through proposals and plans. Image – Getty iStockphoto: PCruciatti

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

New York Offices Open September 13
In an all-company meeting today (June 30), Hachette Book Group CEO Michael Pietsch has communicated the United States division’s plans for a return to offices in the autumn in Boston, New York City, Berkeley, Boulder, Nashville, and Philadelphia sites.

Pietsch has followed that meeting with an email, which has been provided this evening to Publishing Perspectives.

Here are the dates released today to the staff for various Hachette office sites’ reopenings:

  • Tuesday, September 7: Boston
  • Monday, September 13: New York
  • Monday, September 20: Berkeley, Boulder, Nashville, Philadelphia
  • To be determined: Indiana fulfillment premises
  • To be determined: Toronto (as Canadian and Ontario coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic regulations continue to evolve for Toronto)
‘Isolation and Long Hours on Video Calls’

By way of rationale–at a time when many have wondered if the success with which many publishing companies’ editorial staffs have worked from home—Pietsch writes, “I want to say how proud and grateful I am for all the effort you put into making remote work as successful as it has been.

Michael Pietsch

“We have seen that it is possible to carry on our business with everyone working from home when it has been necessary to do so.  And we have all felt the benefits of working from home—avoiding the pressure and expense of commutes, spending more time with our loved ones, and much more.

“But we have also felt its limitations—the difficulty and awkwardness of communicating exclusively via screen, the need to schedule conversations rather than having a quick word, the pileup of work that takes longer than in the past, the physical and psychological stresses of isolation and long hours on video calls.”

What Pietsch outlines is a full reopening of its offices in September with a hybrid usage model, key points of which are:

  • All staffers will be required to work from the office two days per week (with the exception of those who must be onsite, such as facilities and warehouse workers)
  • The two weekly days will be fixed to support planning and supervision
  • Staffers will have the option of working more days in-office if they’d like
  • In addition, managers may opt to require staff presence for “additional days from time to time for important meetings, conferences, department strategy sessions, tech implementations, special projects, or other needs”

What’s more, Hachette is offering a new benefit, called “Flex Four.” It will allow all full-time Hachette Book Group employees not required for full-time on-site presence (warehouse, facilities) to work 100-percent remotely for four weeks annually. Managers will coordinate with employees on this, much as is done for staff vacations.

There is a trial-and-error element to today’s newly announced program, Pietsch’s communiqué making it clear that this program is being implemented as a six-month pilot. “We will take stock at the end of March 2022,” he writes, “of how well our staff and our business have adapted. We are all learning as we go through this together, and we will make changes as our world and our business require.”

Vaccination Status and Capacity Considerations

Image – Getty iStockphoto: BrasilNut

As in many corporate settings, the question of vaccination requirements and capacity issues comes into play in the new Hachette plan.

Pietsch’s memo makes the company’s stance on vaccination options clear (emphasis Pietsch’s): “While at this time HBG will not require any employee to receive a vaccination or provide proof of vaccination as a condition of their attendance in our offices, we strongly recommend that all HBG staff get vaccinated as soon as an FDA-authorized and/or approved COVID-19 vaccine is available to them.

“According to the CDC, the combination of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 together with following COVID-19 safety precautions is the most effective way to protect against COVID-19.”

Those lines are quickly taking on special significance as the “delta” variant—B.1.617.2 first detected in India—is making extraordinarily fast progress in the United States, clearly soon to be the dominant strain, sharply more transmissible than the “alpha” variant from the United Kingdom and in some cases showing the capacity for “breakthrough” infections that defy existing vaccination status. In Los Angeles County, officials have reinstated indoor-setting mask guidance, even for fully vaccinated citizens.

“When we reopen our offices,” Pietsch writes, “we plan to lift all restrictions on the number of staff permitted in our workplaces and restore our meeting rooms to full capacity. Of course, we will continue to make our employees’ health and safety our primary consideration, and we will provide further details about safety and health protocols for each office location throughout the summer (and beyond) in accordance with applicable federal, state, and local regulations and public health authority guidance.”

Working Out the Details

Image – Getty iStockphoto: Meinzahn

Employees can expect to hear from their managerial teams by Friday (July 2) about “effective two-day schedules” ahead/

Pietsch, meanwhile, writes that the goal of “our new Hachette hybrid model is to combine the energy and collaboration of in-person work with the flexibility and agility of remote work.” Staff survey work and executive-level planning sessions have been used to develop the new approach, he writes, and the company’s employee portal (called “Bookends”) will be used to keep staffers informed during the summer of developing details.

“There is immense value in being together in person,” Pietsch writes. “The core of our business is conveying enthusiasm for books, and enthusiasm travels a thousand times more immediately in person than across even the highest-definition screen.  Face-to-face conversations are rich with nuance and immediacy that video chats cannot transmit.  Collaboration and creativity thrive when we can work together in person, information and ideas travel more freely, conversations flow more naturally, and HBG’s culture—which is unique and special to our company—depends on it.

“In-person interaction is essential for sharing guidance and knowledge with newer staff members, and it enhances the relationships that strengthen us as a business and a community. We are a publishing company, and that second word really matters: we are better and stronger in each other’s company, and we serve our authors and customers best when we have the full benefits of the close work we are able to do in person.”

As Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, Macmillan has made October 18 a date on which to reopen its New York City offices, offering what it calls a “hybrid and remote-friendly work model,” while using this month to assess staffers’ interests.

And Publishing Perspectives also understands that Penguin Random House in New York City is tentatively looking at September for when its offices might begin reopening, but the company’s leadership is making a point of acknowledging that some parts of the workforce can really excel in the work-from-home scenario.

Image – Getty iStockphoto: HWanchul

More from us on Hachette is here, more on Penguin Random House is here, and more on Macmillan is here.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.