CPJ’s journey into remote work
August 3, 2020

During these times, many companies are switching to remote work.

You may have heard that large companies, like Twitter, Shopify, and Slack are doing so, but we’re also seeing this shift with smaller companies, startups, and digital agencies as well.

Perhaps this transition was already in the pipeline, or maybe COVID-19 was the catalyst. Either way, many companies are choosing to either close their physical office for good or allow their employees to work from home indefinitely.

We’ve been curious to learn more about the experiences of these companies making the shift to remote work so we started an interview series to discover more about their journeys.

  • What were their motivations?
  • What challenges do they face during this transition?
  • How do they see their future?

In today’s interview we’re chatting with Jan-Albert Hootsen, correspondent and representative for CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) to learn more about CPJ’s journey into remote work.

About CPJ

CPJ is an independent, nonprofit organization that fights for press freedom worldwide and defends the rights of journalists so that they can do their job safely. CPJ was founded in the early 1980s and has about 50 employees – with the biggest percentage working from their headquarters in New York City.

They also have a small office located in Washington DC, where they run an advocacy program and around a dozen CPJ representatives work from overseas – in locations such as Brussels, Mexico City, Bangkok, China, and Nairobi.

CPJ and its staff do research all over the world to provide insight and advocacy surrounding the free press and the obstructions they face. They meet with world leaders, high-ranking officials, and embassies and connect with journalists in need of advice or life-saving support.

Jan-Albert, can you tell us a bit about CPJ and its organizational structure?

CPJ has always been an organization with a diverse range of working possibilities: teleworking, working from home, flex work, or working in the office. The people overseas mainly work as freelancers and do so completely remotely while choosing their own working hours.

However, the CPJ employees that work from the physical offices in NYC and DC can choose flexible office hours and are able to work some days at home without having to secure special permission. In that sense, CPJ has always been quite flexible.

What has been the effect of COVID-19 on where CPJ’s staff works nowadays? How did the staff react to this decision?

Within the international program not much has changed, as we’ve always had the freedom to work when and from where we wanted. This is very different for the staff in the United States, as they have mostly always worked from either the office in Washington or New York.

Since COVID has struck, CPJ decided that everybody has to work from home until at least the end of the year. This was a huge change, as we had just bought our first office in Manhattan. In this regard, we’re following what the rest of the media in NYC is doing, and that is to stay home until December.

This means that – for now – we are a 100% remote organization and it is not yet clear how much longer this will take, but we all are very flexible.

What will be the challenges of this new structure for CPJ and its staff? What are the positive effects that you’ve seen?

In the beginning, it was pretty difficult, as the staff in the United States couldn’t walk into the office of their supervisor anymore to discuss important action items right there and then. CPJ’s structure is surprisingly bureaucratic for a relatively small company and organizing meetings to make decisions via Google Hangouts turned out not to be easy. This slowed down some processes.

On the other hand, the length of the meetings decreased considerably, as people don’t like to stare at their screens for too long. In this sense, the culture of flexibility has increased and this will likely become more and more a part of the organization’s DNA.

We started to use applications, such as Hive, which accelerate organizational processes. We’ve also found the applications Slack and Google Hangouts have become far more important than ever before. With these applications, we’ve gained new experiences and I think these changes will last and continue to work for the benefit of the organization in the future.

How does working from home affect CPJ’s staff and how does CPJ keep the team’s spirits lifted?

It’s important to note that there’s a difference between the remote team, the international team, and the team in the United States.

For me, personally as I’m based in Mexico, not much has changed. I do share a co-working space with other organizations that I can’t currently go to, so at the moment my home has become my office.

The team in the United States, however, might be missing the support of their colleagues and feel more lonely. As I said before, processes are slower now because online meetings have to be planned. We all have to get used to this new situation, some more than others.

We receive a lot of support in this from our directors, who are very easy-going with making the working hours and workplaces more flexible. In my opinion, the organization is handling this well.

Regarding the mental pressure that people suffer because of working from home in times of COVID: my supervisor is very supportive and compassionate and I know this also accounts for the United States. Hopefully, this will last in the post-COVID world!