While none of the major New York City publishers who took part in PW’s survey about their efforts to return employees to their Manhattan headquarters had fixed plans, no companies said they expected to begin bringing staff back in a meaningful way before Sept. 1. For the most part, they see the week of Labor Day as a target, but acknowledged that date may not be realistic. Several said they see a limited reopening coming after Labor Day (which is September 7 this year).

PW sent a brief questionnaire to all of the Big Five trade houses plus Abrams, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books & Media, Kensington, Norton, Scholastic, and Workman. While all said there are too many uncertainties about the future course of the virus to make final plans, there was consensus around some issues. There was widespread agreement that the top consideration before publishers will fully reopen will be the condition of New York City’s mass transit and how comfortable workers will be using subways, buses, and trains. Several publishers said they plan to stagger work hours, something that has been recommended by New York City officials to ease overcrowding during usual rush hours.

A number of publishers said they are planning a “phased approach” to reopening their office, slowly building up the number of employees that newly configured offices can accommodate. Acknowledging that some employees may want to come by their offices before they are officially opened, several companies said they are working with building management to make arrangements so that can happen, though publishers did not seem to be encouraging the practice. One publisher said that anyone going to the office in the summer will be required to wear a mask and follow all other local guidelines.

Publishers that are further along in their planning than others all mentioned they will be revamping their offices to meet various social distancing guidelines issued by New York State and the CDC. To meet those guidelines, publishers are considering or are planning such measures as having limited staff on site each day, alternating office days, and having groups work four days in the office and then working at home for other days. One publisher said their goal is to develop a staggered schedule to make sure that no more than one-quarter to one-third of its staff is in the office on the same day. Once in the office, publishers plan to create seating arrangements that permit adequate social distancing.

All publishers who have drafted plans for reopening their office said they expect that employees will be required to wear masks, particularly in common areas and when entering the building. There was more of a split when it came to temperature checks. One company said they were considering asking employees to do checks at home.

Another area of focus for several publishers is conference and meeting rooms. Companies are planning to limit seating capacity in those rooms and are developing new protocols. Publishers are also creating new guidelines on how to handle visitors.

A new office practice that has gained widespread popularity during the pandemic has been the working-from-home model. While publishers, like many other New York City businesses, were forced into the WFH approach by stay-at-home orders, all companies who responded to a WFH question said implementing the practice has gone better than expected and has contributed to their go-slow approach to reopening their offices. One publisher said continuing to offer the WFH option to employees was key to its plan to lower office density. Another executive said his company will be adapting its WFH options across the organization, which could lead to a reassessment of its office space needs over the longer term.

The need to work remotely, however, did force most publishers to cancel their summer internship programs. A number of companies said they were planning on offering some online programs for summer interns, and one said it will keep internship opportunities open for these interns for future programs.

With publishers unable to get into their offices, all have been forced to turn to electronic delivery of galleys to reviewers, booksellers, librarians, and the media. For the most part, publishers said the use of digital galleys accelerated a move away from print galleys that has been going on for years. All were quick to add that while they will continue to make digital galleys the primary format, they will still make print editions available when necessary.