The Wall Street Journal’s parent company is ordering staff back to the office because ‘screens deny us the subtleties of body language’


We’ve endured harsh reminders over the last year and change that there’s no easy, humane way to announce layoffs, nor is solving the strained tensions surrounding a return to the office a walk in the park mid-workday.

That said, laying off employees one day and then reinforcing return-to-office demands the next seems especially harsh. But that’s what happened at the Dow Jones offices this week.

News Corp CEO Robert Thomson sent a note to staff on Thursday echoing demands for employees to return to the office—headquartered in Midtown New York—at least three days a week. The memo, leaked to Insider and in which Thomson called in-office attendance “an absolute imperative,” came the day after Dow Jones laid off a reported 2% of staff, including 22 union-represented employees. The company did not immediately respond to Fortune‘s request for comment.

Dow Jones is a division of News Corp and operates the likes of The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, and MarketWatch. All the aforementioned publications, including The New York Post, are housed in the same building at 1211 Ave. of the Americas.

The Wall Street Journal, which has followed the moves of its peer publication across Times Square, separately drew a line in the sand on RTO plans in September after The New York Times's own RTO mandates flounderedThe Journal told staff they would be expected to return to the office three days a week starting Nov. 1.

It’s rather apparent that hasn’t happened to the extent the company hoped, because in Thomson’s note this week, he called on executives across the entire company to consult with managers who would be expected to “ensure full compliance.”

“There is some room for flexibility in the work environment, but that flexibility is not boundless,” he added.

It should also be noted that News Corp’s latest push to get folks back to their desks comes after it just renewed its lease agreement for its Midtown headquarters.

The forceful hand of RTO mandate after laying off somewhere between 120-150 people isn’t exactly a cheery message.

Companies have tried to entice employees back with pizza, lunch boxes, happy hours, and any number of corporate out-of-touch isms. Thomson leaned heavily into the idea of lost company culture and the idea that “Screens deny us the subtleties of body language and the nuances of knowing glances. The spontaneity and serendipity of a dynamic office environment.”

Gallup consultants Nikki Morin and Heather Barrett wrote last year about the idea that bringing employees physically together cultivates some sort of important social bond that simply can’t be replicated in a digital, virtual world.

“The reality,” they wrote, “is that the office never equaled culture. Gallup data show that, despite significant lip service and investment in ‘company culture’ over the years, there’s very little to show for it.

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