‘Who needs an office?’ move puts media focus on Hemel Hempstead news team

Removals van outside Gazette office in Marlowes
Removals van outside Gazette office in Marlowes

The last time the media world beat a path to Hemel Hempstead’s door the town centre had been named Britain’s ugliest in a bogus online poll, writes Gazette editor John Francis.

But the spotlight was turned on the town again today – because of my bold boast that we didn’t really need an office any more.

For anyone who has missed our reports in recent weeks, we’ve now moved out of our long-established Marlowes HQ, which is part of the red brick block about to be refitted as Dacorum Borough Council’s Civic Centre ‘across the road.’

The existing Civic Centre is going to be flattened as part of the far-reaching development of the north end of Marlowes, with a giant Morrisons superstore earmarked for the site.

Having examined the options, we reckoned we could manage without a physical office because of the amazing advances in communication technology in the last couple of years.

We’d still have the all-important human contact through regular meetings during the week, and those meetings would take place closer to our readers.

The first is on Monday morning at Adeyfield Community Centre, so pop in between 11am and 1pm if you would like to have a chat.

We’ve got lots of other locations lined up, and I’ve been fielding invites today from others who would love to play host to our team.

Everyone I talked to in the town about the idea in recent months thought it seemed eminently sensible, we told our readers what was happening, we packed up, locked up, and started a new chapter in the Gazette’s long story.

But then I tweeted a picture of the removals van outside the front door, and the phone started ringing.

The BBC, the Guardian, the trade press – all were curious. Could a newspaper really manage without an office to call its own?

Obviously we could, because we were.

All day our reporters have been talking to contacts, talking to each other, exchanging ideas and leads, but without meeting face to face. Technology is a wonderful thing if you make it work for you.

The only person in the Marlowes office was me, and only for a short while – because I had to hand over the keys to the council and do a last bit of clearing up.

Then I was off to the clouds as well, from where I am filing this ‘end of day one’ bulletin.

I’m glad to report that it’s all gone pretty smoothly so far, although I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous about Tuesday’s press day when the pace really picks up.

But I’ve finished off the Gazette from terminals hundreds of miles away in the past, so I know the technology works.

The move has sparked some heated debate on the trade press websites, with some damning us for abandoning the town and our readers – nothing could be further from the truth – and others who are already working in a similar way, if not quite as radically, wondering what all the fuss is about.

I’m sure many people in Dacorum are already accustomed to the working methods we’re adopting, and I’m also sure it’s the future for many more.

If you’d like to check out the continuing debate, and some other recent posts about remote working, just follow the links below.

And if you’d like to add your own comments, fire away.

It’s just another way in which we communicate with our readers, which are many and various – and much more comprehensive than in days gone by, when you had to walk up Marlowes and across the threshold if you wanted to speak to a reporter.

There’s been a flood of comments on the Hold The Front Page trade website

There’s also comment on the Press Gazette trade website

Leading media commentator Roy Greenslade has been talking about us as well

The experts reckon that remote working is future