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People walk past the New York Times building on October 14, 2019 in New York City.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez | VIEW press | Corbis | Getty Images

For about 16 months, the U.S. and U.K. news industries have predominantly operated out of people’s living rooms, home offices and bedrooms. Now, they’re deciding what post-pandemic life should look like for their employees.

Since the pandemic shutdowns in early 2020, reporters have adjusted techniques to break stories, shifting from in-person lunches and coffees to phone calls and zoom meetings. Editors and team leaders have managed remotely, relying on Slack, Microsoft Teams and content management systems for workflow and communication. Unlike many industries that have been crippled by the pandemic, newsrooms have adjusted and pumped out stories without much of a hitch.

That’s led to a quandary among newsroom executives and human resource leaders in charge of getting employees back to the office. How much flexibility should be given to employees who have demonstrated they can produce stories while not in the office? Do newsrooms want everyone back in the office? Is a hybrid approach more appropriate? Or should employees be given total flexibility to work from home whenever they want?

“For knowledge workers, there’s no putting this back in the box,” said Matt Martin, CEO and co-founder of Clockwise, a software company that has developed dynamic calendar assistant tools for office workers. “Full 100% in office, 40 hours a week, that’s out the window. I don’t see a world where it comes back.”

Newsroom leaders are beginning to make decisions based on internal employee surveys and conversations, but they’re not all making the same choices. The decisions companies make could have major implications for how future employees select between potential employers. They’ll also be an industry-wide test for whether more flexible work arrangements can be long lasting.

Among organizations with national scope, The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today and Vox Media are all handling back to work plans differently, providing a natural science experiment for the future or journalism.

Get back to the office: The Bloomberg Way

Bloomberg LP is among the most aggressive organizations in getting its employees back to work. Bloomberg owns offices around the world, spending millions of dollars to decorate them with fish tanks, transparent walls, curved escalators and digital signs that show reporter headlines and real-time market movements. Bloomberg has journalists and analysts in more than 120 countries.

According to a Bloomberg spokesperson, the company’s post-pandemic goal is to recreate a pre-pandemic environment. Employees will come back to the office once they can safely do so.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg addresses the virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention, livestreamed online and viewed by laptop from the United Kingdom in the early hours of August 21, 2020, in London, United Kingdom.
David Cliff | NurPhoto | Getty Images

“As a firm, we remain committed to making our offices the safest environment for everyone to come together and collaborate,” Bloomberg LP founder and CEO Mike Bloomberg wrote to all employees in an internal February memo obtained by CNBC. “That way of working is central to who we are at Bloomberg, and the buzz in our buildings will resume and grow stronger each day into 2021. After all, it’s our people who make Bloomberg such a great place to work.”

Bloomberg noted that special circumstances based on family situations would be accommodated, but he also stressed workers should get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“As vaccines become available, we expect people to take advantage of the safety they provide and return to the office,” Bloomberg wrote.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that Bloomberg’s approach is similar to Wall Street firms, which also are approaching post-pandemic life with a “back to before” vibe. Bloomberg LP makes the majority of its revenue from selling its proprietary software to financial institutions and is more a financial services company than a traditional media firm. Only some of Bloomberg’s employees are affiliated with the media side of the business.

“We want people back to work and my view is that sometime in September, October it will look just like it did before,” JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said in May. “And everyone is going to be happy with it, and yes, the commute, you know people don’t like commuting, but so what.”

Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman echoed Dimon’s thoughts.

James Gorman, chief executive officer and chairman of Morgan Stanley, speaks during the International Economic Forum Of The Americas (IEFA) in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, on Wednesday June 12, 2019. Photographer: Christinne Muschi/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bloomberg

“If you can go to a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office,” Gorman said. “And we want you in the office.”

Still, bankers and Bloomberg employees may push for individual flexibility with their individual team leaders — especially if they see other co-workers better able to balance work and family life. Citigroup said in March it will build in more hybrid and remote working environments for employees that are equally or more productive from home.

Firms in industries that aren’t offering flexible work schedules will have to make that up with additional compensation or other perks to entice talent, Clockwork’s Martin said.

“Deviations from what’s going to become standardized will hurt the marketability of companies,” said Martin.

The Times’s, they are a-changin’ (somewhat)

The New York Times and The Financial Times are among the news organizations embracing change — to some degree.

The New York Times will begin welcoming back maskless employees to company headquarters on 620 8th Avenue in Manhattan on Monday, July 12 if they submit proof of vaccination. Most employees will come back to the office the week after Labor Day (Sept. 6), with flexible one- or two-day-a-week returns throughout September, according to an internal memo from Chief Human Resources Officer and Executive Vice President Jacqueline Welch obtained by CNBC.

The New York Times will then change its “normal” routine to three days working in the office, two days working remotely. Employees who want to be in the office five days a week will be welcomed to do so. Those who want full-time at-home arrangements may not have that choice.

“While most employees will have much more flexibility in how they work, we expect that for most teams, full-time remote work will be the exception, rather than the norm,” Welch wrote in the memo.

The Financial Times is also instituting a hybrid approach, according to spokesperson Sophie Knight. The news organization hasn’t yet decided specifics around the remote-office balance.

“News is a fast-paced business and there is huge benefit in working together on site,” Knight said. “That said, we have mastered remote working in the past year and plan to build the lessons learned into a more flexible model.”

Gannett-USA Today headquarters building in McLean, Virginia.
Paul J. Richards | AFP | Getty Images

Gannett, which owns USA Today and many local newspapers, is planning to have employees return to the office in October. It’s considering different options for adding flexibility for employees and has opened about 200 of its 300 offices throughout the country so far. Dow Jones, which publishes The Wall Street Journal, hasn’t told employees specifics around its hybrid approach, but it plans to offer employees additional flexibility to work from home part-time, according to two people familiar with the matter who asked not to speak on the record because the details haven’t become public.

“A number of our offices around the world have begun a phased return to the workplace,” a Dow Jones spokesperson told CNBC. “Here in the States, we will have more to share with our colleagues in the coming weeks as we review input from our employees and put finishing touches on our plans.”

Digital media companies, such as Vox Media and Group Nine, which have long offered many employees the ability to work from home, are also adopting a hybrid approach. Vox Media began a phased reopening of its offices on July 6 at 10% capacity for vaccinated employees and plans to resume full office operations in September.

About two-thirds of all companies with predominantly knowledge workers are taking a hybrid approach, according to Kevin Delaney, co-founder of Charter, a media and services company focused on the future of work. Delaney was also a former journalist, working as a writer and editor for The Wall Street Journal before co-founding Quartz, a business news website. Google, Apple and Uber are among the large technology companies that have instituted specific hybrid policies allowing for a combination of in-office and remote days each week.

“It’s very clear that hybrid work is a really good scenario for both organizations and workers,” said Delaney. “On net, it’s a positive. But there are complications. The key is that organizations deal with those drawbacks and minimize the extent to which they’re detrimental.”

Proximity bias

Some news organizations have chosen all-remote options. Quartz CEO Zach Seward wrote a post earlier this month explaining what he’s learned from allowing workers to have the flexibility to shun the office completely.

Dennis Publishing, which owns a suite of publishing brands including “The Week,” “PC Pro,” and “Minecraft World,” has considered all-remote options for some of its employees, according to people familiar with the matter. But employees at “The Week” pushed back on the concept, arguing three days a week in the office would better serve the product and its employees, said the people. A Dennis spokesperson wasn’t immediately available to respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Going fully remote could eat away at company culture and may alienate future talent who want at least some office environment, said Martin. Still, it may be more equitable than hybrid environments, which could test facetime and proximity biases that have already been established to be real in workplaces, said Delaney.

Stanford professor Nick Bloom, who studies remote work, recommends that companies specifically choose certain days for remote work for fairness reasons. If everyone is at the office for the same amount of time, people won’t be penalized for failing to put in face time with bosses or missing work outings because they’re not available.

Proximity bias — the idea that workers get more raises and promotions by being close to bosses in the office — is unquestionably real through decades of research, Delaney said. Companies will have to conduct their own internal audits to ensure that hybrid standards don’t penalize workers that choose to spend some time away from the office, he said.

“Many leaders of companies that are baby boomers struggle to believe people can be productive if they’re not at the office,” said Delaney, noting that the largest Wall Street firms are run by men in their late 50s and 60s. “They need to make the shift to focus on outcomes instead of hours.”

Hybrid environments may also have adverse diversity effects. Surveys suggest women and people of color tend to want more out-of-office flexibility than Caucasian men, Delaney said.

Still, if companies remain attuned to these drawbacks, hybrid environments shouldn’t tilt back toward office-only situations with time, Delaney said.

“It would be a mistake for organizations to treat this as a moment in time where they’re unwillingly being dragged into offering hybrid work,” Delaney said. “Hybrid work setups are the configuration that suit our modern knowledge workers much better than how we operated previously.”

Disclosure: NBCUniversal, CNBC’s parent company, is an investor in Vox Media.

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Tech stocks just finished a five-week rally — the longest stretch since market peak in November 2021

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Tech stocks just finished a five-week rally — the longest stretch since market peak in November 2021

Tech stocks on display at the Nasdaq.

Peter Kramer | CNBC

The Nasdaq just wrapped up its fifth straight week of gains, jumping 3.3% over the last five days. It’s the longest weekly winning streak for the tech-laden index since a stretch that ended in November 2021. Coming off its worst year since 2008, the Nasdaq is up 15% to start 2023.

The last time tech stocks enjoyed a rally this long, investors were gearing up for electric carmaker Rivian’s blockbuster IPO, the U.S. economy was closing out its strongest year for growth since 1984, and the Nasdaq was trading at a record.

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This time around, there’s far less champagne popping. Cost cuts have replaced growth on Wall Street’s checklist, and tech executives are being celebrated for efficiency over innovation. The IPO market is dead. Layoffs are abundant.

Earnings reports were the story of the week, with results landing from many of the world’s most valuable tech companies. But the numbers, for the most part, weren’t good.

Apple missed estimates for the first time since 2016, Facebook parent Meta recorded a third straight quarter of declining revenue, Google‘s core advertising business shrank, and Amazon closed out its weakest year for growth in its 25-year history as a public company.

While investors had mixed reactions to the individual reports, all four stocks closed the week with solid gains, as did Microsoft, which reported earnings the prior week and issued lackluster guidance in projecting revenue growth this quarter of only about 3%.

Cost control is king

Meta was the top performer among the group this week, with the stock soaring 23%, its third-best week ever. In its earnings report Wednesday, revenue came in slightly above estimates, even with sales down year over year, and the first-quarter forecast was roughly in line with expectations.

The key to the rally was CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s pronouncement in the earnings statement that 2023 would be the “Year of Efficiency” and his promise that “we’re focused on becoming a stronger and more nimble organization.”

“That was really the game-changer,” Stephanie Link, chief investment strategist at Hightower Advisors, said in an interview Friday with CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

“The quarter itself was OK, but it was the cost-cutting that they finally got religion on, and that’s why I think Meta really took off,” she said.

Big Tech earnings don't look compelling enough to buy, says Stephanie Link

Zuckerberg acknowledged that the times are changing. From the year of its IPO in 2012 through 2021, the company grew between 22% and 58% a year. But in 2022 revenue fell 1%, and analysts expect growth of only 5% in 2023, according to Refinitiv.

On the earnings call, Zuckerberg said he doesn’t expect declines to continue, “but I also don’t think it’s going to go back to the way it was before.” Meta announced in November the elimination of 11,000 jobs, or 13% of its workforce.

Link said the reason Meta’s stock got such a big bounce after earnings was because “expectations were so low and the valuation was so compelling.” The stock lost almost two-thirds of its value last year, far more than its mega-cap peers.

Navigating ‘a very difficult environment’

Apple, which slid 27% last year, gained 6.2% this week despite reporting its steepest drop in revenue in seven years. CEO Tim Cook said results were hurt by a strong dollar, production issues in China affecting the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max, and the overall macroeconomic environment. 

“Apple is navigating what is, of course, a very difficult environment quite well overall,” Dan Flax, an analyst at Neuberger Berman, told “Squawk Box” on Friday. “As we move through the coming months and quarters, we’ll see a return to growth and the market will begin to discount that. We continue to like the name even in the face of these macro challenges.”

Watch CNBC's full interview with Neuberger Berman's Dan Flax

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, who succeeded Jeff Bezos in mid-2021, took the unusual step of joining the earnings call with analysts Thursday after his company issued a weaker-than-expected forecast for the first quarter. In January, Amazon began layoffs, which are expected to result in the loss of more than 18,000 jobs.

“Given this last quarter was the end of my first full year in this role and given some of the unusual parts in the economy and our business, I thought this might be a good one to join,” Jassy said on the call.

Managing expenses has become a big theme for Amazon, which expanded rapidly during the pandemic and subsequently admitted that it hired too many people during that period.

“We’re working really hard to streamline our costs,” Jassy said.

Alphabet is also in downsizing mode. The company announced last month that it’s slashing 12,000 jobs. Its revenue miss for the fourth quarter included disappointing sales at YouTube from a pullback in ad spending and weakness in the cloud division as businesses tighten their belts.

Ruth Porat, Alphabet’s finance chief, told CNBC’s Deirdre Bosa that the company is meaningfully slowing the pace of hiring in an effort to deliver long-term profitable growth.

Alphabet shares ended the week up 5.4% even after giving up some of their gains during Friday’s sell-off. The stock is now up 19% for the year.

Ruth Porat, Alphabet CFO, at the WEF in Davos, Switzerland on May 23rd, 2022. 

Adam Galica | CNBC

Should the Nasdaq continue its upward trend and notch a sixth week of gains, it would match the longest rally since a stretch that ended in January 2020, just before the Covid pandemic hit the U.S.

Investors will now turn to earnings reports from smaller companies. Some of the names they’ll hear from next week include Pinterest, Robinhood, Affirm and Cloudflare.

Another area in tech that flourished this week was the semiconductor space. Similar to the consumer tech companies, there wasn’t much by way of growth to excite Wall Street.

AMD on Tuesday beat on sales and profit but guided analysts to a 10% year-over-year decline in revenue for the current quarter. Intel, AMD’s primary competitor, reported a disastrous quarter last week and projected a 40% decline in sales in the March quarter.

Still, AMD jumped 14% for the week and Intel rose almost 8%. Texas Instruments and Nvidia also notched nice gains.

The semiconductor industry is dealing with a glut of extra parts at PC and server makers and falling prices for components such as memory and central processors. But after a miserable year in 2022, the stocks are rebounding on signs that an easing of Federal Reserve rate increases and lightening inflation numbers will give the companies a boost later this year.

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Jury finds Musk, Tesla not liable in securities fraud trial following ‘funding secured’ tweets

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Jury finds Musk, Tesla not liable in securities fraud trial following 'funding secured' tweets

Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his security detail depart the company’s local office in Washington, January 27, 2023.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Elon Musk and Tesla were found not liable by a jury in a San Francisco federal court on Friday in a class-action securities fraud trial stemming from tweets Musk made in 2018.

The Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter CEO was sued by Tesla shareholders over a series of tweets he wrote in August 2018 saying he had “funding secured” to take the automaker private for $420 per share, and that “investor support” for such a deal was “confirmed.”

Trading in Tesla was halted after his tweets, and its share price remained volatile for weeks.

Jurors deliberated for less than two hours before reading their verdict. “We are disappointed with the verdict and considering next steps,” said Nicholas Porritt, partner at Levi & Korsinsky, the firm representing the shareholders in the class action, in an email to CNBC.

“I am deeply appreciative of the jury’s unanimous finding,” Musk wrote on Twitter.

Musk’s lead counsel, Alex Spiro of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, arguing before the jury earlier Friday, said the matter had to be assessed in context, noting the Tesla CEO was only considering taking the company private. He said fraud cannot be built on the back of a consideration.

Spiro did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The shareholders in the certified class-action lawsuit included a mix of stock and options buyers who alleged that Musk’s tweets were reckless and false, and that relying on his statements to make decisions about when to buy or sell cost them significant amounts of money.

Musk later claimed that he had a verbal commitment from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, and that he thought funding would come through at his proposed price based on a handshake. However, the deal never materialized.

During the course of this trial, Musk also said he would have sold shares of SpaceX to finance a going-private deal for Tesla, as well as taking funds from the Saudi Public Investment Fund.

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Apple’s long-term positives outweigh rare earnings miss, Morgan Stanley says

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Apple's long-term positives outweigh rare earnings miss, Morgan Stanley says

Apple CEO Tim Cook holds a new iPhone 14 Pro during an Apple special event on September 07, 2022 in Cupertino, California.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Shorter-term macro issues don’t detract from the long-term value at Apple, Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in a note Friday that reiterated an overweight rating and a $175 price target.

“Taking a step back, it’s rare to see Apple miss and guide down in a quarter, but we believe the long-term positives from tonight’s report outweigh the short-term negatives,” Morgan Stanley’s Erik Woodring wrote. Apple’s Thursday night earnings report cited a strong dollar, continued production issues in China, and the broader macroeconomic environment as three reasons for Apple’s first year-over-year sales decline since 2019.

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“On the third factor, I would say was just the challenging macroeconomic environment, and you’re hearing that from, I would think, everybody,” CEO Tim Cook told CNBC’s Steve Kovach.

But Morgan Stanley assesses those headwinds as transitory, noting both accelerated growth in iPhone installed base and a continued upward margin trajectory as longer-term upside which will ensure “the Apple flywheel keeps spinning.”

Morgan Stanley reiterated its top pick rating for Apple. The company has managed to navigate a broader tech downturn with considerable success and is one of the few tech companies that has staved off layoffs and maintained a level of operational expense discipline.

It’s that same discipline that helps Morgan Stanley analysts maintain a bullish outlook on Apple, which guided to a March 2023 gross margin ranging from 43.5 to 44.5%, according to the note.

“We believe Apple’s ability to post the highest gross margin in a decade despite seeing revenue decline Y/Y is impressive, and moving forward, we expect gross margins to improve as mix, FX, commodities, and logistics all work in Apple’s favor through the rest of 2023 and into FY24,” Morgan Stanley’s note said.

Apple’s user spend levels are also keeping Morgan Stanley bullish, proof that “the underlying drivers of Apple’s model remain robust.”

Investors have apparently embraced Morgan Stanley’s appraisal of Apple’s durability as a long-term investment. Apple shares were up around 1% at the open Friday, despite the sales miss, recouping losses from a 4% drop Thursday night. The company also reported misses on the top and bottom lines, beating analyst expectations only in iPad and services revenue.

— CNBC’s Michael Bloom contributed to this report.

Apple misses on top and bottom lines

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