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Programmers Plot Employees’ Return to Office

A close-up image of COVID-19
(Image credit: Getty Images)


As vaccines for COVID-19 continue to be administered -- with the federal government setting a May target for all U.S. adults to receive inoculations -- some media companies, including Viacom CBS and CNN, are tentatively scheduling the return of their workers to offices across the country.

In a memo to employees Thursday (March 11), ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish said that workers in its headquarters in New York City and its Paramount Studios in Los Angeles could begin to return to work after the July 4 holiday at the earliest.

Bakish’s memo stressed that the return dates will differ by market and that once back at the office workers would still have to adhere to strict guidelines regarding social distancing, wearing masks and ongoing testing for COVID-19. He added that the return would occur over a period of months and is completely voluntary. 

“Our current plan is to initially cap capacity in our buildings to maintain social distancing and manage elevator capacity; we will gradually increase capacity based on careful review of health metrics and our testing systems,” Bakish said in the memo. “In the coming weeks, we will provide another update about the sign-up process and additional information.”

CNN president and chairman WarnerMedia News and Sports Jeff Zucker said in a memo to employees it is targeting an Aug. 1 return for CNN workers in its News and Sports division in Atlanta. In New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, where COVID-19 cases have been more prominent, the target date is Sept. 1.

In general, WarnerMedia has set a Sept. 1 target date for employees to return to the office across the company, a person familiar with the company said.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that 64.1 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19, including about 33.9 million that are fully vaccinated. The CDC said that there were 62,689 new COVID-19 cases on March 11, an 18% decline over the last 14 days, and deaths, at 1,522, were down 32% during the same period. 

Other programmers are continuing to be cautious regarding returns to the office, keeping the dates open as infection rates continue to fluctuate across the country. AMC Networks, according to people  familiar with the company, a return to the office is not expected to happen until sometime in the summer. 

At Discovery Inc., the programmer extended its plan for workers to return to their offices from June to Sept. 1.

“To help everyone manage work and personal demands and to be able to plan for the future, we have made the decision to extend #DiscoveryWorksRemote through September 1,” wrote Discovery chief people and culture officer Adria Alpert-Romm in a memo to employees. “We hope that with the increase in vaccine availability and a continued decline in cases, schools will begin to reopen in the fall and this extended time will allow you the flexibility to plan around our eventual return to offices.

“It is possible that offices will open in a reduced capacity prior to the start of September in regions where it makes sense,” Alpert-Romm continued. “When situations like this arise, we will give plenty of notice so you can plan accordingly. If you work in an office that has reopened, you will still have the opportunity to go in on a flexible basis. However, you should feel comfortable choosing to work from home through September 1. As always, the health and safety of our employees is our number one priority. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will share additional information as it becomes available.”

At Disney, the media giant is expected to begin opening its California theme parks to limited capacity in late April. Its Florida parks have been open with restrictions since July 2020, first at 25% capacity that later increased to 35%. According to reports, the Florida parks are sold out for Spring Break from March 13-19.  The company hasn’t given specific guidance as to when workers in its other units would return to their respective offices. 

Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.