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Comcast workers told to come back to office in-person 3 days a week

An art installation titled "Humanity in Motion," by artist Jonathan Borofsky, hangs over the lobby at the Comcast Center.   (Tribune News Service )
By Erin Arvedlund and Bob Fernandez The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA – Comcast told employees it’s time to come back to work – in person.

Starting Sept. 12, all U.S.-based Comcast cable and corporate workers will need to work three days a week in the office, according to a company memo and spokespeople.

That includes the 8,000 employees who will work in the two downtown Philadelphia towers.

Comcast is designating “common” days – Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday – for in-office work, while on Mondays and Fridays, employees can work remotely.

“In-person interaction … is core to our company and culture,” said the memo, distributed nationally. “We need more certainty and direction to coordinate our in-office time.”

The company had previously encouraged employees to work three days a week in the office but had not specified the days.

Comcast’s new return-to-work policy could bring thousands back downtown and help spur a slow economic revitalization of JFK Boulevard, where the company has its headquarters and technology center.

“The more business leaders who recognize the positive economic impact that their in-office presence has on diverse small businesses downtown and all those workers who don’t have the option of working remotely, the faster we can achieve the full restoration of jobs of all kinds across the city,” said Paul Levy, director of the Center City District, a business leadership organization.

Comcast isn’t requiring proof of vaccination to return to the offices in Center City or nationwide, according to the memo.

A company spokesperson said the company would adhere to local and state regulations on masking and vaccinations.

“My team had some concerns,” said one Comcast employee,who asked to remain anonymous because they weren’t authorized to speak to the media.

“It’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle because so many people haven’t been back in the office.

“Some of my employees are in Maryland or way out in New Jersey. So they’re effectively fully remote for good.”

The Sept. 12 date accommodates the start of school for employees with children.

A year ago, Comcast reopened its offices in downtown Philly, but COVID’s delta variant delayed a return and contributed to a slow, choppy pandemic recovery.

Comcast is the eighth largest employer in Philadelphia County, according to the state’s Center for Workforce Information & Analysis.

The county’s other top seven largest employers are “eds-and-meds,” or educational and medical employers such as the University of Pennsylvania, city and federal workers, the School District of Philadelphia, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Temple University and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

A Comcast spokeswoman said the company has encouraged employees to work in person for months.

She declined to call the new three common days in-office policy “mandatory,” saying Comcast was asking.

Companies around the country calling staffers back to the workplace in many cases are offering similar hybrid schedules, allowing people to come in only a few days a week.

Google launched hybrid work in April to much employee pushback.

Community Legal Services of Philadelphia has 180 people on staff, including attorneys and other employees, and is trying to balance the need to have open, walk-in hours while protecting its diverse workforce, said Kee Tobar, chief equity and inclusion officer.

“What does it mean to come back to the office for someone who is immunocompromised?” Tobar said. “They get on the train at peak hours, and we’re still amid a pandemic.”

Comcast’s return to its headquarters in Center City “is a harbinger for other businesses and employers returning. Other businesses have taken cover from Comcast’s decision” not to return until now, said Ben Haney, owner of The Mulberry bar and restaurant on the corner of 18th and Arch streets.

“It’s Comcast who people look to, and when their two giant towers are empty, they say ‘why should we come back?’” he added.

Haney is hoping The Mulberry can expand its hours if foot traffic improves with Comcast’s return to the office.

“This gives us a way to plan; it’s reasonable and consistent,” he said. “We should be entertaining how to do lunch sometime in October. Right now we just do dinner.”