ViacomCBS Chief Says Most Staffers Won't Return to Offices This Year

ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish

The media conglomerate had at one point looked for staffers to work on-site in August, but has delayed those plans amid the pandemic.

Amid a rise in novel coronavirus cases in multiple states across the U.S., ViacomCBS is delaying its plans for the majority of its workers to return to offices until 2021. 

"While we were hopeful we'd be able to bring a small number of employees back to U.S. office locations beginning in August, due to recent spikes it's clear this will not happen," ViacomCBS chief Bob Bakish wrote in a memo Wednesday, adding: "In fact, at this point, we are assuming the majority of employees will not be returning to U.S. offices this year."

ViacomCBS, the parent company of brands like Paramount Pictures, Comedy Central, BET and MTV, is headquartered in New York and has California offices in Burbank, Hollywood, Studio City and elsewhere. "Given the continued trajectory of the virus, we believe having fewer people commuting and gathering is best," Bakish noted. "You have proven how well we can work remotely as an organization."

Other companies, including WarnerMedia's CNN and talent agency CAA, have also revised work policies to plan for remote work through the end of 2020 for many staffers at multiple office locations. 

Since Viacom and CBS closed an all-stock deal to recombine Dec. 4, the media conglomerate has undergone significant restructuring. The merged firm, comprising about 20,000 employees, had planned to sell its Black Rock CBS headquarters but paused the effort in March as the novel coronavirus arrived stateside. 

In New York, layoffs at ViacomCBS' properties — including Showtime Networks, CBS Interactive and Simon & Schuster, which is up for sale — have impacted 672 staffers, according to notices filed with New York's Department of Labor. 

On Wednesday, Bakish stressed the importance of ViacomCBS' return to production on its film and television content, which had been shuttered since mid-March due to the pandemic.

"In addition to the few productions that have returned domestically and internationally, all of our businesses have been working hard to develop highly detailed and thoughtful plans for each of their unique shows, events, features and series to get them back into production under these new safety protocols," the CEO said. 

California authorities have allowed on-location film and TV shoots to resume as of June 12, with new safety protocols and social distancing measures in place. 

In his July 15 memo, Bakish said that the plan to work remotely for most employees in 2020 would also help employees who do have to work at offices. The exec wrote: "[W]e can continue to focus our time and resources on supporting our business-critical employees who need to work from facilities, as well as enabling our return to production — which generally has to be done in person and is the lifeblood of our business."