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The mayor’s plan to bring workers back to the City’s vacant office spaces falls flat for many happy hybrid households.

I’m surprised to have to type this, but work in Philly  —  as with the rest of the country  —  is now (and always will be) about flexibility, from here on out. That is our reality now, in 2024. The world has irrevocably changed since 2020. The pandemic up-ended our work-life balance, altering it completely. Overnight, we were all relegated to working from our homes, where we adapted to new technologies that freed us to reimagine our workdays.

Instead of killing time around a water cooler, we could throw in a load of laundry, pack a kid’s lunch, or check the mailbox. We learned to incorporate personal appointments and family commitments into our day, too, as we evolved from counting hours to more targeted, task-oriented operations that sometimes fell outside the usual 9-to-5 window.

It’s now nearly four years later, and almost two years since the Center City-based company I work for asked staff to return on a hybrid basis to the office. This flexible schedule allowed for a couple of days at our physical place of employment, and the rest of the week working from home (or wherever you preferred to locate that day). People learned to maximize their time in the office for certain projects that benefited from in-person participation, which freed up independent time for research, analysis, documentation, etc. Such a hybrid approach is remarkably efficient, and it’s also a more organic and, frankly, more enjoyable way to work.

So obviously I was disappointed last month, when Channel 6 Action News reported on a memo Mayor Parker sent out to senior City Officials, announcing a return to completely in-office work policy beginning on March 4th. The memo stressed that getting workers back into their offices was key for the new “visibility and transparency” that has been promised by the Parker administration.

Good luck with this, Ms. Parker! 🙄

Your new guidelines take the city backwards, and risk alienating a municipal workforce that’s already stretched thin. A mandatory in-person policy will not help attract workers to Philly. Indeed, last week Mayor Parker’s staff went on the record to say that they felt like pawns, and feared “mass departures” if this initiative becomes standard through all levels of government.

For more and more people today, hybrid work is a requirement when seeking employment.  How is the city going to recruit the country’s top talent, with Mayor Parker’s short-sighted expectations? Reminds me of the “deceased” Jack McMichael from the Upwork commercials — it’s true, the old way of working feels dead wrong!

The Inquirer has covered how people in major cities like Philadelphia are relocating for remote work, including hybrid positions. There’s no reason not to embrace this new direction that supports autonomy and self-determination. It also helps support communities all over the city!

Many corner stores and other Mom-and-Pop enterprises depend on neighbors working from home to sustain their cash flow. The mayor’s plan to return full-time foot traffic to Center City streets might please investors and stakeholders in our major commercial areas, but what about local business elsewhere?

For the most part, funneling workers downtown doesn’t create new customers, it just moves them so they spend their money elsewhere. 🤦

And it also reduces commuter traffic (and resulting headaches!). Accessing the city even a few days a week can be a problem under current conditions, like I-95 closures for the CAP construction as well as the regular threat of Septa strikes affecting regional rail lines. It’s hard to waste time commuting, after knowing how all of those unproductive hours could’ve been better spent working remotely.

Rising costs are perhaps another factor. Whether you’re paying for gas and parking or public transportation, getting to and from work is expensive. Food prices for the Philadelphia metro area are up 3.4% in 2024, and the cost of five-day per week childcare is a staggering $1,093.00. The easiest way to help workers with these costs  —  you guessed it  —  a hybrid work schedule.

Of course, an at-will employer can set any kind of workplace policy they like. But to start out a new administration by mandating an end to remote work seems especially disheartening, Ms. Parker.

Not a good look, as they say. Most Philadelphians recognize there’s no reason to force rigid attendance policies when flextime is a viable option with a proven success record. Seems to me a poorly thought-out plan that won’t help attract new talent that the city badly needs.

Thoughts? Questions? My friends, I love your feedback! Please reach out in the comments below.

About Michael Thomas Leibrandt 11 Articles
Michael Thomas Leibrandt is a Historical Writer Living in Abington Township, Pennsylvania.

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