Career and Jobs

Wall Street Banks That Demanded Workers To Return To Their Offices May Have To Change Their Plans Due To Delta Variant

The whole back-to-the-office thing for Jamie Dimon has to be a big pain. Dimon, the longtime, well-respected chief executive of JPMorgan, is an advocate for workers returning to headquarters. He was one of the first Wall Street investment bank CEOs to tell his employees to return to the office. 

Dimon previously required his traders, bankers, brokers and research analysts to return to their offices by Sept. 21, 2020, after working from home for the prior six months. The plan didn’t take hold, as a trader contracted Covid-19. JPMorgan sent him home, along with other traders on the equities desk.

Then, in mid April, the investment bank planned to have about 25,000 thousand employees working permanently from home. Dimon said 10% of his 255,000 U.S.-based employees may work from home full time, and others could continue to work remotely for some of the time, according to a letter to shareholders.

JPMorgan was the first top-tier U.S. bank to require its employees to return to their offices by July. In a memo, Dimon said about the return-to-work mandate, “As the U.S. surpasses its goal of more than 200 million Covid-19 vaccinations administered and more cities and states lift restrictions, we will open our U.S. offices to all employees on Monday, May 17 subject to our current 50% occupancy cap.”

Dimon wasn’t sold on operating virtually. He said, “Most professionals learn their job through an apprenticeship model, which is almost impossible to replicate in the Zoom world.” The CEO expressed his concern, “Over time, this drawback could dramatically undermine the character and culture [of the company.]” According to JPMorgan, relying too much upon “Zoom meetings actually slows down decision making because there is little immediate follow-up.” With remote work, there is an absence of  “spontaneous learning and creativity because you don’t run into people at the coffee machine, talk with clients in unplanned scenarios or travel to meet with customers and employees for feedback on your products and services.” 

Now, it seems that he has to adjust his plans once again. The sudden surge in the Delta variant and the CDC’s indoor mask-wearing recommendation has derailed the plans of Apple, Twitter, Google, Microsoft and an array of other major corporations. 

There is a big difference between the West Coast tech giants and Wall Street banks. The Silicon Valley tech companies have leaned toward a hybrid and remote-work model. The New York City-based financial firms have vigorously pushed for people to go back to work at their offices.

Fox Business Network’s Charles Gasparino reported via Twitter, “JPMorgan has begun an official reevaluation of its return-to-office policies amid the #DeltaVariant outbreak. Sources there tell @FoxBusiness employees should expect to receive further guidance shortly. Story developing.”  

In a segment on Fox Business Network, Gasparino, who is closely tied to the Wall Street firms, said that JPMorgan hasn’t made a decision yet, but one will be made imminently. He said that the bank is “reevaluating its return to the office policy.” The bank could “tweak” or “change the policy or pivot from it.” 

He added that Goldman Sachs, another top-tier investment bank that strongly requested its  bankers return to their respective offices, is “continuing to monitor the situation.” According to his reporting, if they get different guidance from New York City, they could change things as well. It’s a wait and see mode. 

Goldman Sachs, the New York City-based, high-end investment bank, had previously attempted to bring back employees to the office. Goldman CEO David Solomon called remote work an “aberration” and remarked that it was not conducive to productivity. Solomon said, “I do think for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us. And it’s not a new normal.” Solomon added, “We are focused on progressing on our journey to gradually bring our people back together again, where it is safe to do so.” The bank was “now in a position to activate the next steps in our return to office strategy.”

According to a company memo, “We know from experience that our culture of collaboration, innovation and apprenticeship thrives when our people come together, and we look forward to having more of our colleagues back in the office so that they can experience that once again on a regular basis.” Goldman said it was “committed to giving staff the flexibility to continue managing both their professional and personal lives, and invited employees who were unable to comply with their division’s return-to-work plans to take it up with their managers.”

The investment bank’s early efforts were met with resistance and stalled in the face of a public-relations challenge when a group of young bankers took to Twitter to complain about being pushed to work 100-hour workweeks.

As people return to headquarters and other locations, the next step for Goldman and other businesses is to decide their approach toward vaccinations. Goldman is requiring its bankers, brokers, traders and other staff members to inform the bank of their vaccination status, according to an internal memo.

The letter to employees said, “Registering your vaccination status allows us to plan for a safer return to the office for all of our people, as we continue to abide by local public health measures. As a result, it is mandatory that you submit your vaccination status on the Canopy app [the bank’s internal portal for employees], whether or not you are vaccinated.” According to the New York Times, although Goldman employees need to report their status,“they do not need to show proof of vaccination, but will be asked to record the date they received their shots and the maker of the vaccine.”

Morgan Stanley CEO Jamie Gorman still wants people back by Labor Day, says Gasparino. Morgan Stanley is also monitoring the situation. Internally, the bank is “enforcing its daily health check” to ensure that employees don’t have any symptoms. 

Morgan Stanley told its bankers, brokers and traders that workers who haven’t been vaccinated won’t be allowed to return to their New York City and Westchester County offices. Additionally, the bank’s employees in the New York area were called upon to attest to their vaccination status. If a staff member isn’t vaccinated, they will have to continue working remotely.

Gorman said about his return-to-the-office plan, “If you can go into a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office.” To underscore his desire for people to return to their respectives offices, Gorman said he’d be “very disappointed” if workers have not “found their way into the office” by the Labor Day holiday on September 6.  

It was reported that he’d “take a dim view of employees who did not work regularly in the office.” Similar to Dimon’s position, Gorman said, “Returning to the office was particularly important for junior members of staff who were training on the job. “[The office is] where we teach, where our interns learn. That’s how we develop people. Where you build all the soft cues that go with having a successful career that aren’t just about Zoom presentations.”

Alleviating safety concerns, the investment bank CEO pointed out, “More than 90% of Morgan Stanley’s employees who were already working in its offices are now vaccinated.” Sharing vaccination status would be voluntary, dissimilar to rival Goldman Sachs’ position.

It’s likely that the big banks will soften their approach. There is too much liability for the banks if a worker is ordered back and contracts the new strain of Covid-19. Also, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo have called for wearing masks indoors and for restaurants and other establishments to ask for proof of vaccination as a barrier for entry. 

With these tighter restrictions, New York officials may put pressure on the Wall Street firms to be more flexible in their approach. Alternatively, if the local government requires the banks to have such strict procedures and policies, the workers will balk at going into work and demand to stay at home.


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