Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s global headquarters are a short walk from Citigroup Inc., but when it comes to reopening after the pandemic, the two Manhattan towers might as well be thousands of miles apart.
As of this morning, Goldman Sachs is demanding that nearly every employee perched above the Hudson River report to their desks, marking one of Wall Street’s most ambitious returns to the workplace since Covid-19 besieged the city over a year ago. Meanwhile, Citigroup will no longer be recalling its staff to its nearly empty Tribeca Tower in downtown Manhattan until July. Even then, the company told most workers they can move to a longer-term so-called hybrid home-office schedule.
Such divergences are emerging in Manhattan’s powerful financial industry, creating pockets of optimism within the city’s economy, but widespread anxiety in the workplace. Bosses fear their teams will be less competitive if members are slow to return. Parents worry about losing the flexibility of remote working, but also that young single colleagues and competitors might come back earlier and soak up the time spent with leaders or clients.
“Women are absolutely nervous about this,” said Rob Dicks, Accenture Plc’s head of talent and organization for capital markets. “I see HR and business leaders in banks recognizing, understanding and starting to plan for fairness in reviews. “
It is always difficult to draw general conclusions about whether such problems will take root in the industry, as no company on Wall Street seems to take the same approach. The scene is also rambling in London, where many banks are still making plans.
A strong proponent of getting people back to the office quickly, as well as an amateur DJ, Goldman CEO David Solomon marked the end of his bank’s work-from-home era on Friday by releasing a new single called “Learn to Love Me. His bank, which has been increasing staffing for months, told employees who had not yet returned that they had until Monday to determine how they would return.
Early this morning, employees congratulated and hugged each other as they flocked to Goldman’s Manhattan office in the pouring rain. They will be greeted with free food in the cafeteria and an array of food trucks with blaring music all week long. The bank is also putting coffee stations throughout the building to encourage conversations about the water coolers, with some employees saying they appreciate the free refreshments – but wonder how long they will last.
At the top of Citigroup, CEO Jane Fraser continues to provide flexibility to staff as vaccination campaigns continue, young children wait for access to vaccines and some childcare options, such as child care camps. been, have not yet fully reopened. Her decisions about how to handle the process are among the most important she’s made since rising to the top position a few months ago. And as she begins to make her mark on the company, the situation may give her an early opportunity to differentiate Citigroup as an employer.
Among other rapidly evolving things, JPMorgan Chase & Co. has already started to fill its skyscraper on Madison Avenue while its head office on Park Avenue is under construction. The nation’s largest bank has asked all U.S. employees to prepare to return early next month, but the tower will still be capped at 50 percent occupancy.
Elsewhere in Midtown, senior executives at Bank of America Corp. started to make their way into the office. The company does not expect a larger return of staff before the fall.
“We are focusing on the vaccinated,” Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said in an interview on CNBC today. “But we have to make sure that the unvaccinated can come back in a constructive fashion.”
The bank recently started asking employees to disclose their status and now has tens of thousands of people in the United States who have been shot. These employees are invited to return and are given 30 days notice. Across the industry, many are eager to return. Moynihan said he was at a wedding this weekend and spoke to a “group of young children” who work for competitors. “They are tired of working in their rooms.”
Deutsche Bank AG, also offering leeway, has asked New York investment bankers to plan to operate from their offices no later than Labor Day in September. Credit Suisse Group AG told fully vaccinated employees in New York that they could also start returning home on Monday, although not all employees will return to full-time work until September.
“Overall, people will be returning to the office,” said Alex Howard-Keyes, vice president of staffing firm Kingsley Gate Partners, specializing in the financial services industry. “If you’re a big risk taker, there will be pressure to get you back to the office full time. If you are more in touch with the customer, I guess there will be a certain degree of leeway.
This same divide is expected to occur in other industries and cities across the United States soon, as companies ranging from tech giants like Facebook Inc. to automakers like General Motors Corp. all promised workers more remote work in the future.
In New York City, where about 46% of residents were fully immunized on Friday, the fate of the economy rests on Wall Street. The state has long estimated that one in ten jobs in the city is directly or indirectly tied to the securities industry, which also accounts for one-fifth of private sector wages in New York City.
Further behind the scenes, banks and their technology partners are crafting more fundamental long-term changes to how the industry operates. They build on the lessons leaders learned when Manhattan companies suddenly had to work remotely. It turned out to be surprisingly doable.
Now even banks keen to replenish Manhattan towers are working on plans to move more of those jobs to other cities – a concept that is dubbed the “distributed trading floor.”
Businesses that once had to be run from New York will increasingly be run from low cost living states such as Texas, North Carolina and Florida. Many tech talent prefer to live in these places anyway, said Likhit Wagle, general manager of global banking and financial markets at IBM Corp.
“A successful trader now has to be someone who really knows how to take advantage of artificial intelligence and machine learning,” Wagle said. “These types of people are not available in London, New York or Frankfurt. They have strong opinions on the balance between work and lifestyle, and many of them have indicated that they are not ready to relocate.
For now, bankers are returning to offices that look very different from what they left behind in March 2020.
High plastic barriers cut between desks while some chairs in conference rooms have been blocked off to encourage social distancing. Disinfection stations are also common. Masks may not be required for employees who are fully vaccinated, but daily health checks often will be.
Good indoor air quality is now one of the most sought-after amenities by companies looking for office space, said Julie Whelan, global head of occupant research at real estate services firm CBRE. . She jokes that many clients have become hobbyist HVAC specialists, focusing more on ventilation systems than on fitness facilities and access to public transportation.
“The things that were driving the adoption of buildings – they’re all at the bottom of the list,” Whelan said.
(Updates with details of the reopening of Goldman’s office in the seventh paragraph.)
-With help from Sonali Basak and Steve Dickson.