RTO: Goldman and JPMorgan are right to love offices
The degree to which bankers will be back in the office after the pandemic is very different depending on which side of the Atlantic you are in.
In Europe, major lenders report that Covid-19 has revolutionized the world of work. Century-old banking giant HSBC Holdings Plc recently said its top executives were abandoning their precious private offices to hot-desks in open spaces. Finished the fifth of its global office space this year as the lender moves to a hybrid home office arrangement for staff.
In one of the boldest steps, Societe Generale SA plans to allow all employees in France to work from home at least two days a week – for some it could be as many as three. Standard Chartered Plc is dismantling dedicated offices for more than 800 employees worldwide, including CEO Bill Winters, and making the flexible work styles adopted during the pandemic permanent.
The Wall Street titans, on the other hand, are eager to return to their old work habits, their employees in tow. Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase & Co. says he’s done with Zoom calls. His Goldman Sachs Group Inc. counterpart, David Solomon, said he viewed remote work as an “aberration.” All flexible options seem to be limited at this time.
An Accenture Plc A survey of hundreds of financial services executives in the United States and Canada found that nearly 80% would prefer their employees to spend four to five days in the office after the pandemic is over.
Their argument is that being in the office together boosts productivity and innovation, while fostering corporate culture. It also facilitates the integration of staff, especially juniors.
Once face-to-face meetings with clients are the norm, they are expected to be what will make the difference in making deals. Dimon lamented running out of business because his rivals were able to meet clients in person. This might be difficult to reconcile with permanent remote working arrangements.
Which side is he right on? I have to say Wall Street looks more realistic. Beyond aligning corporate strategies with their financial interests (most major banks have loaned large sums to the commercial real estate industry), it is safest to maintain flexibility in how habits will change after the pandemic.
An overzealous drive to cut spending and cut spending, which have weighed heavily on the profitability of European banks, could mark a quick victory with company employees and shareholders. that go great on remote or hybrid solutions. But they may be linked to a way of working that ends up being an obstacle.
Certainly, by taking into account the needs and desires of employees emerging from the health crisis, management can boost morale. According to Morgan Stanley, who surveyed office workers in Europe’s five major economies, there has been a consistent preference in recent months to continue working from home two days a week once social distancing subsides. .
And there is tremendous pressure in some areas of the bank to find ways to ease the burden of overworked employees. This back-to-office transition is a perfect time for the industry to make solid changes to respond to a culture that has made it impossible for a more diverse workforce to flourish.
However, not everyone will have a choice. Remote work in the most regulated parts of financial services may not be feasible in the long term. Regulators had no choice but to allow some flexibility while movement restrictions were in place. But as Axel Weber, chairman of UBS Group AG noted, high-risk areas simply need to be monitored in person. And for some critical functions, including trading where every millisecond counts, the office is by far the top manager.
Businesses need to be careful that drastic new setups don’t get badly thought out or turn out to be ad stunts that don’t make a lot of real change. HSBC CEO Noel Quinn said the idea of hot-desking stemmed from a real thirst to get back to the office with everyone, mingle and share ideas. But the The photo he shared on LinkedIn – a bunch of seemingly random desks with a few plants scattered around – wasn’t very inspiring.
Convincing staff to give up their desks will require more flexibility on the part of employers and an investment in a more desirable workplace, as my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Chris Hughes has argued.
Most people are happier walking into the office if there is a good cafe, a gym, and a fun space to network with co-workers. This is what has earned the Leesman research firm a number of Goldman buildings rankings among the best places to work. As a result, businesses that don’t have to cut expenses are exploring ways to improve their offices, not just reduce their footprint, a London-based commercial real estate advisor told me.
The financial sector could benefit greatly by giving staff more flexibility, cleaning up its image of a dangerously rigid work culture that suits the privileged few. But finding that balance won’t be easy – and early players may not end up winning the race.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Melissa Pozsgay at [email protected]