As we’re nearing the end of the pandemic and preparing for the next phase for the future of work, there is still a great divide among companies over whether their employees will stay at home, come into the office or have a hybrid system of both options.
David Solomon, the CEO of top-tier investment bank Goldman Sachs, said on Wednesday that he wants his people back at the office. Solomon, who prides himself as a down-to-earth guy and has a side gig playing DJ for parties and events, dropped the nice-guy schtick, calling remote work an “aberration.”
Solomon, referring to the prevailing sentiment of working remotely, 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. It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible.” Solomon pointed out that Goldman Sachs only had “less than 10%” of its people in the office during 2020.
He’s not alone with these views. Previously, back in mid-September, Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan, ordered his workers to return to the office by the end of the month. JPMorgan traders, bankers, brokers and research analysts were required to return to their offices by September 21, after six long months of working from home.
Dimon maintained that after experimenting with remote work and having traders, salespersons, bankers and other key professionals based in locations outside of the office, it’s essential to have people return.
Wall Street doesn’t have factories or produce physical products. It primarily offers information and intelligence. Working and collaborating together builds a camaraderie and esprit de corps. Traders, bankers, brokers, compliance, human resources and other personnel share key information, engage in daily discussions and feed off of one another. Young employees need mentors, guidance and direction. The synergy, according to JPMorgan, is diminished when its people are disconnected from one another. Leading by example, Dimon and other senior-level executives have already returned to the office over the summer.
The same week that the return-to-work command was made, JPMorgan sent home some of its traders after an employee in the equities trading trading division contracted Covid-19. In response to the matter, Brian Marchiony, a company spokesperson, said the bank has been “managing individual cases across the firm over the course of the last few months and following appropriate protocols when they occur.”
At this time, Goldman’s CEO wrote a memo to employees, stating, “As September begins, we hope you were able to take time off over the course of the past few months to rest and recharge.” Solomon continued, “We are now preparing to implement the next phase of our RTO (return-to-office) plan for many of our locations around the world, where appropriate.” Employees will be advised when they’ll be asked to return to their respective offices.
Solomon, along with other business leaders, are concerned that the federal government isn’t doing enough to help. Corporations face enormous litigation risks. If people return to the office, catch Covid-19 and spread it to others, the company and its executives could potentially face lawsuits.
Solomon also points to the fact that the “vaccine distribution and the process of recovery has been a little bit slower in the first quarter than some of us had hoped,” and a coronavirus relief bill, on which Congress is working on, could produce a “very, very strong tailwind” for economic recovery.
Solomon is particularly concerned about the fate of new hires. Like many Wall Street firms, Goldman Sachs aggressively hires bright, young people to train for investment banking, trading, portfolio management and other positions. Solomon highlighted the need for newly hired analysts to get inducted into the Wall Street way from their office desk. “I am very focused on the fact that I don’t want another class of young people arriving at Goldman Sachs in the summer remotely,” Solomon said.
Interestingly, a couple of other major international investment banks are taking a different course of action. Both Lloyds Banking Group and HSBC said they plan to significantly reduce their commercial office space by 20% and 40% respectively.
Jes Staley, the CEO of Barclays, has been flexible in his view of remote work. Last April, Staley championed remote work, claiming, “Putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past.” He’s now somewhat sanguine about this trend and said, “It’s remarkable it’s working as well as it is, but I don’t think it’s sustainable.”