Wall St businesses grapple with back-to-office conundrum as Omicron blows up


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NEW YORK – Canceled holiday season, recall recommendations and tips for working from home are the new normal for businesses on Wall Street responding to the Omicron COVID-19 variant which is spreading rapidly in New York and in other financial centers.

With the fourth wave of the pandemic now in full force, financial firms are once again grappling with when they can realistically return to the status quo and how to communicate with staff and retain workers amid the uncertainty.

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“There is a lot of unease around when the return to power is going to take place. They’ve had to back down so many times with the public, themselves and the staff, ”said Neal Mills, chief medical officer of the professional services firm Aon, which advises companies on return-to-work plans.

A number of Wall Street banks and investment firms including Bank of America, Citigroup and Jefferies Financial Group have reversed their trend of bringing staff back to the office as Omicron has spread https: // www. reuters.com/world/us/omicron-powered-the-covid-wave-crashes-in-new-york-days-before-Christmas-2021-12-20 in the northeast.

New York City is hit hard, with cases rising 60% last week. Peak infections are also on the rise among the 61% of the country’s fully vaccinated population.

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Companies recognize that the guarantees they relied on to get workers back to the office, such as vaccinations, may not protect staff, Mills said.

Employers are targeting February as the likely date of return to power, but with the situation rapidly evolving, “they are reluctant to make communications,” he said.

An executive at a financial firm said his target date of return to power was largely “arbitrary,” but the company did not want to leave workers in the dark.

“People do a horrible job of communicating,” said Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School who advises companies on their plans to return to the office. Companies believe they can’t educate staff until they have more information, he said.

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The financial sector has been among the most aggressive in returning to the status quo. Among banks, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley have led the charge to get workers back to offices after the vaccine rolls out.

Goldman and JPMorgan have had most of the workers returned to their offices on a rotational basis since the summer, while Morgan Stanley chief executive James Gorman had pushed for workers to return by September, though his position has changed. be relaxed.

“The US banks were like ‘OK, everyone’s back, and it’s time to go see the customers in person.’ That was the trend in September and October, ”said a New York-based senior executive at a European bank with large operations in the United States.

This aggressive stance has forced the industry to pivot rapidly in recent weeks. Some executives said the industry may have pushed too hard.

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“I thought we would be out of it by Labor Day, after Labor Day. We’re not, ”Gorman told CNBC last week https://www.reuters.com/business/fidelity-pauses-return-to-office-cites-rising-covid-risk-2021-12-13 . “I think we’ll still be here for most of next year. Everyone still finds their way.

“PEOPLE WILL STOP”

Citigroup and Bank of America have asked New York area staff to work remotely if possible for now, while Wells Fargo has delayed https://www.reuters.com/business/finance/wells-fargo-will -announce-new- plans-full-employee-return-new-year-statement-2021-12-21 his return from office scheduled for January 10. Jefferies, one of the first companies https://www.reuters.com/world/us/jefferies-cancels-parties-travel-sends-employees-back-home-due-covid-19-2021-12-08 at send staff home, is now targeting Jan. 17 to pick up workers.

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Some banks, however, still have staff in the office.

Morgan Stanley hasn’t told staff to work from home, but gives them the option to do so. JPMorgan has sent unvaccinated staff home to its Manhattan offices and urged teams to once again review who needs to be in the office. While Goldman Sachs canceled some vacation meetings, it did not send staff home.

A spokesperson for JPMorgan said the bank is monitoring the situation and will adjust accordingly. The other banks declined to comment.

“The return to work will not be a straight line,” said Elisabeth Joyce, vice president of Gartner Research and Advisory. “However, I predict that organizations looking to force a return to the office will push back the deadlines.”

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She added that in the long run, companies would stay the course by trying to get staff back into the workplace.

This may pose retention problems. The New York-based senior executive said he believes hybrid work is “here to stay” and banks need to figure out how to make remote working efficient while physically reconnecting people.

“Companies set their due date and every quarter they get another quarter out,” said Andy Challenger, senior vice president of executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

“At first it was because of the waves of COVID and the danger. Now (employers) are worried that they won’t be able to ask people to come back because people are going to quit.

(Written by Megan Davies and Michelle Price; edited by Stephen Coates)

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