Wall Street’s Return to the Office

The Delta variant isn’t derailing already-announced plans

The highly contagious Delta variant may be causing a new wave of COVID-19 cases, but so far, that hasn’t derailed Wall Street firms from steadily bringing back workers to the office in 2021.  

While some major banks don’t expect a majority of employees on-site until after Labor Day, executives at top firms such as J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs have been pressing employees to get back to the office since the spring. Fortunately, even the firms aggressively wrangling their staff to the office aren’t taking the pandemic for granted, putting in place various vaccination and testing guidelines designed to keep outbreaks at bay. 

Key Takeaways

  • While the Delta variant is spreading quickly in much of the country, including New York City, several investment banks say they’re moving forward with plans to return employees to the office this fall.
  • Executives at J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs have publicly questioned the value of remote work, arguing that it leads to a less collaborative and creative employee base.
  • Some firms, including Goldman Sachs and Citi, are requiring vaccinations for employees who are returning to the office.

More Employees Coming Back 

As one of the epicenters of the initial COVID-19 peak last spring, investment banks in New York City had no choice but to let their employees work remotely. Still, for the heads of Wall Street’s biggest firms, there was always a strong hope of getting employees back to the office as soon as possible. 

At J.P. Morgan

With the number of cases dwindling earlier this year, J.P. Morgan was among the first banks to start corralling its workforce. In April, CEO Jamie Dimon announced in a memo that employees had to return on a rotational basis to keep office capacity below 50%.  

Based on previous comments, the bank’s long-serving leader was never sold on remote work as a long-term proposition. “Most professionals learn their job through an apprenticeship model, which is almost impossible to replicate in the Zoom world,” Dimon told shareholders in his annual letter. He went on to critique the work-from-home model, citing a lack of “spontaneous learning and creativity” that occurs when workers bump into each other at the office.

At Goldman Sachs

Like J.P. Morgan, investment banking giant Goldman Sachs has been one of the more aggressive firms when it comes to steering employees back to the office. In May, the bank said in a memo that it wanted most workers back in the office by June 14, according to a report by CNN.

“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,” CEO David Solomon and two other Goldman executives said in the memo, according to a report by CNBC. By July, about half of workers were back, according to the Financial News.

At Bank of America

A gradual return to the office isn’t unique to Wall Street. While more than 35% of the U.S. workforce worked remotely in May 2020, during the height of the pandemic, that number was down to 13.2% in July 2021. The financial sector—where sharing data and ideas helps to fuel profits—has been particularly keen to get employees back in the door.

Even firms that have publicly taken a more cautious approach have reportedly leaned on employees in key business units to return more quickly. For example, Bank of America isn’t expected to have the majority of its staff on-site until after Labor Day, a company spokesperson said. Nevertheless, some employees from its global markets team felt pressure to come into work even in the midst of stay-at-home orders, according to a report in The New York Times

New Requirements

While none of the financial firms contacted by Investopedia suggested any deviation from their return-to-work plans because of the Delta variant, the banks acknowledge that they’re at the mercy of local and federal authorities.  

So far this summer, the nation’s financial center hasn’t seen any new workplace restrictions, although infection data isn’t moving in a direction that most employers would like. In New York City, the number of daily COVID-19 cases over a seven-day average was 1,721 as of Aug. 31, 2021, according to the city’s health department, compared with 231 at the end of June—a more than seven-fold increase.

Even with most large banks steadily increasing their on-site workforce numbers, they don’t appear to be taking the virus for granted. Goldman Sachs and Citi are requiring vaccinations for returning workers, company representatives told Investopedia. J.P. Morgan—where vaccination is encouraged but not compulsory—is requiring masks in common areas for all employees and mandatory rapid testing twice a week, according to a company representative.

Here are the COVID-19 return-to-office rules at four of Wall Street’s largest firms, according to company representatives. 

Goldman Sachs 

  • As of Sept. 7, all on-site employees need to be fully vaccinated.
  • Vaccines will be made available at select on-site health centers, with a half-day of paid time off for each dose. 
  • Beginning Aug. 25, masks are required for all employees in common areas, except when eating or drinking. 
  • Employees will continue to complete once-a-week COVID-19 testing after Sept. 7.  

Citi

  • Beginning Sept. 13, all employees in the New York area—as well as in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.—are expected to return to the office at least two days a week, according to a recent LinkedIn post from the bank’s head of human resources.
  • Vaccination will be required for all staff members returning to the office.
  • On-site employees will be required to wear masks.
  • Rapid tests will be provided on-site.

J.P. Morgan

  • Workers are encouraged, but not required, to receive the vaccine.
  • Masks are required in common areas, regardless of vaccination status.
  • Unvaccinated workers must take a rapid COVID-19 test at least twice a week and cannot attend indoor employee events with 25 or more people. 

Bank of America 

  • The majority of U.S. workers are expected back in the office after Labor Day, with a priority given to vaccinated workers.
  • Employees who return to the office are required to wear a mask when not at their desk.

FAQs

How Has the Delta Variant Affected New York City?

While 58.4% of the city’s residents were fully vaccinated as of Aug. 31, 2021, according to the city’s health department, coronavirus cases have spiked. As of the end of August, the number of daily cases in the country’s largest city have increased roughly seven-fold since the end of June.

Are Wall Street Firms Revising Their Return-to-Office Plans?

Investopedia reached out to several financial firms, including J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and Citi. None of the banks expressed any imminent changes in their plan to get employees back in the office.

What Steps Are Banks Taking to Prevent Future Infections?

Investment banks are implementing a variety of new rules regarding masking and COVID-19 testing to prevent infections. And some, such as Goldman and Citi, are requiring vaccinations for returning employees.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. CNBC. “JPMorgan Chase Tells U.S. Employees They Are Expected Back to the Office on a Rotating Basis by July.” Accessed Aug. 31, 2021.

  2. JPMorgan Chase & Co. “Chairman & CEO Letter to Shareholders: V. COVID-19 and the Economy.” Accessed Aug. 31, 2021.

  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey.” Download Table 1 data for July 2021 and May 2020. Accessed Aug. 31, 2021.

  4. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “COVID-19: Data.” Accessed Aug. 31, 2021.

  5. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “COVID-19: Data: Vaccines.” Accessed Aug. 31, 2021.

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