Pedestrians pass illuminated skyscraper offices in the Canary Wharf business, financial and shopping district of London, UK. Picture: BLOOMBERG/SIMON DAWSON
Pedestrians pass illuminated skyscraper offices in the Canary Wharf business, financial and shopping district of London, UK. Picture: BLOOMBERG/SIMON DAWSON

London — As the UK inches out of its third Covid-19 lockdown and leads the way in vaccinations, some financial firms are starting to entice employees back to deserted offices. Others are doubling down on the lure of living rooms.

Goldman Sachs Group invited London employees back starting March 29, the day the UK’s blanket “stay home” mandate was lifted. Standard Chartered is embracing a hybrid working model, mapping out strategies to keep workers productive at home.

Getting out of an office lease is slow, difficult and expensive, so there is a strong incentive for employers to revive the office buzz. But safety measures such as social distancing and capacity to test employees will make for a slow process, and it may never get back to how it was. Some banks see it as an opportunity to make even more sweeping changes to how they work, looking for that perfect balance between in-person interaction and video calls from the kitchen table.

“Companies need to adapt their thinking and take a holistic approach to their future of work,” said Allison English, deputy CEO of workplace research firm Leesman. “The average office has not been fit for purpose for a long time and has largely failed to meet the needs of the people who use it.”

Here’s what some firms have planned:

JPMorgan Chase & Co: The US bank will probably keep some elements of working from home, though it hasn’t finalised its approach. Less than 10% of its 12,000 London-based staff were in the office during the most recent lockdown, and individual teams are now giving some employees permission to return where needed. Hundreds of interns in the lender’s sales and trading and investment banking divisions are set to start in its New York and London offices in the next few months, said a person familiar with the plans.

Goldman Sachs: CEO David Solomon said in February that remote work was “an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible”. Goldman opened its new European headquarters in London in 2019 to house more than 5,000 people. It managed to bring 20% of workers back to that office after the first lockdown ended, but the figure shrank to 10% in the second lockdown.

Barclays: Jes Staley expects workers to return to the office in 2021. The CEO’s views have evolved since the beginning of the pandemic, when he said skyscrapers packed with thousands of people might be “a thing of the past”. At one point, three-quarters of the bank’s 80,000 employees were working from home.

HSBC Holdings: Europe’s largest bank expects to eventually shrink its global property footprint by 40%. Noel Quinn said in February the bank would retain its Canary Wharf headquarters and would look to end leases on “premises elsewhere in London”. At certain times in 2021, as much as 70% of HSBC’s 226,000 employees were working remotely.

Citigroup: Lateral flow tests were introduced at the bank’s Canary Wharf office in early March, but only for staff already approved to work there. CEO Jane Fraser has banned internal video calls on Fridays and encouraged people to take holidays.

Standard Chartered: The vast majority of the bank’s employees want flexibility in some form. It’s formalising the arrangements set up during the pandemic for most of its UK staff this week. The bank is also weighing ideas to keep people connected virtually, including a holographic water cooler and networking apps.

Banco Santander: The Spanish lender, one of the biggest retail banks in Britain, is closing four UK offices as it shifts to a more flexible model. The firm also announced in March that it will take less space at four sites, including its Ludgate Hill and Triton Square offices in London, and shut about a fifth of its bank branches.

Nationwide Building Society: The firm has embraced working from home, telling most of its 13,000 office-based staff they can do their jobs from anywhere in the country.

Lloyds Banking Group: The British bank is projecting a 20% cut in office space by 2023. The lender said it plans to test new hybrid ways of working. As many as 5,000 employees will join the pilot, according to a person familiar with the plans.

NatWest Group: The bank said it’s not putting a date on a return to offices at the moment, pointing to a “new hybrid way of working” in the future.

PricewaterhouseCoopers: The accountancy firm has said it will introduce a hybrid working model and expects employees to spend between 40% and 60% of their time in the office or at client sites. Staff will also be given a half-day on Fridays in July and August 2021.

Revolut: The start-up said it allows all employees flexibility to work from home or from the office, except in some rare cases where there are regulatory requirements for specific roles. People will be able to choose to attend between one and five times a week.

Bloomberg

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?
Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.