The bank’s rigid office culture bends to demands for flexibility

NEW YORK — When Tom Naratil came to Wall Street in the 1980s, work-life balance didn’t really exist. For most bankers of his generation, working long hours without spending time with family was not only necessary to progress, it was necessary not to be left behind.

But Naratil, now president of Swiss bank UBS in the Americas, doesn’t see why today’s employees should make the same compromises — at the cost of their personal happiness and company results.

Employees given the option to avoid “awful commutes” and work from home more often are simply happier and more productive, Naratil said. “They feel better, they feel like we trust them more, they have a better work-life balance and they produce more for us – it’s a win-win situation for everyone.”

Welcome to a kinder, gentler Wall Street.

Much of the banking industry, long a bellwether for corporate America, has dismissed remote working as a pandemic event, even relying on workers to keep coming when shutdowns turned downtown Manhattan into a ghost town. But with many Wall Street employees resisting a return to the office two years later and competition for banking talent heating up, many managers are turning to working from home — or at least acknowledging that it isn’t. is not a fight they can win.

Flexibility is a new mantra at many large banks, which are moving to more days at home, schedules that adapt to family needs and revamped office spaces, breaking with the tradition of the industry that has long emphasized face-to-face relationships built over grueling times. arduous hours and workloads.

UBS, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, HSBC and BNY Mellon have all announced flexible work plans. Even JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest bank and a hybrid work resister, expects only about half of its employees to eventually be in the office five days a week. The bank’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, wrote in his annual letter to shareholders on Monday that he believed 10% of JPMorgan’s roughly 271,000 employees could eventually work from home.

“While the pandemic has changed the way we work in many ways, for the most part it has only accelerated ongoing trends,” Dimon wrote.

But he didn’t seem particularly happy about it, ticking off a list of “serious weaknesses” of virtual working, including slow decision-making and a lack of “spontaneous learning and creativity”.

“While it’s clear that working from home will become more permanent in corporate America, such arrangements must also work for both the company and its customers,” he wrote.

But increasingly, work schedules must also work for workers.

“It’s all about talent – how to retain it, how to attract it,” UBS’s Naratil said. The bank last month rolled out its plan to allow 10% of its 20,500 U.S. employees to work remotely all the time and offer hybrid schedules to three-quarters of its employees.

“The talent is going to move, and it’s not just about salary,” he said.

Citigroup has its 65,000 U.S. employees in the office two days a week and has held workshops for managers and employees on remote collaboration. Globally, most roles will move to a minimum of three days a week when it’s safe to do so, the company said. Wells Fargo began bringing most of its 249,000 employees back in mid-March with what it calls a “flexible hybrid model” – for many corporate employees, that means a minimum of three days a week in the office , while groups that cater to the bank’s technology needs may show up less often.

BNY Mellon, which has nearly 50,000 employees, allows teams to determine their own mix of in-person and remote working. And he introduced a two-week ‘work from anywhere’ policy for people in certain roles and locations. “The energy around the office has been palpable” as employees eagerly work out their plans, said BNY Mellon spokesman Garrett Marquis.

Moelis & Co., a boutique investment bank, has strongly encouraged its nearly 1,000 employees to come into the office Monday through Thursday, but with additional “intraday flexibility” on their schedules, said Elizabeth Crain, director of the operation of the company. That could mean dropping the kids off at school in the morning or taking the train during the day for safety reasons, she said. The new approach promotes teamwork and allows employees to learn from each other in person, while giving them more control over their schedules.

Crain said everyone was much more flexible. “We all know we can deliver,” she said.

Crain, who has worked in the financial industry for more than three decades, recently embarked on something that would have been unthinkable before the pandemic: a weekly 9 a.m. session with a personal trainer near his office. She said she hoped stepping outside the confines of the traditional workday would send a message to employees that they were trusted to get the job done while making time for their personal priorities.

“After two years, haven’t we all changed?” she says.

Not yet. There are a few notable holdouts. Wall Street heavyweights Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have recognized the need for greater flexibility, but have so far resisted overhauling their operations.

Both called employees back to the office full-time over the summer, emphasizing the merits of working in person to boost company culture, innovation and learning. Morgan Stanley boss James Gorman said at the time, “If you can go to a restaurant in New York, you can come to the office.”

As he stands by that comment, Gorman’s tone has softened somewhat. Showing up three or four days a week is important for career development and growth, allowing professionals to hone skills such as emotional intelligence and reading body language, he said last month.

But he and Goldman’s David Solomon have welcomed efforts to bring workers back to Manhattan offices. Solomon echoed Mayor Eric Adams during a conference at Goldman’s headquarters in March, saying it was “time to come back.”

Andrea Williams, spokeswoman for Goldman Sachs, said the return to the office “is central to our culture of learning” and customer-focused activities. “We are better together than apart, especially as an employer of choice for those early in their careers,” she said.

For months, Dimon made a similar point at JPMorgan — and even went on to say that about half of his employees would work from home at least some of the time.

“Most professionals learn their jobs through a learning model, which is nearly impossible to replicate in the world of Zoom,” he wrote. JPMorgan has hired more than 80,000 workers during the pandemic, he said, and is working to train them properly.

“But it’s harder to do with Zoom,” he said. “Over time, this downside could significantly undermine the character and culture you want to promote in your business.”

Some banks are rethinking their real estate needs. With more people working from home, HSBC — which has nearly half of its 8,000 U.S. employees in Manhattan — plans to shrink its real estate footprint, said Jennifer Strybel, its chief operating officer in the U.S.

The bank is keeping its building, which overlooks the New York Public Library’s main branch on Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, at 40% capacity. The space has been redesigned, replacing rows of open-plan terminals with more tables to encourage collaboration. There’s a reservation system for desks, lockers for employees to store their belongings, and a “keyboard garage” for those who don’t want to lug gear. Charging stations are scattered around the premises.

Dimon said JPMorgan, which is building a new downtown headquarters that will house up to 14,000 workers, will move to a more “open” arrangement.

Banks outside of New York are also adjusting: KeyCorp, which is based in Cleveland, hasn’t set a specific date to return to the office but expects half of its staff to eventually show up four or five days a week. Another 30% will probably come for one to three days, with the possibility of working from different offices. And 20% will work from home, but with in-person trainings and team-building events.

The new setup is “uncharted territory” that is needed to keep the workforce engaged, said Key CEO Chris Gorman. While he comes in every day and is a firm believer in face-to-face meetings, Gorman said he avoided a heavy-handed approach that could alienate employees and make them look elsewhere.

Naratil, the chairman of UBS, also believes in in-person gatherings — he still spends most of his week at the UBS office in Weehawken, New Jersey — but he said the great remote working experience of the past two years had debunked the myth that employees were less productive at home. In fact, he says, they are more productive.

The increasingly hybrid workplace has forced leaders to connect with their teams in new ways, like virtual happy hours, Naratil said. The base has shown it can rise to the occasion, and it’s up to bosses to attract workers to physical spaces to generate new ideas and strengthen relationships.

Managers, he said, must have a good answer when their employees ask the simple question, “Why should I be in the office?”

“It’s not ‘Because I told you so,'” he said. “That’s not the answer.”