After more than a dozen junior investment bankers at Goldman Sachs complained to management last year that their working hours were “inhuman” and morale was soaring, Citi – with a timely pivot to hybrid schedules – was often seen as the anti-Goldman.
On reflection, this bank might not have been the most aligned with the label. Less than 24 hours after the Goldman employee presentation went viral, Jefferies released a memo offering each of its analysts and associates, among other options, a Peloton bike (must have seemed like a good idea to the era) with a one-year subscription – intended to show that the bank not only appreciated the work of its employees, but looked after their health while they worked remotely.
This isn’t the only time in the COVID-19 era where Goldman and Jefferies have found themselves on opposite ends of the spectrum. In May 2020, just two months into the pandemic, Goldman Sachs executives told employees they were “considering carefully a phased ‘return to work’ framework,” pointing out that some staff outside of United States had begun to return.
Jefferies, during the same week, said employees — not government officials or corporate executives — should have the final say on when to return to the office. The bank’s chief financial officer, Peg Broadbent, was among the first high-profile COVID deaths in the financial sphere.
“Our offices will no longer be open and full when the president, governor, mayor or both of us say they are,” Jefferies CEO Rich Handler and Chairman Brian Friedman wrote in a May 2020 memo. “Each of us is running a million miles an hour, never leaving the caves of our home office. We recognize this reality and are deeply grateful for it.
Jefferies’ reference to the government component may echo even two years later, unlike a policy change announced by Goldman this week in response to updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Namely, Goldman said Tuesday it would drop the requirement for workers in the Americas to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter its offices. (The policy doesn’t actually apply to New York-based employees.) The memo didn’t contain any explicit mandate on how many days a week employees should work from the office. Instead, the bank told employees, “If you didn’t come to the office, please speak with your manager to make sure you understand and meet your division’s current expectations for returning to the office.”
Maybe the banks have found that ambiguity works. “As we approach the fall, I ask our leaders and colleagues to meet more often in person to work and collaborate,” Royal Bank of Canada CEO Dave McKay wrote in a memo. last month.
“Technology can’t replicate the energy, the spontaneity, the big ideas, the real sense of belonging and the fun” of being together in the office, he added.
Specifically, banks may have found that specific remote work to office work ratios have not been effective.
Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA), a consulting firm, found that when organizations have policies requiring employees to come into the office two days a week, workers attend on average 1.1 days, according to a global survey of of approximately 80,000 workers. For companies with a “two to three” day in-office policy, that number is 1.6. Companies requiring three days in the office score 2.1, according to the survey.
“When we came out of lockdown and the regulations were relaxed, people tried to come into the office… and when they got there they found all they were doing was being on Zoom calls “said Andrew Mawson, Managing Director of AWA. Reuters.
Goldman, for its part, has been trying since at least March to increase office footfall by electronically monitoring, according to reports, the readings of employees’ personal ID cards.
With all that in mind, it was time to prepare for Jefferies’ anti-Goldman counter-argument. But a Thursday memo from Handler came across as uncharacteristically light on the “against” part.
“As long as COVID continues to be manageable, we need everyone in our offices consistently so that we can truly maximize our fourth and final quarter and the future ahead of us,” Handler wrote, according to Bloomberg and Reuters. “Let’s all appreciate that together, rather than in lonely silos, we can do our best to end the year the right way.”
Expect. Observers may think: is it the pendulum swinging away?
Where is the coup at Goldman?
Jefferies employees are free to work in a hybrid format when needed, Handler added Thursday. “We are not going to look at individual names on the turnstiles,” he wrote.
Exhale. Perhaps the balance has been restored.