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Wall Street Warms Up, Grudgingly, to Remote Work, Unthinkable Before Covid

Privately, many senior bank executives tasked with increasing attendance among their direct reports expressed irritation. They said it was unfair for high-paid workers to continue to work from home, while others — such as bank employees or construction workers — dutifully come in every day. Salaries at investment banks in the New York area averaged $438,450 in 2020, up 7.8 percent from the previous year, according to data from the office of state auditor Thomas P. DiNapoli.

Two senior executives, who declined to be identified when discussing personnel matters, said they could evict subordinates who are unwilling to return to the office on a regular basis. Another manager expressed frustration at an employee refusing to come into the office, out of concern about the virus — even though the person had recently been on vacation.

Executives “didn’t feel like they could apply pressure to get people back into the office — and those who did pressure really got a push,” said Ms Wylde, of the Partnership for New York City. “Financial services is one of those sectors that is extremely competitive for talent, so no one wants to be the bad guy.” She expects major financial firms to eventually drive employees back to the office through rewarding salaries and promotions.

For now, banks are resorting to coaxing and coddling.

Food trucks, free meals and snacks are occasionally offered, as well as free Uber and Lyft rides. Dress code has been relaxed. Major companies have adopted safety protocols such as on-site testing and mask mandates in common areas. Goldman, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup are demanding vaccinations for employees entering their offices, while Bank of America asked only vaccinated staff to return after Labor Day. JPMorgan has not prescribed any vaccines for employees to return to the office.

At Citi, which asked employees to return at least two days a week starting in September, offices are about 70 percent full on the busiest days. Citi, whose director, Jane Fraser, started her job in the midst of the pandemic, has hired shuttle buses so that employees coming to Midtown Manhattan from suburban homes can avoid the subway to the offices in the center of the bank. To allay concerns about rising crime in New York, at least one other company has rented shuttle buses to take people a few blocks from Pennsylvania Station to offices in Midtown, Ms. Wylde said.

According to Alan Johnson, the general manager of Johnson Associates, a Wall Street compensation consultancy, remote work arrangements are also emerging as an important consideration for employees interviewing for new jobs.

Traditional sofas haven’t changed their tone much, he said: “You have to dress up. It’s in the office five days a week. It’s just the 1990s again.” In contrast, younger companies offer much more flexibility when working from home and a relaxed office dress code.

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