London Financial workers return to their offices despite rising virus cases

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LONDON – There is no free lunch in finance except when banks invite workers back to the office.

London’s financial sector, eager to return to some semblance of normalcy after the worst of the pandemic, is leading the charge to encourage employees to return to their old lives, with some companies even offering free food and social events.

It seems to work; The London transport operator said this week it had recorded its busiest day since the pandemic struck in March 2020, as workers packed once-deserted trains in the capital’s twin financial districts, the City and Canary Wharf.

Canary Wharf Group, which runs the district, also said it was busier than at any time since last March. Crowds of office workers thronged its seats, while city workers bustled about on London Bridge and lounged near Tower Bridge in the resurgent September sun.

“It feels like the London offices after the summer break should start to return to normal in September and October,” said Ian Williams, who works for Peel Hunt investment bank and was returning to his office. in the City of London this month. week for the first time.

Indeed, Standard Chartered said around 33% of staff were in the office this week, up from 20% last week and a few dozen during lockdowns this year and last year.

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The bank is among those who are creative in rewarding staff who arrive at the office, in its case by providing free food.

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs, whose CEO has called working from home an “aberration,” is offering a sweet temptation with a free ice cream bar.

The investment bank said around 3,000 workers came to its Plumtree Court office in London this week. This was about 50% of its capacity, and six times more than the peak of blockages when the bank was operating with only 400 to 500 employees per day, he added.

The daily occupancy rate at HSBC’s Canary Wharf headquarters rose to 1,800 out of a possible 3,500 this week, from a recent average of 1,000 to 1,500, the bank told Reuters, and more are expected to rise. join the crowd in the coming weeks.

There is no free lunch there, however.

The bank has not prioritized offering incentives like free food, UK CEO Ian Stuart told Reuters, acknowledging that some 10,000 branch workers came to work every day during the pandemic. without such decoys.

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“We try to communicate very effectively that the offices are safe, the first hurdle is getting people to come and try it and more and more are doing it,” he said.

‘RETURN TO GET CRUSHED IN THE TRAIN’

A similar office influx is occurring in the United States, albeit cautiously amid fears about the spread of the Delta coronavirus variant. Citigroup expects staff to return to its offices in New York and other major cities two days a week starting September 13, but only if they have been vaccinated.

Senior executives face a delicate task to encourage staff back to work at a time when COVID-19 cases are still on the rise in Britain and commuter trains above and below ground bake in near record temperatures for September.

“It’s kind of crazy, all of a sudden we’re crashed into the train again and not everyone is wearing a mask,” Rob, who works for a financial firm, told a Reuters reporter on Tuesday in a report. train bound for the City district of London.

“I was tired of staying home, to be honest. “

Investment bank executives have been among the most vocal about the need for staff to return to office.

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They hope that the novelty of office work after a year and a half at home, as well as the attraction of mingling with senior executives who could open the door to a promotion, will outweigh the health concerns of young employees at the office. city.

JPMorgan saw around 35% of its staff in its Canary Wharf office this week, the highest proportion since the UK’s first lockdown began and a number that is expected to rise.

Other companies are poised to follow suit, including retail bank NatWest, which plans a gradual return from next week starting with 50% occupancy at its offices in England and Scotland.

Insurer Phoenix Group has adopted another innovative strategy to help staff rehabilitate when they return to their offices, including in the city.

He hosted “safe social events” this week, where employees were offered free food and non-alcoholic drinks as well as colorful lanyards to show how comfortable they were with the standards. ‘interaction – ranging from “I keep my distance” to “I” I agree with high-fives.

(Reporting by Lawrence White, Iain Withers and Rachel Armstrong; Additional reporting by Patrick Graham, Devik Jain and Noor Zainab Hussain; Editing by Pravin Char)

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