JPMorgan expects to keep offices half full after lockdown ends

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When employees return to work at JPMorgan Chase their coffee mugs and pictures of the kids probably won’t be where they left them.

The bank has been placing workers’ personal items into sealed boxes to prepare desks for common use after lockdowns tied to the coronavirus pandemic begin to ease, according to an internal memo seen by Bloomberg.

Co-workers will be harder to find, too: The bank expects to keep its offices half full at the most for the “foreseeable future,” the memo states. Capacities will vary by location, according to a person briefed on the plans.

“As we prepare for this level of flexible seating and put protocols in place for all areas to be cleaned and disinfected effectively, we have started clearing all desk surfaces and floor areas of any personal and business-related work items,” JPMorgan said in the memo. “We know how important your items are and will continue to make every effort to treat them with care.”

The world’s biggest banks have been studying how best to safely bring employees back to the office once restrictions put in place to stem the spread of COVID-19 are lifted. Planners are trying to figure out how to reorganize lobbies, elevators and work spaces to prevent contagion and keep employees far enough apart to meet social-distancing guidelines.

At JPMorgan, that means some staff will be sitting at different desks, and in some cases different floors, when they get to work, according to the memo, which was sent Wednesday to employees in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region. Similar notices were sent to U.S. workers other than branch staff, the person said, asking not to be identified because the moves haven’t been announced publicly.

Not everyone will come back at the same time or even to the same location where they used to work, and the return will happen slowly and “in waves,” according to the memo. Officials at American Express and Visa have said the majority of their workers won’t be coming back at all for the rest of the year.

JPMorgan still doesn’t have a timeline for getting employees back to buildings that have been shut to most workers since March.

The bank is also working to remodel reception areas to make them safer for staff who work there, and will be removing lobby furniture and limiting elevator capacity to maintain social-distancing protocols.

It’s currently conducting a study of “people flow” across major offices to figure out how best to manage movement within buildings. Other companies are considering making routes around offices one-way only, using protocols already enacted at some grocery stores, where paths are marked by arrows on the floors or walls.

“We know that the office you return to will be different from the one that you left,” the bank’s task force on returning to the office wrote in the memo. “We will all adjust to this ‘new normal’ in different ways, but remember, we’re all in this together.”

Bloomberg News
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