Goldman Sachs’ boss wants bankers back to their desks ASAP

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The chief executive of Goldman Sachs has signalled his determination to get his bankers back behind their office desks, calling home working an “aberration” that must be corrected “as soon as possible”.

While the bank operated successfully throughout the Covid crisis with less than 10% of its 34,000 global staff working in the bank’s offices, David Solomon dashed the hopes of any Goldman staff hoping to split their time between their homes and offices in the future, saying it did not represent “a new normal” for the firm.

“That’s a temporary thing. I do think that for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us. And it’s not a new normal. It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible,” he told a virtual conference run by Credit Suisse.

View image in fullscreenDavid Solomon, CEO at Goldman Sachs. Photograph: Denis Balibouse/Reuters

The comments contradict the laidback image that the new Goldman boss has tried to portray since taking over as chief executive in late 2018.

Solomon, who moonlights as DJ D-Sol, has been known for eschewing Wall Street’s stuffy reputation, even relaxing the investment bank’s dress code to make suits and ties optional.

While he acknowledged that the pandemic had helped the bank shift more of its operations online, Solomon said he wasitching to get back into the office. “At the end of the day, I’m a big believer in personal connectivity in a business like ours, and I don’t think as we get out of the pandemic, the overall operating mode – the way a business like ours operates – will be vastly different.”

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Views on remote working after the Covid crisis are slowly dividing the corporate world. Earlier this week, lending giant HSBC revealed it was taking advantage of the booming popularity of home working by cutting its office space by 40%, while rival Lloyds announced it would slash its own office footprint by a fifth.

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Lloyds’ decision was made after 77% of Lloyds’ 68,000 employees said they wanted to work from home for three or more days a week in future.

According to a recent poll by recruiter Robert Half, 89% of firms expect hybrid working – with staff split between home and office – to become permanent after the pandemic.

But Solomon said he was particularly concerned about how to train the next generation of bankers if most staff were working from home. “I’m very focused on the fact that I don’t want another class of young people arriving at Goldman Sachs in the summer remotely … that aren’t getting more direct contact, direct apprenticeship, direct mentorship.”

The Goldman boss is not alone. His Wall Street rival JP Morgan has also raised concerns about the impact of home working, including the lack of mentoring for young staff, and a small drop in productivity on Mondays and Fridays. However, the lender is still expecting up to 30% of its almost 257,000 global employees to work remotely in future, at least part of the time.

Barclays boss Jes Staley has also backtracked from statements made last April when he declared the days of putting 7,000 people into a single building “may be a thing of the past”.

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Speaking to reporters last week, Staley described home working as “getting old”. “I look forward to us being able to welcome colleagues back into the office. That will certainly happen sometime this year.”

In the meantime, Goldman is still asking all of its UK staff to work from home in line with government guidance. Only critical staff who cannot work remotely are commuting, meaning 5-10% of its 6,000 UK workforce are in office on any given day.