The call back to the office comes against a backdrop of falling Covid-19 cases in the two cities which were once the pandemic’s global epicentres © Bloomberg

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JPMorgan Chase has summoned the leaders of its trading teams back to the office by September 21 as the world’s biggest investment bank tries to restore normality after the unprecedented work-from-home experiment triggered by the Covid-19 crisis.

The call to return to JPMorgan’s tower blocks in Canary Wharf in London and midtown Manhattan in New York was detailed by two of the bank’s most senior trading executives on internal calls on Wednesday.

The policy comes against a backdrop of falling Covid-19 cases in the two cities which were once the pandemic’s global epicentres.

As political leaders including Boris Johnson, UK prime minister, express growing concern about the fate of the cafés, shops, restaurants, bars and other businesses that rely on office workers for their livelihoods, other banks across the world have also been steadily refilling the massive buildings that were left almost empty at the height of the pandemic.

They have typically been treading softly, with Goldman Sachs telling its traders on Thursday that while they would begin rotating staff in and out of the office in October, “we remain supportive of a collaborative and flexible environment, and encourage you to discuss the arrangements that work for you with your manager”.

On Wednesday, Troy Rohrbaugh, JPMorgan’s trading boss, and Marc Badrichani, sales and research head, told dozens of managing directors and executive directors that they were expected to be back at their desks by September 21, a person familiar with the situation told the Financial Times, confirming an earlier report by the Wall Street Journal.

The call to the office, which the duo framed in the context of falling Covid-19 rates and a new crop of analysts starting work, does not apply to those who are medically vulnerable themselves or have medically vulnerable people in their households, or to those with childcare obligations at home. 

Mr Rohrbaugh and Mr Badrichani also stressed that the bank would be monitoring the virus carefully and would reverse course if the situation deteriorated.

“It’s important to set the tone from the top, and with a new class of analysts coming in, we cannot not have a senior presence on the floor,” said a person familiar with the matter. “It was a message for the leaders, not the troops.” The edict relates to “a few hundred managers for a few thousand employees”, the person added.

Jamie Dimon, chief executive, who had emergency heart surgery in March, and most members of the group’s operating committee had been in the office all summer, the person added.

Those entering the bank’s building fill out a daily health questionnaire, as is common practice across Wall Street. JPMorgan also operates temperature screening, has spacing between desks and provides hand sanitisers.

Banks have generally been impressed with how smoothly their trading rooms migrated to home offices, kitchens and spare bedrooms, though some executives have stressed that the energy and collaboration of the trading room is impossible to replicate virtually.

Those concerns, and the desire to use established systems for compliance and monitoring staff, have made traders the highest priority for banks as they plan how many staff they can get into their buildings while keeping everyone physically separate — particularly when a small number of lifts must be used by thousands of staff.

Banks and other financial services groups are generally planning a more permanent switch to higher levels of remote working even after the pandemic passes.

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