The call from Morgan Stanley's human resources office went out late Monday: Two Vavacked employees had Covid - 19, and workers on the 15th floor of the firm's Times Square headquarters should remain away until the area could be cleaned.
But some staffer showed up on Tuesday anyway and missed the message. Others asked if the company would start mandating masks. After all, you have to be vaccinated for being in the building.
The episode, described by a person familiar with the matter shows the swirl of confusion across Wall Street as banks summon employees back to their towers amid the spread of Covid's highly transmissible delta variant. As the mutation shows its ability to jump between vaccine treated people, executives are struggling on how to calibrate responses. Policies across an industry that is already split on returning to work, are diverging more than ever.
As it stands, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase Co. the staunchest advocates of restaffing skyscrapers have largely stuck to their earlier plans after requiring employees to come back most of the time. Morgan Stanley is far more cautious - alone among peers in mandating vaccines to enter offices and refraining from setting a deadline to return. A growing number of other rivals are enacting new deadlines and delaying the implementation of previous safety measures.
The fractures reflect two views. Some may see little reason to rush back to offices after Wall Streeters proved they can earn outsized profits working from home. But there's also an intense anxiety in the upper ranks that traders and dealmakers - known for crosstalk over rows of desks and an endless appetite for meetings - can't do their jobs remotely forever.
'This is an industry where the magic and energy happens in the office, it happens on the trading floor, it happens with customers, says Rose Gailey, a partner and world manager for organizational acceleration and culture shaping at Heidrick Struggles. 'It's one of those line-in-the-sand moments for CEOs. It is certainly not an easy one.
That line has moved a lot in the recent days as major firms like BlackRock Inc., Wells Fargo Co. Citigroup Inc. and Jefferies Financial Group Inc. shifted policies after watching the data roll in on delta's spread. In the industry's lower rungs, many people worried about the ability of vaccines to head off life-threatening illness are still comforted by the ability of vaccines to head off vulnerable children at home.
On Thursday, news broke that BlackRock and Wells Fargo had to push back plans for U.S. staff to return to office after about one month of October. Last week, Citigroup reinstated a mask mandate for U.S. employees, asking them to cover their faces when they're not at their desks or eating in the cafeteria. And Jefferies, the investment bank that lost its chief financial officer to complications from the virus early in the pandemic, told staff to get vaccinated before coming back.
'We have been hearing from many of you in regards to your safety and health, Jefferies Chief Executive officer Brian Friedman and President Richard Handler told employees on July 29 in a memo. 'And we concluded that the best strategy for now is to only let on people who are fully vaccinated into Jefferies' offices.
The delta variant almost certainly contributed to the 40 cases of Covid diagnosed among staff, including two short hospitalizations during the month, the pair wrote.
Jamie Dimon has failed to hit Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan's David Solomon. While both banks require staffers to share their vaccination status, neither firm requires workers to get the shot. The companies still allowed vaccinated employees to walk around their towers maskless, although JPMorgan has been considering changing that policy according to people familiar with the matter.
Solomon, 59, and Dimon, 65, both thrive on the Wall Street culture of in-person meetings, according to people familiar with their management styles. Indeed, Dimon's affection for gathering was on public display this week as he and senior deputies conducted an annual listening tour to visitors throughout the country.
This branch has to be staffed, Dimon said this week in an interview with the SiouxFalls.Business in South Dakota, referring to a new local branch. 'The Zoom Land, Zoom World, does not work as well for apprenticeships, for teaching, for creative combustion, for management, for idea generation, for learning a lot. Inside Goldman's headquarters, positive test results have cropped up across various floors in recent weeks, people familiar with the matter said. The firm generally alerts infected contacts of close contacts. It doesn't require vaccinated staff to quarantine after being exposed, leaving some wondering whether more should be done? U.S. public health guidelines recommend that vaccinated people get tested and wear masks in public indoor settings after exposure. Goldman declined to comment on the matter.
Bank executives also have to consider the fraught U.S. political landscape as they craft their politics. As Dimon's tour underscores, they have operations in far-flung communities, including some strictly opposed to masks, lockdowns and pressure to get vaccinated.
While vaccination hesitancy remains low in Montana, Wyoming, Arkansas and Mississippi - states, it's common in counties across Pennsylvania, Michigan where JPMorgan laid a branch presence this past month. Goldman Sachs, for its part, is looking to expand operations in New York - where vaccination rates trail Texas and Florida.
Despite Morgan Stanley's cautious approach, its handling of the situation this week added to consternation among staffers. CEO James Gorman recently exerted some pressure to come back, saying he was "very disappointed" if people weren't there by Labor Day in early September.
'If you want to get paid New York rates, you work in New York City - none of this 'I'm in Colorado, working in New York and getting paid like I'm sitting in New York City, Gorman said at an investor conference in June.