Wednesday 29 July 2020 2:54 pm

Barclays urges staff back to the office as HSBC eyes September return

Barclays boss Jes Staley has indicated he wants employees to return to the office, as HSBC reportedly tells its staff they can work in Canary Wharf from September.

Speaking to Bloomberg TV today, Staley said: “It is important to get people back together in physical concentrations.”

He has previously said big city offices “may be a thing of the past”.

Read more: Barclays braces for pandemic blow with extra £1.6bn

However, today Staley seemed to indicate Barclays would not abandon the financial hubs. He said: “We also have a responsibility to places like Canary Wharf, like Manchester, like Glasgow.”

“We want our people back together, to make sure we ensure the evolution of our culture and our controls, and I think that will happen over time,” he added.

The Barclays chief said 60,000 employees were “working from their kitchen tables” but added another 20,000 were in offices, branches and call centres.

HSBC targets September return to Canary Wharf

The bank has told its staff they will not return to the office until September at the earliest, in a memo seen by the Evening Standard.

HSBC appears to want staff to return in September as City banks look to welcome staff back to offices
HSBC appears to want staff to return in September as City banks look to welcome staff back to offices (Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)

The bank said when it does make the move to head back to the office it will do so “on a phased basis”. It will prioritise bringing back colleagues “carrying the greatest risk working from home”.

Like Barclays, HSBC’s headquarters are based in Canary Wharf, which is readying for a return of up to three-quarters of its workforce.

Earlier this month just 7,000 of Canary Wharf’s 120,000 workers had returned to the office.

But HSBC is now reportedly reducing its social distancing rules down to one metre, which will allow more workers to return.

The HSBC memo reportedly said: “It will be to a limited number of buildings and will see less than 20 per cent of colleagues return to any single office. In some buildings, maintaining two-metre social distancing means it will be far less than 20 per cent.”

It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson encourages more people to return to work after four months of lockdown. The previous guidance had been to work from home where possible.

Canary Wharf offices may be half empty

However, some banks have ignored this advice with Natwest (formerly RBS) last week telling 50,000 employees that they could continue to work from home until next year.

Speaking to Reuters today, the leader of the City of London Catherine McGuinness said banks were saying capacity was likely to be between 40 and 50 per cent at best. This is due to the need to spacing desks out and limit public transport use to adhere to social distancing rules.

A number of office workers will find it easy to return to the City and Canary Wharf in September as schools reopen. But the reduced numbers will mean some of the district’s cafes and shops will shut for good.

The high street has shown slow signs of recovery but a number of chains are reporting that footfall remains low. Sandwich chain Pret A Manger has said sales are around 85 per cent lower than typical for this period due to the pandemic.

“We will see a ‘new normal’ gradually develop even after we have dealt with the virus,” McGuinness told Reuters, “but we are confident there is a place for the office for gathering people.”

Lloyds may reduce office space

Lloyds has also said it is exploring options to reduce its property footprint as its staff transition to remote working.

Canary Wharf banks are taking a variety of approaches to getting staff back to work - whether in offices or remotely
Canary Wharf banks are taking a variety of approaches to getting staff back to work – whether in offices or remotely (AFP via Getty Images)

In a memo to employees, first reported by the Sunday Times, Sinnott said “changes to the way we work” meant Lloyds would “need fewer buildings and different types of spaces” in future, signalling no return to normal for staff.

Earlier today Barclays reported that it had set aside £1.6bn to insulate itself against additional loan losses due to the pandemic.

Read more: Barclays’ bailout talks peppered with sexist language, court hears

The bank’s half-year pre-tax profit dropped from £3bn in the first half of 2019 to just £1.3bn in the first half of 2020. Its UK profit before tax plunged 76 per cent to £359m, missing analysts’ forecast of £491m.

Shares in Barclays fell six per cent in afternoon trading.

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