Thousands of bankers have returned to their offices across some of Asia’s biggest financial hubs, stepping gingerly into a new normal of face masks, desk shields and closed canteens.
In Hong Kong, Citigroup Inc is planning to install plastic partitions in some work stations as it ramps up office staff.
At Bank of China’s Beijing hub, the staff kitchen is closed, forcing employees to take turns getting boxed lunches for their colleagues.
Morgan Stanley has recalibrated the elevator in its Hong Kong skyscraper for faster rides and fewer passengers.
Office workers show their health code on their smartphones to a guard at an office building in Beijing on April 10.
The office changes are a potential harbinger of things to come in London and New York, where many firms are waiting for infection rates to fall further before opening their office towers to non-essential staff.
Some bankers in Asia have expressed relief at returning to the office after weeks at home, even if back to work hardly means back to normal.
“Coming back into the office yesterday, there were a lot more personal interactions – within respectful distance,” said Anthony Davies, who heads the Hong Kong branch for Barclays Bank Plc, which increased its office staffing to 60% this week. “It reignites a positive environment for us to work in.”
China First China, as the original epicenter of the virus and the first to shut down, has boosted office staffing for several weeks, with few signs that the safety precautions will be removed anytime soon.
Bank of Communications Co, which employs about 87,000 people, ordered most staff back to the office in March, while other banks in Beijing have had most employees back since last month.
In Hong Kong, some of the world’s biggest banks are slowly welcoming employees back after the city eased many restrictions.
That’s in contrast with Singapore, the Southeast Asian financial hub that continues to report hundreds of cases a day, keeping most bankers at home.
Office workers in protective masks near the International Commerce Centre (ICC) in Hong Kong, May 6.
HSBC Holdings Plc said 30% of its Hong Kong staff can return as of Monday, according to a memo seen by Bloomberg News and confirmed by a bank spokeswoman.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc now has a third of its employees, or almost 600 people, in the office, a spokesman said.
By contrast, Morgan Stanley plans to allow New York employees to start returning to work next month, while JPMorgan Chase & Co said it doesn’t yet have a timeline for returning in the US finance hub. “Banks in Hong Kong and China are very well prepared for their staff to return to work, given that Covid-19 seems to be largely under control relative to the West,” said Benjamin Quinlan, chief executive officer of Quinlan & Associates, a strategy consultancy in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong suffered a setback yesterday with two new cases, ending a streak of 23 days without a local transmission of the virus.
Staff at Bank of Communications in Shanghai wear masks all day, and pass through an infrared temperature screen to enter the office.
In China, staff are generally required to show a health code on their phones, which tracks where they’ve been, says a banker in Beijing at CSC Financial Co.
For many, travel to Hubei, where the virus started in the city of Wuhan, is off limits, the banker said.
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