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Largest US banks expect slow return to office for employees working from home

As parts of the global economy begin to slowly reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many big U.S. banks do not yet have firm timelines for when their employees can return to the office.

The 10 largest U.S. banks have more than 1 million employees in aggregate. Social distancing measures forced many of these workers to shift to remote setups over the past few months, but the industry has started weighing options for safely bringing employees back to offices.

The largest U.S. bank by assets, JPMorgan Chase & Co., has nearly 200,000 employees working from home. The company established a return to the office task force made up of business leaders and representatives from real estate, amenity services, technology, global security, human resources and communications to help locations establish plans for reopening, according to an email sent to employees on May 15.

The timing for returning to the office will vary by region, city and building, according to the email. When the company does decide its timeline, it hopes to give two to three weeks' notice so employees can be prepared and make arrangements for things like childcare and transportation. A phased approach for returning is currently underway in some offices in Asia.

On May 20, Bloomberg News reported that JPMorgan expects its offices to run at half capacity once lockdown measures ease.

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Bank of America Corp. transitioned more than 175,000 employees to work from home over a six-week period, Chairman, President and CEO Brian Moynihan said during the bank's annual shareholder meeting April 22.

"That means ensuring they have appropriate tools and resources and have the appropriate control protocols," Moynihan said. "To give you a sense of what that took, we deployed 90,000 laptops alone in the past 60 days."

Technology has played a vital role in ensuring the smooth transition from working in the office to working from home for many companies.

Citigroup Inc. saw a 300% increase of remote access usage in four weeks, according to a company spokesperson. Citigroup's technology team increased capacity to allow the majority of its 200,000 employees to work from home.

"This new capacity along with the dedication of our workforce to continue serving our clients during a time of great demand without missing a beat, gives us the luxury of time as we contemplate our return to the office," the spokesperson wrote in an email. "We expect our pace of returning to the workplace will be slow and measured."

According to a May 20 report from Bloomberg News, Citigroup is weighing the option of opening satellite offices outside New York City. The bank is considering short-term leases in Long Island and Westchester, N.Y. and New Jersey, but discussions are preliminary, Bloomberg reported.

Wells Fargo & Co.'s current operating model includes 200,000 employees working from home and maintaining safety measures in locations that remain open. The company plans to keep these measures in place through at least June 30.

"We do not yet know when our business-as-usual activities will resume. We are creating a thoughtful, phased plan for returning to the workplace, and we will use guidance from health experts to maintain a safe workplace for all employees," the company said in a statement.

At Truist Financial Corp., about 70% of employees are working from home, according to a bank spokesperson. The company will take a careful, phased and strategic approach to safely and slowly return to normal operations in its branches and offices, the spokesperson wrote in an email.

Truist has no timeline right now, but will make decisions based on expert guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others based on circumstances in each market, according to the email.

While most large banks have not given specific dates for when employees could potentially head back to the office, Capital One Financial Corp. plans to keep most of its employees working from home through at least Sept. 7, American Banker reported on May 5, citing an internal memo written by Chairman and CEO Richard Fairbank. In the memo, he promised to give employees at least six weeks' notice when the company decides to begin reopening offices.