If you’re interested in the future of remote work, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has been a boss to watch.
His company is, after WeWork, the largest tenant of office space in New York City, where workers have yet to return to their cubicles in any significant numbers. He’s a revered Wall Street executive whose every remark is widely read and taken seriously. And he has been, up to now, relatively pessimistic about working from home—a phenomenon that, if it persists at current levels after the pandemic subsides, would eventually mean the end of the American city as we know it. (The bank employs 37,000 people in the New York metro area.)
So when Dimon delved into the topic again on Wednesday in his annual letter to shareholders, it was instant news. Here’s what he said:
• Generally speaking, we envision a model that will find many employees working in a location full time. That would include nearly all of the employees in our retail bank branches, as well as jobs in check processing, vaults, lockbox, sales and trading, critical operations functions and facilities, amenities, security, medical staff and many others.
• Some employees will be working under a hybrid model (e.g., some days per week in a location and the other days at home).
• And a small percentage of employees, maybe 10%, will possibly be working full time from home for very specific roles.
If that sounds like a moderate change for the bank’s vast office portfolio, which underpins Manhattan property tax rolls, think again: “We will quickly move to a more ‘open seating’ arrangement … for every 100 employees, we may need seats for only 60 on average. This will significantly reduce our need for real estate.”
But wait … think again, again: JP Morgan is still committed to building a whole brand-new, 2.5 million square foot skyscraper in Midtown, with 12,000 to 14,000 employees. (They better, having committed an act of civic and environmental vandalism by demolishing the 52-story, LEED Platinum, Natalie de Blois–designed, high-modernist skyscraper that once occupied the site.) That amounts to almost 200 square feet per worker, give or take—a ratio that would buck a decade-long trend toward less office space per employee.
And in fact, Dimon does not sound like he particularly likes remote work in and of itself. He writes:
• Performing jobs remotely is more successful when people know one another and already have a large body of existing work to do. It does not work as well when people don’t know one another.
• Most professionals learn their job through an apprenticeship model, which is almost impossible to replicate in the Zoom world. Over time, this drawback could dramatically undermine the character and culture you want to promote in your company.
• A heavy reliance on Zoom meetings actually slows down decision making because there is little immediate follow-up.
• And remote work virtually eliminates spontaneous learning and creativity because you don’t run into people at the coffee machine, talk with clients in unplanned scenarios, or travel to meet with customers and employees for feedback on your products and services.
So: Is Manhattan dead or what? The New York Times used Dimon’s letter as Exhibit A in a top-of-website article warning shrinking office space needs could “crush landlords.” The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, took it the other way: “Jamie Dimon Says JPMorgan Won’t Go Remote After the Pandemic.”
In conclusion: Some things will change, others not so much.