At $18,000 Per Banker, Cost of Returning to Wall Street Will Sting
A subway train passes trough a Wall Street subway station. (Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)

At $18,000 Per Banker, Cost of Returning to Wall Street Will Sting

Editor’s Note: No city is more important to America’s economy than New York, and none has been hit harder by the coronavirus. “NYC Reopens” examines life in the capital of capitalism as the city takes its first halting steps toward a new normal.

After three months in lockdown, Wall Street is getting ready to go back to the office. But keeping the workplace virus-free isn’t going to be cheap.

Air-conditioning systems need to be outfitted with better filters and bring in more outside air. Lids might have to be added inside bathroom stalls to avoid the spread of coronavirus-carrying toilet plume. Covered trash cans should be placed at entrances and exits for employees to dispose of masks.

At $18,000 Per Banker, Cost of Returning to Wall Street Will Sting

That’s just a few of the upgrades financial firms, along with much of the rest of corporate America, are expected to undertake. In all, the amount of money they spend for each employee to work in their office towers could jump as much as 50% because of coronavirus-related changes, according to an estimate by Deloitte Consulting.

“That stuff is not free and when you add it all up, it’s significant,” said Darin Buelow, who runs Deloitte’s global location-strategy franchise. However, “they’re going to do it because they want people to come back.”

According to Deloitte, companies typically spend $7,000 to $12,000 a year in occupancy costs per employee. So 10,000 employees could mean an extra $60 million a year in expenses tied to making sure their offices are ready and safe. The biggest U.S. banks all have at least that many on staff in the New York metro area alone.

Starting Monday, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. will begin the gradual process of bringing workers back. They’ll be among the 150,000 to 300,000 expected to return to Manhattan next week as the city enters the second phase of its reopening.

At $18,000 Per Banker, Cost of Returning to Wall Street Will Sting

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For many companies, the biggest expense will be tied to having extra personnel onsite to take employees’ temperatures when they enter the building or to assist workers who fall ill at the office. Many will also hire dedicated staff to roam the halls to make sure people aren’t sitting too close together, crowding up in conference rooms or walking around without their masks on.

Employers are required to provide masks and limit the sharing of objects such as laptops, telephones and writing utensils.

Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems might need to be upgraded. Many firms are considering improvements so that their buildings can bring in more outside air, rather than rely on recycled air to cool their offices.

“This crisis has required incremental investments,” Mark Mason, Citigroup Inc.’s chief financial officer, told investors at a conference earlier this month. The bank plans to start having a small percentage of employees come back in July. “We are at the early stages of returning to offices, opening up these cities and states and, to some extent, testing the resiliency of a return.”

Then there are the bathrooms.

In recent years, fancy hand dryers replaced disposable paper towels as a more sustainable option. With the coronavirus, that will need to change.

“Those things are not safe,” Buelow said. “The hand dryers can spread contaminated air all over the bathroom.”

A recent study also showed that toilet plume, or the aerosol droplets that can rise almost 3 feet when a toilet is flushed, can carry coronavirus particles. Lack of ventilation is also an issue.

That means companies should consider whether lids need to be installed to avoid potential infection, according to Regina Phelps, the founder of Emergency Management & Safety Solutions, which has been giving clients detailed checklists make sure their buildings are safe for reopening.

“This toilet plume is a major problem because there’s no lids on toilets,” she said. “Many high-rise buildings, they have toilets that have a lot of torque.” 

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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