Packed Canary Wharf office blocks could be consigned to the dust bin of history in the post-coronavirus era, the chief executive of Barclays (BARC.L) has suggested.
James ‘Jes’ Staley told journalists on Monday: “The notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past.”
Staley said there would “a long-term adjustment” to the COVID-19 pandemic that would likely lead to more remote and dispersed working.
He said it was “remarkable” that 70,000 Barclays staff were now working remotely, showing that it was possible to keep a complex organisation like a bank going even when not all together.
“We will find ways to operate with more distancing over a much longer period of time,” he said.
Barclays could use its bank branch network as mini-offices, Staley said, suggesting call centre workers and even investment bankers could be based out of branches.
Barclays’ Hong Kong office is set to be the first to reopen globally, followed by a wave of re-openings across Asia. Staley cautioned reopening would not mean all staff returning overnight.
“This is going to happen over a pretty long period of time,” he said. “This is not going to be a light switch.”
He added there would be practical limits to how many staff could return to its two buildings in Canary Wharf once strict lockdown restrictions are eased.
“How many people can work in this building if you limit the number of people in an elevator to two at a time? It’s that sort of thing,” he said.
Barclays was one of several banks that had to send home staff and deep clean its Canary Wharf office after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19 in early March.
The comments came on a call with journalists to discuss Barclays’ first quarter results. Barclays had a record quarter in its markets business and beat forecasts with revenue growth, but undershot profit expectations as it set aside £2.1bn to cover expected loan losses.
Staley said Barclays has not furloughed any of its staff under the government’s job retention scheme, saying all employees were needed “on hand” to help customers and clients manage the crisis.