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JPMorgan Chase Recalls Some Employees Back To The Office

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And if you are like me, you have likely adopted some work-from-home habits during this pandemic - maybe a little more casual than you would be in the office. Well, some business leaders worry that productivity is down, among them JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Dimon is the longest-serving CEO of a major U.S. bank. And when he talks, people listen. Lately, he's been talking about the downside of working from home. He says, when people can't work together in person, a certain magic is missing. He calls it creative combustion. Here he is on MSNBC recently.

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JAMIE DIMON: There's a huge value to working together in terms of collaboration and creativity and training the younger people.

ZARROLI: This week, the bank let some of its sales and trading staff who wanted to return to work. They have to follow social distancing guidelines like taking temperature checks and sitting six feet apart.

Kathryn Wylde of the New York City Partnership talks to a lot of finance CEOs. She says most have allowed employees to work from home. But, like Dimon, many think office culture is taking a hit. Take training.

KATHRYN WYLDE: They've got young people for whom being in the mix and seeing how senior bankers behave has been a critical part of learning the business. It's a real loss not to have them be able to be part of that.

ZARROLI: When the pandemic hit, LA-based Hercules Investments kept a group of core staff in the office. Chief Operating Officer Loreal McDonald says the company takes precautions. People wear masks and sit six feet apart. But at a firm like hers, you can't always communicate through Zoom. People have to respond quickly to market developments.

LOREAL MCDONALD: That means that we are dependent upon one another, sometimes in a split second, in order to make decisions that will have a very significant impact not just on individual clients, but on the company overall.

ZARROLI: It's clear that many employees like the flexibility of working from home. In March, the Arizona medical equipment company where Ric Castillo worked as an analyst told him he could do his job at home.

RIC CASTILLO: If there are things that you can do at home and you can do at home better and in a time that works better with your balance, a modern, forward-thinking organization would be silly not to do that.

ZARROLI: But Stanford University's Nicholas Bloom says companies pay a price when workers can't congregate in person. Bloom co-authored a study of an overseas travel company. He says people at the company who were allowed to work at home got a lot more done.

NICHOLAS BLOOM: There are stories of just horrible distractions of people clipping toenails and bursting into tears and fights and shouting matches in the office. They said none of that happens at home.

ZARROLI: But that company's workers mostly performed rote tasks, such as answering customer calls. Like JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon, Bloom believes the innovation that drives growth at a company needs some in-person contact. Bloom says the best ideas get exchanged during casual encounters at lunch with colleagues or chatting before a meeting.

BLOOM: That kind of thing's actually missing off video calls, and it seems that that's actually really important for creativity.

ZARROLI: Bloom says the pandemic has shown that employees can work at home, but they need to return to the office sometimes, too. The challenge for companies is finding the right balance between the two while also keeping everyone safe.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.