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'Be back by Labor Day': CEO issues sternest warning yet for return to work

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Some Wall Street workers got the bluntest message yet about the return to work: Be back by Labor Day or "we'll have a different kind of conversation," warned James Gorman, chairman and CEO of investment giant Morgan Stanley.

“If you can go to a restaurant in New York City, you can come in to the office, and we want you in the office,” said Gorman, whose firm's wealth management division ranks the third largest in the U.S. by assets. He outlined his posture in remarks during an investing conference webcast on Monday.

"[By] Labor Day, I’ll be very disappointed if people haven’t found their way into the office — and then we’ll have a different kind of conversation," he said.

Gorman also said that employees continuing to work in parts of the country with a lower cost of living should not expect to still draw their big city salaries.

“If you want to get paid New York rates you work in New York,” he said. “None of this 'I’m in Colorado and working in New York and getting paid like I’m in New York'. Sorry, that doesn’t work,” Gorman said.

Physical proximity to co-workers is important for creativity, collaboration, and intern training through example and observation, Gorman stressed.

The company has invited workers back and will use a hybrid model over the summer as employees manage issues like child care, such as needing to be home with children not in summer camp. Employee situations will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, he said.

Gorman is not alone in persuading employees to get back to their desks. David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs, called working from home an "aberration," and further stirred the waters last week by requiring employees to report their vaccination status to the company by a noon deadline.

At a CEO summit last month, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase said remote work "doesn’t work for those who want to hustle. It doesn’t work for spontaneous idea generation. It doesn’t work for culture,” he told a Wall Street Journal online conference.

As vaccinations have rolled out, consumers are venturing out to restaurants, events and travel again — and business leaders are eager to nudge their workforce back to something closer to pre-pandemic operations.

Policies and executive stances vary by industry, roles, and geography. While many financial firms are following a similar path as Morgan Stanley, most tech companies are taking a lighter approach.

Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai said most Googlers will work in the office three days a week and 20 percent would continue to work remotely. Following employee backlash, Uber is considering relaxing its three-day a week policy and allowing some team members to continue to work remotely, Business Insider reported. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said remote work is “the future” and announced earlier this month that nearly all employees can work remotely indefinitely with manager approval.