An employee of the exchange uses a landline phone to access financial data on computer screens at the Bats Europe trading venue, the European arm of Bats Global Markets Inc., in London, UK.
Jason Alden / Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Commercial areas in banks have been immortalized in countless Hollywood films. Chaotic scenes from finance professionals, often on the phone and often yelling; Rows of desks and endless monitors convey very stressful situations in an industry where time is literally money.
While this stereotype contains a fiction, the images of densely populated, cave-like spaces are based on the truth. And in the era of Covid-19, all these hectic activities and tightly packed bodies naturally pose a major challenge – even more than in the typical group office. If banks are considering getting their employees back to work, retail spaces could soon see a dramatic makeover.
"We believe – and we believe we will see – that the rigidity of the planning and the shape of the retail space will be relaxed a little," Rocco Giannetti, managing director of the Gensler architectural firm, told CNBC. "Maybe the retail spaces don't have to be that big. Maybe they don't have to be that dense. Maybe the configurations don't have to be that linear, so let's start exploring what that might look like." he added.
Gensler is an expert in the design of office space for the financial services industry. The company has worked with a number of banks, including the design of the Bank of America Tower in New York's Bryant Park, which was completed in 2009. Gensler's other customers include JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, Nomura and Societe Generale.
Ease of communication has always been of vital importance when it comes to the design and layout of retail spaces. In recent years, however, banks have also focused on providing improvements around the retail sector, such as green spaces and coffee bars, to alleviate the everyday stress for retailers. This trend is likely to accelerate in the wake of Covid-19, especially as banks seek to recruit and retain talent in the highly competitive industry.
A broker reviews financial data on computer screens in the trading venue of ETX Capital, a contract for difference broker, in London, United Kingdom, on Friday June 9, 2017.
Jason Alden | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Giannetti and colleague Marisol DeRosa, director of strategy at Gensler, recently hosted a roundtable with representatives from leading financial institutions to discuss work-from-home guidelines and possible ways to get traders back into the office. A key issue was the smoother introduction of remote technology than expected and how this could play a role in more flexible work policies going forward.
"Before that, there was a lot of fear or hesitation about being the first financial institution to push untested technology on the retail floor," said Giannetti. "They learned that you know what [if] they tore the patch off and the technology works, and that's no longer a limitation."
DeRosa added that conversations with executives have recently shifted to focus on what flexibility might look like in the longer term. This includes, for example, reducing the risk of home trading guidelines and testing different workstation configurations on the trading floor instead of long rows of desk to desk.
The majority of bank employees were sent home in mid-March when the country was locked down. This included traders, which was previously thought impossible due to a variety of factors including regulatory concerns and special software that could only be accessed from the trading venue. But Wall Street had to adjust. Banks' trading volumes in the second quarter – including JPMorgan's record number – show they have adjusted.
An employee watches a newscast in the Panmure Gordon & Co. trading post in London, UK.
Matthew Lloyd I Bloomberg via Getty Images
The head of JPMorgan's corporate and investment bank recently announced to CNBC that it will be rolling out a rotation model in the near future, allowing employees to switch between days at the office and at home while also having the option to work remotely part-time. In New York, the company's buildings are occupied around 10% overall, while the retail stores are almost 30% occupied.
As more and more dealers return to the office, DeRosa found that short-term corrections such as employees being divided into different "teams" who are in the office at different times and plexiglass screens between workstations could crop up. A hub-and-spoke strategy could also be implemented in which dealers are located in several office buildings around a city center. Similar to other office spaces, longer term changes are likely to include more touchless technologies such as automatic doors and non-contact lights.
While home-based trading has proven successful and more flexible policies could be introduced in the future, Giannetti ultimately believes people will want to return to the office after the pandemic ends.
"When we have a choice, we feel like people want to return to the office, want to return to the trading floor, because there is no other way to reconnect with culture, community building and branding but through them personal experience, "he said.
– CNBC's Hugh Son contributed to the coverage.
Subscribe to CNBC PRO for exclusive insights and analysis as well as live business day programs from around the world.