The debate around the future of the workplace post-pandemic has only grown as firms are bringing back to offices their employees, many of whom want flexible arrangements moving forward, according to a discussion raised yesterday at the 2021 Finra Annual Conference.

The future of the workplace needs to be rethought, Eileen Murray, chair of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and former co-CEO of investment management firm Bridgewater Associates, said at the conference.

“Just two years ago, people were looking at offices as a strategic attraction for talent, particularly young people in terms of game rooms and so on and so forth,” she said. “And then we had the pandemic, and I think that thinking has to be rethought and work has to be reimagined.”

Murray said the solution is a hybrid system where workers are provided flexibility to be located elsewhere two or three days a week and then be required to come to the office on the other days.

“I think that hybrid approach is necessary to ensure that you retain your culture, your community, your collaboration, and ways of learning that are beyond a particular job function,” Murray said.

Seventy percent of top executives in the financial services industry believe that employees should come to the office at least three days a week — once Covid-19 isn’t a major threat, according to a survey conducted by PwC in November and December.

Employees, however, think otherwise. Only 20% of those who responded to the PwC survey believe they should come in at least three times a week, and 30% would work remotely every day if they were allowed.

JPMorgan reopened its U.S. offices on Monday to all employees, subject to an occupancy cap, in line with the firm’s plan to bring back most of its U.S. workforce to the office in July. Goldman Sachs told its bankers in the U.S. that they should return to the office in June. Bank of America and Wells Fargo plan to bring back some employees to their offices starting in September.

Bringing employees back to the office could be unpopular, Murray said. “I don’t envy CEOs that have to explain to employees why it’s not 100% [work from home], but I think most people will be reasonable."

Murray believes the adaptability of employees to working remotely during the pandemic will usher in more flexible work arrangements moving forward.

“If there is one positive thing from Covid, [it] is that [for] people who didn’t think flexibility in the workforce made sense, this is something that has convinced them that this could work well,” she said.

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