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Goldman Sachs wants workers back in office 5 days a week—‘a stampede’ of other companies could follow, experts say

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Goldman Sachs headquarters in New York
Amir Hamja | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Goldman Sachs is asking employees to return to the office 5 days a week, according to Fortune, who published an interview with the investment firm's CEO David Solomon last week.

It comes five weeks after a botched attempt to get Goldman Sachs employees back to the company's headquarters in New York. When the firm re-opened its office on Feb. 1, after closing for a month due to the spread of the highly contagious Covid omicron variant, only about half of Goldman's 10,000 workers showed up to its HQ, Fortune reports. Goldman Sachs declined to comment further with CNBC Make It on their return-to-office plans.

Solomon has made his distaste for remote work known, even as other top-tier companies – Citigroup, Meta, UBS and Twitter – have embraced flexibility and are letting employees work from home on a regular basis. During a financial conference last year, Solomon called remote work an "aberration" that he wanted to correct "as quickly as possible." 

"I do think for a business like ours which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us and it's not a new normal," he added. 

As Covid cases and hospitalizations continue to plummet throughout the United States, will we see other companies demand workers return to the office full-time, or will hybrid setups reign supreme? CNBC Make It spoke with business and health experts about what workers can expect to see with return-to-office plans in the months ahead. 

More companies could ask workers back to the office full time

More than 90% of employers are planning to adopt a hybrid model this year, according to recent research from tech consulting firm Gartner – but researchers expect several high-profile companies to "change course" in the months ahead and demand that employees return to the office full-time, citing high turnover rates and a perceived loss of organizational culture.

Two years into the pandemic, more executives are angling to return to the office on a consistent schedule. Future Forum, Slack's research consortium, interviewed close to 11,000 knowledge workers in the United States, France and other countries in November and found that 42% of executives are working from the office 3-4 days a week compared to 30% of non-executives. What's more, 44% of executives working remotely said that they would prefer to work from the office every day, while just 17% of employees said the same. 

Now that one high-profile CEO – Solomon – has declared his intentions for a full return to office, however, more companies could be inspired to follow suit. 

"Most companies are watching what others are doing before committing to their RTO plans," Peter Cappelli, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, says. "Nobody wants to make the first move – but now that you see a large, well-known company say it's time to come back to the office, I think we'll see more of a stampede of others doing the same."

Being in an office full-time is 'much safer now'

Dr. Robyn Gershon, a clinical professor of epidemiology at the NYU School of Global Public Health, says employees can feel confident returning to the office without masking or keeping six feet apart from their colleagues as long as they're fully vaccinated against Covid.

According to Gershon, there's not much of a difference in virus exposure between working in an office three vs. five days a week. "Some people might want to ease back into their commutes, but the worst of this pandemic is over," she says. "Transmission rates for the virus are so low now, and vaccination rates are so high that going to the office full-time is much safer now than anytime in the last two years."

People with underlying health conditions and those who live with young, unvaccinated children or others who are vulnerable to serious illness should consider wearing an N95 mask in their office to protect them from secondhand exposure to the virus, she adds.

Gershon also recommends everyone mask up in crowded spaces and wash their hands throughout the day, too, but other than that, says there's no need for additional health precautions right now. 

It's important to note that Covid appears to be the least of employees' concerns about returning to the office. According to new findings from Pew Research Center, 61% of people working from home are doing so because they want to, even if their office is open. Fewer people say Covid is the main reason they want to work from home (42% now vs. 57% in 2020).

Why companies could walk back hybrid work promises

Executives have promoted different incentives for returning to the office including better collaboration, networking and connection between teams. But Cappelli says the real reason companies might push for a full return is much simpler: hybrid work is still new, and it's much easier for companies to stick to what they know.

"We've been learning to work remotely either part or all of the time on the fly during this crisis," Cappelli says. "There's a lot of moving parts that are difficult to manage, too, without being able to predict with full confidence what the consequences will be: What if employees don't agree on what days to come in, or how do you equally measure the performance of people who are remote vs. in the office, avoiding proximity bias?"

Companies might consider, he adds, either transitioning to be remote or in-office full-time to avoid such headaches. "Moving toward a hybrid workforce is pretty complicated to figure out, and nobody knows quite how well it works for an organization because it's still so new for most employers," Cappelli says. 

People working from home have said it's helped them maintain a better work-life balance, manage childcare responsibilities and be more productive, among other benefits. But such praises might not be enough to prevent companies from pushing a return to the office, Cappelli notes: "Just because employees want something, doesn't always mean they get it."

Check out:

Remote and hybrid jobs are attracting 7 times more applicants than in-person roles

How this corporate building's return-to-office campaign backfired spectacularly

Kim Kardashian's advice to women in business is getting some major backlash

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