The Tokyo offices of the biggest Wall Street banks are planning to split staff into groups and drawing-up plans to keep them physically segregated for weeks at a time as the financial sector braces for a major outbreak of the coronavirus in Japan.
Although different banks — including Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs — are devising slightly different “split operation” strategies, the broad aim is constant: to confine any intra-company epidemic that does strike a department.
Efforts at JPMorgan involve dividing staff across different parts of the business into an A and B team, according to people familiar with plans. One will work from home for two weeks while the other will continue to work in the main Tokyo office during that time. At the end of that period, they will switch but under strict conditions that members of the A and B teams have no physical contact. The two-week period is based on the presumed incubation period of the virus.
Another large US bank is planning to make each switch at the end of one-month stints, according to people familiar with the plans.
Other banks, including Morgan Stanley and BoA, are moving to split operations with three groupings. One group will work in the main office, one from home and the other will base itself in the company’s “business continuity planning” sites — emergency facilities that, in most cases, were envisaged coming into use in the aftermath of a major Tokyo earthquake. Most of those sites are in the outskirts of Tokyo, though some are much further away in Osaka.
All of the banks declined to comment.
A senior staff member at one global financial group said: “There is a lot of planning going on around these split operations, on the basis that we may have to have something like this in place for perhaps months. At the moment we are practising rotating in one- or two-day stints, with an assumption that could switch up to the two-week rotation system any time now.”
The measures have been put in place amid heavy criticism of the Japanese government’s handling of the virus outbreak, and an explicit plea by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for companies to let staff work remotely if possible. That edict has been met, however, by a Japanese corporate culture that has only recently and reluctantly embraced the concept of remote working. Many Japanese companies do not actually have the systems in place to allow it.
On Wednesday, measures to prevent the virus spreading further became more draconian, with schools in the northern island of Hokkaido closing, sports and cultural events being cancelled and the announcement by one property developer that a virus carrier had visited a building in the heart of Tokyo financial district that contains the offices of global law firms, Carlyle and SMBC Nikko Securities.