As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, more banks are asking their employees to stay home and work.
Capital One Financial Corp. asked employees who could do so to begin working remotely effective March 12. JPMorgan Chase & Co. asked its managers around the world to allow employees to work from home, where possible, less than a week later.
“We understand that this may be a disruptive decision, but we believe that is in the best interests of our associates and our communities,” said Capital One Chairman and CEO Richard Fairbank in an internal memo. “And it will create more space and distance for those who still need to come into work.”
Some employees — those in customer-facing positions, for example — can’t work from home. But remote work can keep others safe and enable in-branch workers to better practice so-called social distancing, helping to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus while still keeping the business running.
The pandemic promises to disrupt all workplaces, at least temporarily. Yet, few banks are prepared for this mode of work. Directors and executives responding to Bank Director’s 2018 Compensation Survey indicated less than one-third offered telecommuting options to at least some of their employees.
So, what do banks need to know about putting a remote-work plan in place? To find out, Bank Director reached out to a few banks to see how their telecommuting program has evolved.
Ensure a secure workplace
Memphis, Tennessee-based Triumph Bank limited telecommuting to its mortgage division before the pandemic hit, and it was a natural place to start when the $837 million bank began implementing social-distancing measures.
Triumph doesn’t have a set policy in place for remote work, but it has established guidelines — starting with ensuring that the employee’s workplace is safe from a data security perspective. The bank doesn’t want sensitive information easily accessed by an employee’s spouse, child, roommate or anyone visiting that person’s home.
With that in mind, the bank asked loan officers and some loan processors to work from home in response to the pandemic — a decision made, for the processors, based on each employee’s at-home environment. “You evaluate each situation: Does [the employee] have an area that they can work from at home that is a secure spot, where you don’t have to worry about customer information, [and] they won’t be distracted by young children or a spouse,” says Catherine Duncan, the bank’s vice president of human resources. Those factors are taken into consideration. “We were able to send those [employees] home, and we separated everybody else.”
Port Angeles, Washington-based First Northwest Bancorp is allowed to examine employees’ at-home workspaces to ensure data security, if needed. The $1.3 billion bank’s remote-work policy also outlines equipment usage, and what to do if something goes wrong — if the internet goes down, for example. “Whatever that is, expectations of you as an employee, what you’re expected to do at that moment,” says Chief Human Resources and Marketing Officer Derek Brown.
Get the technology in order
TAB Bank Holdings was able to shift to remote work quickly — from about 10% of staff roughly three weeks ago to 96% as of March 18. The $827 million digital bank unit operates out of one location: its Ogden, Utah headquarters.
The fact that the bank has digital onboarding in place for loans and deposits, and moved from paper-based processes five years ago, enabled it to move rapidly.
“It was really just a matter of setting up VPNs and machines, because the workloads are the same no matter where you sit,” says President Curt Queyrouze. A VPN is a virtual private network, which allows the user to send and receive data as if their computer were operating on a private network.
Following the bank’s disaster recovery meeting about the pandemic almost a month ago, staff identified where they needed more VPN licenses, and which employees lacked a personal computer or access to the internet at their home. This gap wasn’t limited to older employees; younger workers tend to rely on smartphones when they’re not in the office.
In response, TAB Bank ordered $400 laptops to distribute to select employees and granted stipends so staff could access the internet at home. That early move was critical — Queyrouze says a later trip to purchase a few more laptops came up empty, as stores wrestled with demand.
Banks need to consider all the technology required by the employee. For example, Duncan says Triumph Bank updated its payroll system so employees can now clock in remotely. That’s necessary for those that are eligible for overtime pay.
Enable communication between employees and teams
Technology facilitates communication and collaboration. Both TAB Bank and First Northwest use Microsoft Teams, a communication and collaboration platform tied to Office 365.
“To the extent that [employees] have video capabilities on their laptop or desktop [computer], we’re really encouraging them to use those so that we can see each other and feel more connected,” says Queyrouze. “We’re finding that it actually makes a difference.” He regularly emails staff, and they’re clearly communicating tasks that need to be accomplished as the situation evolves. “We have some employees whose actual work activity is going down because of reduced activity in some of our areas; for instance, loan demand’s down,” he says. “We’re trying to be purposeful about getting them engaged in other projects.”
Enabling communication is particularly critical for employees at this uncertain time.
“It’s been so fast moving that I’ve been just working to create communications and a sense of security for our employees,” says Brown. The situation is evolving rapidly, as new guidance comes from government agencies, legislative and executive bodies pass new rules, and banks work to digest it all and react appropriately for their employees, customers and communities. “We’re meeting every day to assess the situation.”
Teresa Tschida, a senior practice expert at Gallup, recommends setting clear expectations for staff, communicating frequently and gaining feedback along the way. Great managers “help people know what’s expected,” she says. And in a period of intense uncertainty — as schools and businesses close, and people are asked to isolate themselves in their homes — the daily grind of work can be a source of comfort.
“If done right, management and the company itself can be a respite from some of the stuff that we’re facing in our inboxes, or with our families and whatnot,” she says. “At least with our companies, we feel well taken care of.”