As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic started to impact the U.S., banks were communicating to their customers that they will remain open for business, though with significant operational changes in place. For starters, banks closed their walk-in lobbies or established appointment-only policies for customers, reviewed headcount and lowered staffing levels by directing employees to work remotely (teleworking) to practice social distancing. Teleworking is a big change for community banks that normally rely on “face-to-face” business. As a result of COVID-19, the majority of community banks are making their initial foray into the concept of telework. From both an HR and manager’s perspective, telework necessitates additional levels of oversight and concern, since this change in environment can lead people to change their work behaviors.
Tips for Managing and Engaging Employees Working Remotely
Communicate the goal of telework. During today’s COVID-19 crisis, the goal should be to keep your employees and customers as safe as possible by following social distancing and other guidelines set by the CDC. While the rationale seems obvious, communicating this and making it relevant to your employees is an opportunity to reinforce your bank’s values and expectations.
Over-communicate. Especially for banks whose employees are always in the office, the sudden change can feel jarring. Implementing practices to encourage employee communication as much as possible will help them feel connected to their team. Remind them of the various tools available to enhance communication; consider implementing weekly check-ins. Discuss the challenges of working remotely and what support the team or department members can provide each other.
Identify any new technology needed to accommodate remote work. The objective is to enable your employees to have as close to normal working conditions as possible during the current crisis. Provide monitors, headsets, webcams and other tools your employees are accustomed to having day-to-day. Consider adding things like an instant messaging service or video calling service (such as Skype or GoToMeeting) for virtual customer or staff meetings.
Provide continuous feedback. Take the opportunity to ensure employees feel empowered to be as productive as they are in the office. Actively look for service or operational gaps resulting from telework, then be responsive and creative with solutions.
Set expectations for work hours. Even if your company is usually flexible with work hours, communicate the expectations for teleworkers during this time. Some employees may have a hard time resisting the urge to multitask with personal obligations while working remotely.
Share ideas on how to best communicate with customers. Someone may come up with a good idea but needs a way to share it, or the positive impact could be negated. In these situations, you may want to assign someone in each department the responsibility to gather/disseminate work improvement ideas. For example, this could include tips on how to stay in contact with customers so they don’t feel a shift in the level of service you’re providing.
Support individual needs as much as possible.Encourage team members to communicate any special situations they might be facing as they work from home that require flexibility or schedule revisions. This may include providing care for children or assisting them with various online school activities. If bank operations won’t be negatively impacted, banks should consider providing flexible options to lead to a “win-win” situation.
Check with your benefits providers about free resources and services. Benefit companies are in a unique position to offer support as employers and employees deal with questions and concerns over healthcare coverage, financial wellness and more. Wellness videos, financial classes and even meditation apps are potentially available … just ask!
Ideas to help teleworkers retain sanity and a sense of purpose. Dedicate one specific quiet area for working from home. Not everyone has a home office! If possible, try to make it look like a professional space by furnishing it with things from your onsite desk. Maintain a routine similar to your regular work schedule. Start and end your workday at the same times you normally would, and schedule time for breaks and lunches by putting them on your calendar.
Finally, it is important to continually communicate (and over-communicate) both internally and externally. Revisit your company’s mission and values, and reiterate the importance of maintaining productivity and the level of service your bank customers have come to expect. The way to ensure successful implementation of remote work during this difficult time is for employers, with the support of management and HR leaders, to cultivate a culture of trust and compassion. These things are always important, but all the more so now in a world that is so upended. The pandemic will end eventually, and remote work will be around much longer, so employers need to be willing to learn from this experience.