Article

Facility Solutions: Keeping Sane While Sanitizing

piggy bank wearing a mask with coronavirus illustrations
Independent Facilities & Real Estate Consultant
Paul Seibert Consulting

5 minutes

Here are considerations for branches and ATMs, plus a reminder to look out for staff’s emotional well-being.

I am no expert on the COVID-19 virus. While fearful of near-term consequences to family, friends and community, I am highly optimistic about the future. The pathway through this pandemic will be anything but easy. On the way to the other side, we will learn a lot about how to provide an exceptional member experience virtually—and also through our physical locations. 

How we and our members act in physical places must change to reduce the infection curve and keep us as safe as possible. These are scary times in which we must continue to serve our members and keep staff healthy and productive.

We all know what to do personally, but it never hurts to be talking about the key actions to take these days: thoroughly wash our hands, keep six to 10 feet apart, cover our mouths if we cough, not touch our faces, self-quarantine and get tested if we have symptoms, and sanitize all surfaces.

So from a facilities and facilities staffing standpoint, what do credit unions do?

Staff, as many as possible, should be working from home for physical separation, to provide childcare and schooling, and to build family strength. This is a huge opportunity to understand how work-from-home can impact your credit union in terms of enhancing staff satisfaction and work/life balance, reducing your carbon footprint and downsizing facility needs long term. 

Like restaurants across the nation that have replaced seated dining with take-out only, many credit unions have closed their lobbies and continue service only through their drive-throughs. For those using tubes from the drive-through kiosk to a teller, the sanitation process will be important. If you have recently installed ATMs with video capabilities, now would be a good time to activate the system. 

Restricting access to the lobby has a security advantage as well. Wearing masks in financial institutions is acceptable at present, which increases the potential for robbery. Closing access to the lobby eliminates this danger. 

Some credit unions are also limiting the number of hours they are open for business. This reduces potential virus exposure and allows more time when the branch could be thoroughly cleaned.

If branches are open or when they reopen, cleaning them is more important than ever. At the most basic level, this includes regularly cleaning workstations and items we touch, using products known to kill the coronavirus. Branch staff should also clean their work surfaces but must add to their usual duties the cleaning a few times a day of surfaces used by members, such as door handles, counters, waiting chairs and tables and restrooms. Surfaces like teller/member service representative counters, desks and conference tables should be sanitized after every use.

ATMs, both walk-up and drive-through, should be cleaned regularly, as should the screens and brochure racks at your information kiosks. We know money is dirty and must ensure that staff wash their hands thoroughly after handling coin or currency. (Staff can encourage members to do so as well.) It also is a good idea to shut down your water fountain, if you have one, and offer small bottles of water to anyone who asks.

The next level to sanitizing falls on your maintenance firm. This firm’s crew now needs to clean walls and floors where a virus might linger. Ask your provider how it is handling the situation with all of its clients. If the response is not robust, work to enhance what will be provided. 

Your HVAC system circulates air that may contain the virus. While the lifespan of airborne virus remains debatable, it would be prudent to talk with your HVAC contractor about enhancing your filters to reduce potential pathogens.

Members can help keep facilities clean while making themselves comfortable. When you are open, provide hand-sanitizing wipes outside the entry, inside the entry, in the waiting area, at the teller/MSR stations, in conference rooms and at desks. If possible, provide a dispenser of hand sanitizer and/or wipes next to the ATMs.

While the coronavirus is a widely accepted cause of change and social discomfort right now, we need to still offer a positive member and staff experience for members. That experience must make staff and members feel safe, optimistic and good. The biggest tool in this is communications. Does each member of your staff have an elevator speech about the measures you are taking? Have you shared this message on your web site and are you updating it regularly with positive thoughts about the future? Place at your entry notices about your directives concerning sanitation and social distancing. Consider repeating these at various points of staff and member contact.

Staff may have concerns that cannot be resolved with disinfecting wipes or by staying home. They may fear that they or a member of their family might catch the virus, and that this could impact their income. They may also be worried about school closures and lack of childcare, safe grocery shopping, or the death of someone they know. This is where your employee assistance program comes in. The same people that counsel employees after a branch robbery can talk with staff about their virus fears or consult with a manager about a troubled employee. Some businesses are asking EAP providers to visit their facilities, but this puts the EAP provider in a difficult position. It’s better to set up video conferences with individuals or groups, as this is safer, faster and can be recorded for future reference.

I mentioned at the onset of this column that while I’m fearful for the health of many people, I also believe there a glimmer of silver lining in all this disruption and fear short of bringing the world together to fight a common enemy. I do see a big opportunity to accelerate remote banking and gain acceptance from previously weary members. What if you reenergize efforts to teach members how to use remote banking or reach out via the internet and post a YouTube video as they wait in branches? Can you take more applications and close more loans online or over the phone? Does your call center team need additional training? 

The bad news is we have more challenges in front of us. The good news is that the spread of the virus can be significantly reduced by individual and organizational action. And, this difficult period will be over in the not-to-distant future.

Paul Seibert, CMC, is an independent facilities and real estate consultant under Paul Seibert Consulting, Seattle.

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