Maintaining aspects of a flexible work environment while encouraging digital collaboration and communication can strength credit union teams even after offices re-open.
In the first days of the coronavirus pandemic, credit unions across the country faced enormous business continuity challenges as state and local governments initiated shutdowns to “bend the curve” and slow the spread of COVID-19. That initial scramble has given way to a new normal—a hybrid work environment, where flexibility and resilience are paramount to ensure CU workers can maintain productivity, effectively serve members and stay sane in the process.
With the crisis poised to drag into next year, CU leadership must consider how remote business operations can continue for months if not years into the future. Here are five core tips that $8 billion Patelco Credit Union has learned through managing the crisis.
Don’t wait. Invest now in IT.
Northern California was one of the first regions to experience community spread, and Patelco leadership realized that a single infection could shut down its call center of more than 80 agents, let alone back-office processing at its headquarters and its branches. Patelco recognized the need to scale its IT infrastructure and network, including sourcing and deploying new hardware and software for remote working, all while maintaining high cybersecurity standards. Social engineering threats increase as workers rely on virtual communication. Train remote employees on common hacker tactics, including the use of fake invoices or phishing emails stuffed with links to download malicious software. New IT environments also must have the right end-point and network security tools, including data loss prevention and encryption standards with all the necessary controls in place from the start.
Business continuity assessments are a process, not a means to an end.
Not only has COVID-19 forced CU to reimagine how they support their workforces, that same thinking must extend to members. Patelco has experienced massive shifts in traffic across its operations. Some members are reluctant to return to branches, increasing call-center volume and digital traffic. As a result, Patelco continued to re-architect its network and security tools to support changing member needs. The IT infrastructure must be nimble and shift with those needs while maintaining scalability and resilience. This includes ensuring data bottlenecks are managed from the corporate level down to the branch environment, including shifting to software-as-a-service models and leveraging hybrid-cloud environments that use a mix of public, private and owned data centers.
Patelco has accelerated a program to provide member communication via two-way SMS, or text messaging. That workstream is planning additional capabilities to support members in new and enhanced ways such as SMS-to-video and chatbots, to help support the shift to more digital interactions.
Retrain your existing workforce to match member needs.
With Patelco’s 37 branches experiencing a drop-off in foot traffic, and consequently, a dramatic spike in calls and digital usage, Patelco quickly retrained part of its existing branch workforce in tandem with enhancing the contact center software to support those newly remote workers. Patelco transitioned one or two tellers at each branch to handle member calls and emails. Patelco now maintains more than 120 remote agents handling the pandemic-related volume, up from 80. This strategy is being instituted across the CU as work continues to shift. More recently, the volume of mortgages Patelco handles has exploded, requiring another reallocation of the workforce to ensure the CU can meet the expectations of its members.
Create a culture of resourcefulness with an agile mindset.
The crisis has also forced Patelco team members to quickly adopt cloud-based applications, especially collaboration tools, including Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and SharePoint. But technology by itself is not enough. Team members must be encouraged to be proactive while offering them easily accessible, intuitive tools, empowering teams and individuals alike to figure things out as they go. With effective agile methods where no question goes unanswered, communication can become real-time and collaborative.
Maintaining culture is worth extra effort.
Pre-pandemic, few employees had experience working remotely. The executive team now takes care to have daily dialogues, typically over video conference, with their respective vertical teams. That ethic also extends to recruiting and hiring. Patelco has adopted new HR processes to interview and hire new teammates entirely virtually, including transitioning previously in-person initiation meetings to virtual events, which surprisingly have earned better ratings in post-event surveys.
Patelco leadership also encourages maintaining usual daily business activities as much as possible, including hosting monthly manager meetings along with regular all-team meetings. Conversely, maintaining a positive corporate culture means ensuring that remote workers can break away from work. Work with team members to ensure they don’t get caught in the cycle of starting earlier and working later—an easy trap to fall into without the regular daily commute and personal events that filled off-hour schedules prior to COVID-19.
This hybrid work environment may not go away when everyone can return to the office or branch. Many CUs see value in maintaining aspects of a flexible work environment while encouraging digital collaboration and communication. As team members return, Patelco is reconfiguring conference rooms to make collaboration easier and simpler, including adding more and larger screens to ensure those joining remotely are highly visible. By putting in the work now to foster community, culture and improved business processes through new digital tools and policies, credit unions may find themselves stronger coming out of the crisis than going in. cues icon
Kal Majmundar is SVP/chief technology officer at $8 billion Patelco Credit Union based in Dublin, California. He is responsible for leading the technology function across the CU, which includes the alignment of strategic priorities across all lines of business.