3 Years In Swing: Lessons From Life In A Temporary Office

Greater Texas FCU is opening a new headquarters in early 2021. Until then, executives are operating out of a swing space two miles from home.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Since early 2018, more than a dozen executives of Greater Texas FCU have worked in a swing space while the cooperative’s new HQ is under construction.
  • The short-term spacing strategy has allowed the credit union to test new remote work policies and learn valuable lessons to take to the new HQ.

Tammy Carter, Vice President of Human Resources, Greater Texas FCU

Greater Texas Federal Credit Union ($688.1M, Austin, TX) has operated from the same headquarters building since the 1980s. In the past three decades, the credit union has had a good run of growth; its hired more than a hundred new employees, added tens of thousands of members, and hundreds of thousands in assets. In the 22 years of 5300 Call Report data found in Callahan’s software, the credit union has added nearly $540 million in assets.  

But as the twenty-tens drew to a close, the credit union had to face facts: Greater Texas had outgrown its headquarters.  

“Every time we wanted to hire someone we had the same conversation,” says Tammy Carter, the vice president of human resources at Greater Texas. “Where are we going to put them?”

For a time, the credit union simply made room. Employees worked in traditional offices and cubicles as well as in meeting rooms. 

That approached addressed the immediate need; however, the Texas cooperative knew it needed a long-term solution. 

A Building For The Long-Term. A Swing Space For The Short.

Greater Texas’ current headquarters, dubbed “Lamar” for its street address, is a two-story, stone facility with a connecting branch. The credit union has added on to the building in the past, but the location is once again too small and, now, it’s dated. 

“You look at it and think, ‘Hello, the 80s called and it wants its bank building back,’” Carter says. 

Rather than expand Lamar again, Greater Texas decided a new location was the best path forward. However, finding land, drawing up plans, and building a new facility would take years, and the credit union needed a new space strategy now. It couldn’t put off hiring new employees, and it didn’t have a remote work policy. So, what could it do with its growing HQ staff?

The answer to that question came from A+ Federal Credit Union ($1.7B, Austin, TX). During a monthly meeting of local credit union CEOs, Howard Baker, the CEO of Greater Texas, learned A+ wanted to rent out the available office space in its headquarters building located slightly more than two miles from Lamar. 

The opportunity was clear: Greater Texas could move employees into this swing space and maintain the Lamar facility while searching for a permanent headquarters. 

After ruling out branching operations and considering possibilities such as moving full departments, it became clear that shifting executives to the swing space was the best choice.

“When we considered how disruptive the move would be, we recognized it would be the least disruptive for senior executives,” Carter says. 

So, in January 2018, Baker and 12 other executives moved two miles down the road into a swing space.   

Work In The Swing Space

When the executives moved into the swing space, Greater Texas was still looking for a corporate facility, which meant there was an element of uncertainty for the nomadic leaders.

“We didn’t know how long we would be working here,” Carter says. 

The credit union has found a new location and is slated to move into its new HQ building in the first quarter of 2021. If all goes as planned, the executives will have been working in the swing space for three years. In that time, they have learned a great deal about working relationships and communication. And, they’ve used the experience to implement new policies that will carry over to the new space. 

We want to give those who have questions the ability to ask in person. From a camaraderie standpoint, it’s important we make time to be there.

Tammy Carter, Vice President of Human Resources, Greater Texas FCU

For example, the swing space includes six offices and a series of cubicles. It’s an intimate environment that, according to Carter, has boosted idea-sharing among executives. 

“Collaboration is easy,” the HR exec says. “We can just bump into someone, ask a question or have a conversation. Those invariably led to other items.”

Between executives and staff, however, collaboration is more challenging. Carter oversees human resources and training — teams that both remain at Lamar — and drives to the HQ at least once weekly to meet with her employees. The credit union’s chief lending officer does the same.

“We go back and forth, but it’s not the same as being there and seeing people every day,” Carter says, adding that interactions are less organic, less casual than they might otherwise be.

The credit union is working diligently to ensure channels of communication remain open and executives don’t lose visibility. Execs frequently call or chat with team members to take a quick pulse  of morale and maintain conversational channels and head to Lamar every month for an all-staff meeting.

“Because there is a space divide between us, we want to give those who have questions the ability to ask in person,” Carter says. “From a camaraderie standpoint, it’s important we make time to be there.”

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As part of the swing space move, Greater Texas introduced for some positions a remote work policy that is acting as a test run for an eventual all-staff rollout once the credit union has moved into the new headquarters. That’s still a year away, but the credit union has already begun planning for the transition.  

“We don’t want to lose sight of the potential disruption ,” Carter says. 

To that end, Carter and the credit union are devising a communication plan to ensure everyone knows exactly what’s happening and why. There are the logistical challenges. Lamar employees are not moving in a like-for-like fashion. The new headquarters will not include a branch , which means the Lamar branch will remain operational for the time being. Finding a way to communicate that early and often will be paramount. 

For Carter, the swing space also has offered a valuable lesson in change management, one that will influence the credit union’s approach to future shifts in operations in the years to come.  

“Not everyone handles change the same way, even if it’s for the best or it’s unavoidable,” Carter says. “You might not think it’s going to be a big deal, but it will be. You are changing the norm, and you need to plan for that.”

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