It seemed like a simple enough strategy to BECU executives: encourage more work-at-home employees to temper the growth of its physical presence as the Seattle-based credit union grew.
When BECU ($9.7B), formerly Boeing Employees Credit Union, actually launched a remote workforce pilot program in 2007, the credit union encountered challenges in shifting from an in-person work place culture to one that embraces virtual employees, says remote workforce manager Nathan Hickman.
“BECU has been the type of organization where you meet face-to-face, decisions are made, things get done, and it’s really nice to have everybody in the room,” Hickman says. “But as we move closer to this virtual model, face-to-face becomes less a possibility. Culturally speaking, there has to be shift in things as simple as the way you view a meeting.”
After a successful pilot program that transitioned about a dozen of BECU’s more than 1,000 employees to a work-from-home situation, roughly one-third of BECU’s contact center and support staff now works from home, including 16% of its full time employees and about 10% of its part-time employees. It’s a remote workforce of about 140 employees.
BECU chose to increase its remote workforce for several reasons. First, it wanted to create a more sustainable footprint, reducing employee commutes. As part of its long-term facilities plan, BECU sought to rein in costs of growing a physical presence as it grew its business. It wanted to become a preferred employer as more employees were starting to expect to be able to work remotely. Finally, BECU wanted to establish stronger business continuity in the event of natural disasters or unexpected events that would require more flexible operating hours.
“We tried not to create something that was too burdensome,” says Hickman. “We didn’t have a large project plan. We definitely made some missteps and learned a lot of things. All the remote workforce employees recognize that it’s a privilege, not a right.
BECU’s remote workforce employees have proven even more productive than its in-office staff, which face workplace distractions, and report they are pleased with their work-life balances. They report fewer sick days and have lower turnover rates. Most of BECU’s remote workers work for the contact center, back office support, IT, or in lending, but other departments are slowly opening up to the idea of sending more workers home.
The credit union has learned to adapt appropriate technology for its remote workforce, requiring all employees have sufficient virus protection and are protecting members’ data. Remote workers, some of whom work some days in the office, must come in-house for training, and they use shared desk space when they do work from the office.
“The results we’ve seen in the last four years has validated that there is value in moving forward with this,” Hickman says. “We’ve been able to extend service hours to membership and make sure we’re able to deal with events that could impact that, like weather. In the past, physical buildings might have limited the hours when staff could have worked. Now, flexible staffing can answer to those unique needs.”