Bring In The Staff, Or Leave Them At Home? A View From 7 Credit Unions.

Leaders from cooperatives rural and urban talk about how they are handling staffing strategy during the pandemic.

 
 

The COVID-19 pandemic is slowly abating in the United States amid the ongoing rollout of vaccinations. More people are beginning to stir, including patrons of credit unions and the staff members who support those cooperatives.

Many credit unions completely closed branches for several weeks last spring. Today, locations have, for the most part, re-opened everywhere. The sudden imperative a year ago to adjust to a work-from-home setting has created a different work environment for back-office people. Will remote work remain the new normal?

Poll after poll shows many employees prefer working from home at least part of the time, and credit union leaders now find themselves wrestling with questions of culture, productivity, and safety as they decide how to move forward.

CreditUnions.com asked several leaders about their cooperative’s approach to the conundrum. Here’s what they said.

Alliant Credit Union

Chris Sarcletti, Senior Manager of Business Resiliency & Facilities, Alliant Credit Union

Chris Sarcletti joined Alliant Credit Union ($13.5B, Chicago, IL) as senior manager of business resiliency and facilities in October 2019. The 647-employee operation closed its last two retail facilities in March 2019 and today has no physical branches. Instead, it provides services digitally and by phone.

According to Sarcletti, approximately 95% of Alliant’s staff continues to work remotely. The remainder hold functions deemed critical for business continuity and unable to be conducted from home. The credit union is holding some in-person meetings in its conference rooms and has redesigned its workspace to provide additional office seating.

Do you expect to make your work-from-home arrangements permanent? If so, for how many staff and in what kind of positions? Why or why not?

Chris Sarcletti: Alliant has spent significant time assessing current and future workplace culture when it comes to permanent work from home. This has included performing market research to understand industry trends.

Based on that, we’ve rolled out a three-tier model that will become the new normal for Alliant as we welcome our staff back throughout 2020. As part of this model, all roles will be assigned one of three categories: fully remote; hybrid, meaning two to three days in the office per week; and fully in-office. Approximately 85% of our roles will fall into the hybrid category. We’ll implement this new model in phases through 2021 and the first quarter of 2022.

5 Tips To Return To The Office Safety

Alliant Credit Union notes five things it is doing to ensure its workspaces are safer for staff.

  1. Providing an office reservation system for all staff members to use.

  2. Adopting enhanced cleaning procedures.

  3. Redesigning office space to ensure cubes are adequately spaced.

  4. Providing a resource page that includes FAQs, links to office reservation system, and a description of all COVID-19 safety measures in place.

  5. Forming a return-to-work advisory committee that gathers employee feedback.

What are your major considerations as you decide whether or how to bring people back into the office? How do you address these considerations?

CS: Our No. 1 concern is employee safety. It’s essential we provide a work environment our employees feel safe coming to. Another major consideration is our new hoteling model, which we are implementing as we bring our staff to work. As part of this model, employees will reserve offices and cubes for the days they will be in the office. We’ll clean each office and cube after each use.

Aspire FCU

Tom O’Shea, CEO, Aspire FCU

Tom O’Shea has been CEO of Aspire Federal Credit Union ($132.5, Clark, NJ) since 2005. The branchless cooperative — originally known as FAA Eastern Region Federal Credit Union — serves multiple, diverse SEGs throughout the Northeast.

O’Shea says Aspire closed its office in March 2020. The entire 45-person staff continues to work from home although they now have the option to return to work in person.

Do you expect to make your work-from-home arrangements permanent? If so, for how many staff and in what kind of positions? Why or why not?

Tom O’Shea: We expect the arrangement to be a permanent part of our workweek for all staff. Since we are a branchless, remote/digital delivery organization, there’s no need for everyone to come to the office every day. Our technology supports working from home and allows us to monitor, manage, and coach our staff.

The single biggest issue is family related — until schools return to in-classroom instruction, expecting all staff to come back to the office every day is problematic. We have always been responsive to the family needs of our staff. With the pandemic, it hit everyone at once.

The upside is we get some flexible scheduling out of our team. If they’re working with their children during the day, we see them online in the evening, making up for lost time.

“The single biggest issue is family related — until schools return to in-classroom instruction, expecting all staff to come back to the office every day is problematic.”

Tom O’Shea, CEO, Aspire FCU

What are your major considerations as you decide whether or how to bring people back into the office? How do you address these considerations?

TO: Beyond ensuring their safety — taller cubicle partitions, masks and sanitizer, and a cleaning service that can sanitize the space is now table stakes — there are still many benefits to having everyone under one roof.

For new staff, training is more difficult when you aren’t sitting side-by-side and coaching them. It’s also more difficult to build a team when they aren’t in the same space.

Much of the culture and work ethic is shared through casual interactions in the office and by observing senior leadership and management. You don’t get that in a remote environment. In a remote setting, all meetings are scheduled and planned, there’s nothing spontaneous.

Over the past year, we’ve done some events, such as giving everyone donuts from a local donut shop. We also gave each staffer $50 to spend at a local tulip farm that had been struggling. When a small group does come in for training or a meeting, we try to feed them. Food always helps.

BECU

Paula Ramirez, Vice President of HR Shared Services, BECU

Paula Ramirez joined BECU ($26.8B, Tukwila, WA) as vice president of HR shared services in March 2019.

The nation’s third-largest credit union by assets closed some of its smaller locations in November 2020 when public health officials limited capacity to 25%. That capacity was lifted to 50% in March, and all 60 branches are now open.

According to Ramirez, BECU has expanded its technology network to accommodate the 70% of its roughly 2,400 workforce who are now working from home in multiple roles. The 1.3-million-member cooperative also is providing personal protective equipment for all employees working on-site and is using tracing protocols and mandating masks as required by state government.

Do you expect to make your work-from-home arrangements permanent? If so, for how many staff and in what kind of positions? Why or why not?

Paula Ramirez: BECU is assessing what our work model will look like post COVID-19. First, we are looking at each employee’s work and seeing if it’s conducive to continued remote work. Second, we’re taking into consideration each employee’s personal preference.

“We’ll likely move forward with some sort of hybrid work model that allows flexibility. This might include asking employees to occasionally come into the office depending on business needs and tasks that require in-person collaboration and engagement.”

Paula Ramirez, Vice President of HR Shared Services, BECU

We’ll likely move forward with some sort of hybrid work model that allows flexibility. This might include asking employees to occasionally come into the office depending on business needs and tasks that require in-person collaboration and engagement. We want to ensure our culture remains intact and is at the forefront of all decisions moving forward.

We also must consider the ongoing safety requirements at the federal and state levels. For example, in Washington state, our branches can have only 50% capacity right now, so we must adjust how many employees return to the office and how we manage the protocols upon their arrival.

We must also be prepared to send employees back home in case we do have a COVID-19 outbreak. Fortunately, we have processes in place to manage this type of situation, should it occur, given our branches and some of our back-office functions have successfully remained open during the pandemic.

Coastal FCU

Joe Mecca, Vice President of Communication, Coastal FCU

Joe Mecca has been with Coastal Federal Credit Union ($4.0B, Raleigh, NC) for 17 years, the past four as vice president of communication.

The Research Triangle cooperative closed the lobbies of its 25 branches on March 19, 2020, and reopened them on March 15, “just a few days shy of a full year,” Mecca says.

Teller services continued through vestibule and drive-up ITMs at every branch, and the credit union’s digital services also have seen strong adoption through the pandemic, Mecca says.

According to Mecca, approximately 365 of Coastal’s 571 FTEs were working from home at the peak of the crisis; today, roughly 315 still are.

Do you expect to make your work-from-home arrangements permanent? If so, for how many staff and in what kind of positions? Why or why not?

Joe Mecca: We’re still working through this and aren’t in a hurry to bring headquarters employees back to the office. At first, we even paid employees whose jobs couldn’t be done remotely but who were too high risk to come into the office. Last summer, our first priority was safely returning those people to the office so they could resume work. Since then, only a handful more have returned to the office.

Our CEO has already said we’ll be a hybrid work environment in the future, but we haven’t set definite timelines on when. We know some people want to and will work full-time on-site. Others might work from home. Others might split their time between the two. We know a lot of people prefer being remote but want access to space or resources at HQ when they need it.

Right now, we’re doing well with people working remotely, which is probably the biggest factor in our decisions. If someone wants to come back to the office, we’re accommodating that. For the majority who are working well remotely, we’re not rushing to bring them back, which is allowing us to focus on making sure the work environment is safe for those who either have to be on-site or who want to.

“Safety first, and then productivity. We have to ensure a safe work environment.”

Joe Mecca, Vice President of Communication, Coastal FCU

What are your major considerations as you decide whether or how to bring people back into the office? How do you address these considerations?

JM: Safety first, and then productivity. We have to ensure a safe work environment. Then, we have to ensure employees are able to do their jobs well, whether on-site or remote.

After that, we want to make sure we’re maintaining our company culture and social connections among employees. We don’t want to lose that.

Long term, we’re looking at what that all means on how we use our space, how much space we need, and where. Ultimately, it’s going to depend on feedback from managers and employees. They need to tell us what’s working for them and what isn’t.

We’ve already done the difficult work and set people up to be successful while remote. We already how to create a safe work environment inside our building, both logistically and through protocols. Long-term success will mean finding the right balance of where people need to be between the two, and that’s only going to come from open communication among all levels of the organization.

Millbury FCU

Joe Barbato, President/CEO, Millbury FCU

Joe Barbato has been president and CEO of Millbury Federal Credit Union ($407.4M, Millbury, MA) for 28 years.

The 31,735-member community credit union serves Worcester County through five branches, which operated with limited access from March 20 through May 26 last year.

Barbato says two employees from MCU’s mortgage subsidiary worked from home because of out-of-state travel restrictions for a time, but all 78 employees are now working from the credit union’s offices.

Do you expect to make your work-from-home arrangements permanent? If so, for how many staff and in what kind of positions? Why or why not?

Joe Barbato: No. MCU believes it is important to have our employees working together in the same environment to maintain collaboration and team spirit while providing superior member service.

What are your major considerations as you decide whether or how to bring people back into the office? How do you address these considerations?

JB: MCU and subsidiaries are following all state and federal CDC guidelines for maintaining a safe work environment. All safeguards put in place on March 16 last year remain in place today.

One Nevada Credit Union

Michael Traficanti, SVP of Human Resources & Facilities, One Nevada Credit Union

Michael Traficanti is the senior vice president of human resources and facilities at One Nevada Credit Union ($1.2B, Las Vegas, NV) and will mark his 21st year with the cooperative in May of 2021.

The credit union never closed its 15 branches during the pandemic, opting instead to make health and safety modifications based on state mandates.

“We also began updating and refreshing the look of our branch network,” Traficanti says. “We remodeled several branch locations last year and have more underway this year.”

Meanwhile, approximately 30% of One Nevada’s non-member facing staff worked remotely either some of the time or all of the time, depending on their department and role, and 10% to 15% still are, Traficanti says.

Do you expect to make your work-from-home arrangements permanent? If so, for how many staff and in what kind of positions? Why or why not?

Michael Traficanti: We expect to bring the majority of our remote workforce back within the next 30 to 60 days. This is in line with our schools bringing back students and the state’s vaccine program accelerating.

Although we’re still evaluating, our real estate loan officers, and possibly some of our investment and insurance positions, might continue working remotely going forward. They would be required to come into the office occasionally for meetings or to meet with members.

“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve stressed the importance of the safety and health of our staff and members. We must demonstrate to our employees, those returning and those who have continuously worked on-site, that this is still our No. 1 priority.”

Michael Traficanti, SVP of Human Resources & Facilities, One Nevada Credit Union

What are your major considerations as you decide whether or how to bring people back into the office? How do you address these considerations?

MT: We have remote workers with younger children who require supervision and at-home learning. The schools here are scheduled to reopen in April, at which time these remote workers will be able to return back to the workplace.

We must also consider how to maintain our modified workspaces, enhanced sanitizing protocols, mask mandates, and social distancing requirements plus how to encourage our employees to get vaccinated.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve stressed the importance of the safety and health of our staff and members. We must demonstrate to our employees, those returning and those who have continuously worked on-site, that this is still our No. 1 priority.

We know, if given a choice, some of the remote workers would choose to work from home full-time. Many of them have been hesitant about returning because of the benefits they perceive from working at home. We’ve been discussing considering some form of remote/on-site working modifications for some of our job positions where it makes sense.

Another concern is making sure our employees get vaccinated. We’re making available resources and FAQs about the importance of getting vaccinated, providing links where employees can sign up for notifications, and encouraging everyone to get vaccinated when they’re eligible.

Western Cooperative Credit Union

Melanie Stillwell, President/CEO, Western Cooperative Credit Union

Melanie Stillwell has been with Western Cooperative Credit Union ($385.6M, Williston, ND) for 23 years, the past 19 as its president and CEO.

The credit union serves 18,500 members across a large swath of rural areas and small towns from its base in northwest North Dakota. The pandemic forced it to close its branches from March 19 to May 28 last year.

At one point, Stillwell says, approximately 10 of the cooperative’s 100 employees were working from home because of quarantines, illness, children at home, and other considerations.

“We no longer have anyone working from home except a few employees that were already working from home before the pandemic,” Stillwell says.

Do you expect to make your work-from-home arrangements permanent? If so, for how many staff and in what kind of positions? Why or why not?

Melanie Stilwell: We had already had a few permanent work-from-home arrangements prior to COVID-19. We found the individuals working from home during the pandemic preferred to come back into the office. If an employee was able to work from home due to quarantine or potential illness, they were allowed to do so.

What are your major considerations as you decide whether or how to bring people back into the office? How do you address these considerations?

MS: We have had most people back in the office since June 2020.

These interviews have been edited and condensed.

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April 19, 2021


Comments

 
 
 
  • Aspire FCU was ended as a separate charter this week under a "supervisory merger" procedure in which the members did not vote. Credit union no longer exists for employees or members!
    Anonymous