Working at home is a new fact of life for millions of Americans. The initial frenzy of moving work from offices to homes is over. Barking dogs are now frequent guests on conference calls. “#WFH” is trending. For many credit union employees who’ve dreamed of working from home, it’s like an extended sleepover with everyone staying in separate rooms.
Melva Mackey, Director Of Training And Member Experience, Northwest Community Credit Union
However, people are already beginning to wonder when things will go back to normal. No one knows for sure, and no one knows what the “normal” workplace will look like in the foreseeable future.
Efforts are underway to roll out new web conferencing tools for remote meetings and new practices such as curbside transactions. Credit unions are now focused on optimizing their work environments to engage employees and members, integrating key systems to increase efficiency, ensuring business continuity and cybersecurity, and adapting their cultures to new ways of working.
“We’re going to get through this,” says Melva Mackey, director of training and member experience at Northwest Community Credit Union ($1.2B, Eugene, OR), which just held its first video conference annual member meeting. “When we look back, we will be amazed at the innovations we’ve created in the chaos.”
Also read: How Northwest Community Contains While Continuing
Here, Mackey and other credit union leaders offer four tips for managing the change.
1. Take virtual events and meetings to the next level.
Michael Wettrich, President and CEO, Education First Credit Union
The coronavirus outbreak hit the United States at a peak time for annual credit union events. Presidents Day on Feb. 20 turned out to be the last window for all-employee meetings. Credit unions across the country held events in off-site venues, bused in employees, hosted luncheons, and in at least one case, snapped a selfie with all 800 employees in the frame. Today, all of these practices are impossible with social distancing.
Social distancing also makes member meetings challenging, and many credit unions rescheduled annual meetings in March to online platforms at the last minute.
Education First Credit Union ($112.5M, Columbus, OH) held its annual meeting on March 17 over Facebook Live with the board chair and senior staff on-site. Because mail-in ballots had been cast for the directors election, the secretary was able to declare a quorum.
“We’re a small credit union and these are unprecedented times,” says Michael Wettrich, the central Ohio credit union’s president and CEO.
Future events such as employee meetings, affinity group presentations, job recruiting fairs, and financial education courses might also shift online, but experts advise replacing the standard talking head webcast format with more interactive sessions. Other tips include:
Organize shorter, focused meetings and encourage speakers to hold each comment to approximately two minutes, leaving more time for questions and interaction at regular intervals. Aim for a total length of 45 minutes instead of an hour.
Present detailed content in a podcast and distribute the link, along with a link to a feedback survey, at the end of the webcast. Follow-up with an email that contains a summary and calls to action.
Use interactive tools such as web conferencing polls and surveys in real time. Enable web conference chat to facilitate discussion as the meeting unfolds, and periodically highlight questions or ideas in the chat window.
Consider a more flexible agenda.
Chad Helminak, Director of Development Education and Cooperative Culture, National Credit Union Foundation
The National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF) recently put its development education workshops on hold and is trying a new approach online. The NCUF is aiming for smaller, more intimate meetings of 10 to 15 attendees. For an upcoming meeting, the team planned to open the agenda to the group and let the attendees decide which topics to cover.
“We’re experimenting,” says Chad Helminak, director of development education and cooperative culture. “This is a good time to try new things.”
2. Invest in collaboration, not just conferencing.
Workplace meeting and collaboration platforms are now front and center. Usage of Zoom conferencing software quadrupled in the first three months of 2020, Skype grew 70% to 40 million users. Microsoft Teams had 44 million active daily users, and Cisco had 30 million Webex users.
Most larger credit unions already were using these tools, but for many workers throughout the credit union industry, it’s a brave new world. Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union ($2.4B, St. Paul, MN) is using a range of tools, including live chat in its call center, Webex for its recent annual meeting, and Cisco Jabber for messaging, voice, and video calls as well as desktop sharing.
Joel Swanson, Vice President Of Marketing, Affinity Plus FCU
“We’re using the Webex platform to its fullest these days, and we’re encouraging everyone to turn on video functions so we can see one another and stay connected,” says Joel Swanson, vice president of marketing at Affinity Plus FCU. “Jabber has been especially useful for real-time discussions and group conversations.”
Zoom, Microsoft, Google, and Slack are now offering extended free trials for many of their products’ features, but these companies are banking on converting users to paying customers. Although video conferencing is driving much of the new demand, long-term decisions about collaboration platforms also should consider integration with applications such as Office 365 and Google G-Suite as well as underlying security.
For example, the ability to set up a meeting with a single click is one reason Zoom is so popular, but that also presents a potential vulnerability. In recent weeks, internet trolls have exploited a Zoom screen-sharing feature to hijack meetings and post offensive content for all to see — a practice referred to as “Zoombombing.” Not surprisingly, New York’s attorney general’s office is looking into Zoom’s data privacy and security practices.
We’re going to get through this. When we look back, we will be amazed at the innovations we’ve created in the chaos.
3. Make business continuity planning and cybersecurity top priorities.
This crisis hasn’t peaked, and it's not too late for credit unions to revise their business continuity plans. Although pandemics typically are included in continuity and disaster recovery plans, the coronavirus is rewriting all of the risk scenarios.
In addition to alternative work environments, stay-at-home orders could also affect the operations of data centers, back-up storage, and third-party vendors. In light of the highly contagious nature of COVID-19, succession planning for the senior leadership team might not be enough. Continuity plans also should address the chain of command across major functional areas of the business.
Continuity planning and security controls are even more critical in the escalating cybersecurity threat environment. Cybercriminals are using the global media attention around COVID-19 to launch email phishing campaigns and spoof websites to distribute malware to unsuspecting users. In March, at least 15 distinct campaigns distributed 39 different types of malware to unsuspecting workers. Nearly 100,000 new website domains have been registered with terms such as “COVID-19,” leading security experts to suspect that at least half are fraudulent.
“We’ve already seen threat actors trying to take advantage at the organizational and member levels,” Swanson says. “We’re asking employees and members to be vigilant. In fact, we just posted a new blog story about what’s emerging and how members can protect themselves.”
Tips for staying secure include:
Reinforce cyber awareness training to guard against phishing and social engineering attacks though scam emails, websites, and attachments. Be on the lookout for spear-phishing emails that target top executives who have greater access privileges.
Enable multifactor authentication for access to network resources from remote locations.
Issue dedicated corporate devices with up-to-date security controls to employees to avoid BYOD vulnerabilities.
4. Instill a connected culture from the boardroom to the front line.
In addition to trying new tools and technologies, employees are undergoing major changes in the way they work. The business culture under COVID-19 must embrace change and focus as well as collaboration.
“One of our cultural values is adaptability,” says Swanson at Affinity Plus. “We asked some employees to give up laptops for others and other employees to keep working on-site while practicing social distancing. Our employees living out that value made it possible for us to be the first financial institution in Minnesota to close its lobbies with minimal service disruptions.”
Remote working can also lead to isolation. HR and medical professionals offer a variety of tips to keep employees connected during the pandemic:
Schedule regular group meetings with employees to provide updates on the situation and allow them to ask questions and share experiences.
Enable internal social collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Yammer or Workplace by Facebook to help employees make new connections.
Schedule a virtual coffee break during office hours or a virtual happy hour after work.
Encourage employees to set up a buddy system and check in daily.
Although productivity is a cornerstone metric of the business world, the long-term health and well-being of individuals is even more important during this crisis. Some experts advise employees to focus on food, family, friends, and fitness before stressing out about lost productivity.
Swanson understands the sensitivity around personal and family situations. His son was exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19, and his entire family has been under quarantine for more than a week — with supplies and words of encouragement coming in daily.
Prepare your credit union's response to COVID-19 using the Ideas In Action: Pandemic Response page, a hub for all of our articles, webinars, and policies concerning the COVID-19 outbreak.
“In times such as these, people value assurance that they’ll be taken care of,” he says. “We’ve had frequent communications with employees including an all-employee call to thank them, outline evolving HR policies, and keep the focus on health, safety, and serving members.”
Northwest Community’s Mackey adds that times like these show people what they’re really capable of achieving.
“We provide a critical service to our members and community, and that drives us to innovate and think outside the box,” Mackey says. “It doesn’t matter that it hasn’t been done that way before. We’re focused on solutions, and we don’t have time to make things perfect. Let’s go and make it better along the way.”
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