August 24, 2020

Communication Is Key: How Fintechs and Credit Unions Have Navigated Remote Work During COVID-19

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 16 million U.S. workers started working remotely as of March, an estimated 16 million U.S. workers started working remotely as of March, and that number is likely much higher now. With that, many credit unions and fintechs alike made their first foray into the world of remote work. While essential, having the right technologies and tools is only the first step to creating a successful work from home environment. It takes more than a Zoom account and a laptop to make remote work for everyone.

Chartway Credit Union, along with CSI, HC3, and Payrailz, shared their experiences in fostering remote work policies and how they are not only keeping their businesses operational, but helping employees thrive.

How do you keep employees engaged while working remotely? What can leaders do to make sure their team stays motivated and possesses the tools needed to be successful at home?

Kim Little, executive vice president and COO, Chartway Credit Union: Currently, we have approximately 68% of our team-members working from home. We took the time to ensure everyone was equipped, and that they had external access to our IT Help Portal so our team members could request IT help even if they were unable to access the network for any reason.

Ensuring our team members continue to feel connected, informed, and engaged has been a top priority – alongside their health and wellbeing. As far as leadership during this time, we encourage leaders to:

  • Communicate information often – being informed matters tremendously, especially now.
  • Communicate gratitude daily – with your team members and with members outside your team. Whether you share a virtual thank-you note, make a personal call, send a Skype message/email, etc., people value feeling appreciated during this challenging time.
  • Be the calm. A leader’s mood sets a tone for the rest of them team. Focus on practical considerations and actions while reminding your team that you will get through this tough time together.
  • Stay engaged with your teams as much as possible – both professional and personally.
  • Host virtual team activities. One of our teams held a virtual pool party lunch, while another held a virtual hydration challenge. Other teams have enjoyed doing workout challenges and more.

Mickey Goldwasser, vice president of marketing and chief of staff, Payrailz: One of the most important elements of this transition has been flexibility. We’ve done this by letting our employees know that they have the flexibility to manage what is going on in their lives. Since most of our company already works remotely, transitioning the rest of the company go remote was relatively easy because we already had all the tools in place.

Having said that, we also know that we must work around challenges we do not usually encounter when working from home. Kids are home from school and spouses or significant others also working from home, increased demand on Wi-Fi and more. It’s important to continually involve employees in developing the best workarounds.

Griffin McGahey, president, HC3: Companies must continue to promote and build a team culture. So much ad hoc interaction is eliminated when remote, thus slowing down the building of relationships on a more personal level. Teams work so much better together when they are able to come together on topics both work-related and personal.

Charmaine Smith, chief human resources officer, CSI: The CSI leadership team has focused from day one on keeping employees engaged and updated on what is happening. Leaders have hosted “virtual” happy hours with their teams to talk about subjects other than work, such as kids, vacation plans, etc. Further, our CEO and president have both provided weekly video messages to all our employees discussing how the company is performing during the outbreak, as well as personal topics around employee mental and nutritional health and family safety.

In addition, we have kicked off the #RiseUpCSI campaign, which encourages employees to post stories or pictures to social media of the work they are doing outside of the company to support their local communities.

Strategically, how are organizations like yours navigating an ever-changing environment? What are they doing to help customers or members?

Smith: As a leading fintech company, we continue to find ways to support our customers. We have hosted several live webinars and expert roundtables to answer pandemic-related questions surrounding cybersecurity, financial crime and business continuity and provide best practices for navigating this unprecedented economic environment. In addition, we have quickly and seamlessly implemented processes and policies that allow core conversions and other previously physical operations to be completed virtually. These processes ensure that our customers have limited disruptions during the pandemic.

Goldwasser: Fintechs are inherently built for the digital world and our tools can be used by our bank and credit union clients to help their customers or members navigate these changing times. With that in mind, strategically this is not the time to take a business as usual attitude. It is a time to be a true partner by reaching out to ask the simple questions: How are you? How is your family? How are things at your institution? What can we do to help? It is a time to be there as a sounding board and offer solutions to the challenges our clients are facing right now.

McGahey: With the ever-changing landscape we are currently in, to best assist our clients it is important we remember why they are our clients. If we continue to forge through and do our jobs to the best of our abilities, then the credit unions can spend their time focusing on their members. Fintechs need to remember that no company is going through this alone, and the best thing they can do to make it through this time is to continue providing the services their clients utilize them for.

Little: At Chartway, the health and well-being of our members, team members and the communities we serve is priority number-1. We try to remain nimble during this time to make sure we mitigate risk to our members and our credit union family while still serving all their needs. We have done this by offering curbside service at our branch drive-thrus, direct tellers (ITM) locations, and through our wide variety of digital services, including Online and Mobile banking. We also deployed an appointment request form on our website where members can quickly and easily setup one-on-one branch appointments for needs that cannot be addressed digitally or through the drive-thrus. On a tech front, we are currently implementing new virtual banking technology that will allow our member service representatives to have virtual face-to-face encounters with our members

Have you had to do any re-training to help in-branch employees work remotely or meet member needs?

Goldwasser: Even for companies that are used to working remotely, the remote work environment has changed. We’ve seen that some of our employees have a spouse or significant other working at home with them now, which changes their routine and dynamic. Others have their children home from school or daycare, others are caring for an elderly parent, and some have a combination of everything. It is also important to realize that our customers are faced with the same challenges. Flexibility is key. We have given each other the latitude needed to manage and balance our lives during this time while still getting everything we need done.

Light: As an organization, we had nearly 150 team members – primarily branch and back office associates — with extra bandwidth as a result of the pandemic. Our goal was to keep all our team members engaged by giving them meaningful temporary work assignments that have had a great impact organizationally. Many were retrained to work remotely in departments who were seeing increased workloads such as mortgages and the call center. Others were put on teams working specific pandemic related work streams such as directly contacting members to offer our assistances during these times. This has given these team members an incredible opportunity to learn something new that benefits them/expands their ability to understand our organization, and to see how fresh perspectives are generating new ways of working and thinking.

We also provided tools, guidance, and materials to help enable remote work for those team members and managers who were not accustomed to working remotely. A cross-functional group of resources were available to help with the transition including IT, HR, and functional area managers.

McGahey: On our side, we have not had to do any significant re-training, but we have noticed many small adjustments that many needed to make. Our employees with children at home have needed to set aside blocks of time to handle home learning or take a 10-minute meeting break to put a child down for a nap. Another adjustment was managing conference calls. If someone’s job required two hours of phone calls per day, it probably requires four to six now. There are other team members who were very rarely on the phone at all before but now may participate in two to three conference calls per day. For people who are on the phone all day, we have reminded them that it’s important to schedule some time to decompress or time to complete individual tasks because that time will not appear naturally.

Smith: As an organization, we’ve rolled out new training to employees and leadership alike. Leadership training has focused on how to continue to engage and manage employees working from home and maximize productivity during the era of coronavirus. Employees training has primarily focused on how to work from home, with specific examples from our own employees to keep it relatable. Mental health training will be used to help keep employee morale up and maintain a positive head space.

For unexpected needs, it’s really centered on employee mental health. Employees are now trying to balance being full-time teachers to their children and employees of CSI. We are hearing more that employees are overwhelmed with these responsibilities, and that they are working more hours now than when working in the office. Burnout is a real concern for us during this critical time, so ensuring employees take breaks, understand that the company realizes what they are going through and remaining flexible with work schedules has been key for us.

What are some benefits essential workers need and how can you provide them? What are some relief efforts you’ve engaged in or found impactful?    

Goldwasser: For Payrailz, the key has been to let our team know that we care about them and are flexible. As a company, we have also thought outside of our organization to help those in need right now by providing meals for the homeless and donating to COVID relief efforts. We cannot emphasize enough that each of us has someone on our side. Living our company values of respect, integrity, and transparency to work together is the best way we know to meet our challenges and look forward to the future.

Smith: Essential employees for CSI who are required to work in the offices or travel have been provided with all the PPE equipment needed to ensure their safety. CSI started taking temperatures before employees came into offices to ensure workplace safety. We also implemented policies for non-CSI employees entering our facilities to deliver packages and requiring them to notify CSI if they came down with COVID-19 after visiting a facility. We also are providing stipends to those who must travel to keep our customers open and running, as well as a stipend for those employees who have to work on-site during this essential period was key.  Our employees have also engaged in relief efforts like providing meals for local hospitals and first responders, making masks for other employees and their communities, and providing food to homeless shelters and those in need. As part of CSI’s overall family-first attitude, family includes the communities we are in.

McGahey: As a fintech whose employees complete a variety of tasks, it’s important to continue to reinforce the importance of our essential employees and reiterate to the entire company what they are doing to keep HC3 moving forward. To showcase our appreciation for these workers coming in, we provided them with thank you notes from the company, food in the office for them to have during their shift, and dinners to take home to their families. Being an essential worker doesn’t just affect the individual employee, so we wanted to show our appreciation to their families as well.

Little: As a credit union we are considered an essential business and are proud to serve the needs of our members during these trying times. We also understand the stress that can bring to our team members. During this COVID crisis, our team members needed access to information, health-care providers, child-care support, and work from home capability.  Some of the unique benefits that became imperative that we quickly helped to enable included:

  • Time off with pay to coordinate childcare with schools and daycare center closures and home-schooling requirements. Chartway gave any team member that requested it two weeks off with pay that was not counted as vacation days. The team members used that time to plan for child and elder care and to prepare for working from home.
  • Remote work capability to accommodate childcare needs and/or high health risk needs; this initiative took the work of our IT professional to quickly identity processes and equipment to turn-around enablement in break-neck speed.
  • Quick, easy, and low/no cost access to medical providers; inquiring with our existing providers allowed us to offer access to medical providers to obtain pre-liminary guidance related to COVID concerns via electronic services, so as to limit further exposure and help with health concerns.

William Mills Agency is a public relations and content marketing firm for the financial industry.