“I don’t see us ever as a nation going back to a one size fits all approach, in banking or in business.”
By John Hintze
Remote work may have started out as a necessity early in the Covid pandemic. But in the banking industry it now appears to be the new normal—at least in hybrid form—and even a useful feature to attract and retain talent in today’s competitive job market.
“Remote work was increasing before the pandemic in certain industries, and now it’s more commonplace,” says Robert Iommazzo, managing partner and co-founder of financial services-focused SEBA Executive Search.
Given that reality, bank executives should start planning how best to implement it, given the highly competitive job market today and employees’ clear willingness to move to greener pastures that often include working from home at least part of the time.
“We can all agree that there is value in being able to provide a hybrid work environment,” said Thomas Williams, SVP and senior compliance manager at United Bank, based in Griffin, Georgia, in a recent ABA Regulatory Compliance Conference session about managing and recruiting employees in the current environment.
Hybrid work options became prevalent in the latter part of 2020, and since then it has become clearer how to optimize the results.
“First and foremost, it’s critical to maintain a line of communication” with peers and employees, says Stephanie Bowers, chief legal officer and regulatory counsel at USAA. For many, working from home resulted in brand new issues, including children in the background, endless Zoom meetings, and workdays without boundaries. An open-door policy is paramount, even if that door is virtual, she adds, to understand employees’ and peers’ concerns about balancing home and work as well as their work responsibilities in the still developing hybrid-work model.
One common issue was the lack of structure that at times resulted in back-to-back Zoom meetings, as if to make up for missed time in the office, and the resulting burnout.
“We went from one extreme to the other, so we’re now streamlining meetings,” Bowers said.
Her team has introduced “stand up meetings” on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays that may last 30 minutes or just five or 10, depending on the issues to discuss. Another new concept is “virtual hallways,” she says, in which meetings start either five minutes after or before the half hour, giving attendees time to refill their coffee or just chat with colleagues—much like in-person meetings.
However, Iommazzo cautioned, such virtual contact may be more acceptable to older employees—those who are more established at the company, perhaps with children. New employees, especially those fresh out of school, may instead prefer at least a hybrid model where there’s in-person interaction at least part of the week.
“Some organizations may become more attractive to younger folks because they provide more of a social life as well as the mentoring and networking to move up the corporate ladder,” he says.
In fact, a lack of in-person contact may leave some employees feeling isolated. During USAA’s transition to a hybrid model, Bowers says, the company has reviewed employees’ roles and responsibilities to ensure they are hitting personal and corporate goals and are recognized for outstanding performance, whether working entirely remotely, in a hybrid environment, or in the office.
Another concern has been maintaining partnerships between the company’s lines of business, Bower says, so her department meets regularly with peers, such as internal audit, to chat about industry trends or internal issues.
“We’ve really focused on maintaining those relationships, regardless of where the person is located,” she said.
Dameshia Mosley, deputy director of compliance—operations at First National Bank of Texas emphasized that when designing a hybrid program it is critical to understand what motivates employees and their expectations as well as leadership’s expectations, and that vary by organization. Then it is important to establish checkpoints to understand what is working well, she said, and share that information with department heads to minimize any information gaps and ensure a smooth transition.
“These are the things that will be completed in the office, and here are the things that will be completed remotely, and here’s what our schedule is going to be,” Mosley says. “And we’re going to beta test it over the next three to six months.”
Bringing the human resources department onboard as soon as possible is critical, Mosley said, to make sure the hybrid plan does not conflict with existing policies and procedures and to set parameters for issues such as hourly employees’ flexible schedules, so they’re not working excessive hours. An important consideration and one to resolve before employees shift to a long-term hybrid model, Mosley says, is that in-person issues, such as an employee failing to meet certain responsibilities, are unlikely to improve when working remotely.
In addition to clearly scheduling where employees will be–whether in the office or remote–organizations’ hybrid models must ensure employees have adequate technology to make it all work, Williams adds.
It is also important to clearly state the requirements that allow some employees to work from home and not others, and to ensure HR and management are on the same page, Mosley said. In fact, remote work can be used as a carrot to encourage lower-level employees, such as tellers, to move into more responsible positions.
“You have to be intentional about identifying those employees that are up-and-comers and how they can move to new roles where they get this added benefit,” Williams said.
Clearly stating such benefits has become especially important during the so-called great migration, in which remote and hybrid work has made it easier for employees to jump ship. Bowers says other benefits to draw and retain employees could include educational benefits, reimbursements to sign up for online fitness applications or gym memberships, allowances for mental-health support services and even making healthy food choices.
“All those things that really attribute to a healthier lifestyle,” Bowers says.
Iommazzo says he anticipates returning to the office to gain steam, especially among more ambitous employees.
“The pendulum has probably swung a bit too far, and people focusing on their careers way want to go back,” he says. “When the boss doesn’t see you, it’s out of sight, out of mind.”
That drive to return to the office likely will vary by industry and company, but the pandemic appears to have made remote work, at least for part of the week, a much more popular model going ahead.
“I don’t see us ever as a nation going back to a one size fits all approach, in banking or in business,” Bowers said. “The more flexible and empathetic we can be as colleagues to each other, the more I think we can fulfill the mission of the organization and also meet the needs of the various stakeholders.”
John Hintze is a Frequent Contributor to ABA Risk and Compliance.