For many credit union staff and their members, it’s been a long time since they last sat in an office cubicle or shared physical space with a colleague. In some parts of the country, it’s been more than 12 weeks of muting speakers and closing web cams to disguise screaming kids and barking dogs. While some may have settled into the new normal, others are excited about returning to the old normal, if such a thing still exists.
In preparation for our eventual return to work, we’ve been working both here in the U.S. following local and state guidelines and with our ViClarity global team in Ireland to put various safety measures in place. Our goal is to ensure a safe working environment that is clean, secure and allows for adherence to social distancing principles.
It won’t likely surprise you to know that as we’ve been making the preparations, we’ve been documenting every single activity. This will allow us to more easily include them in our updated policies and procedures, as well as our business continuity plan, when the time comes.
As your credit union prepares its own return to work strategies, there are essentially two categories you’ll want to address: your environment / operations and your employees.
Environment and Operations
Many of a credit union’s traditional day-to-day operations will be turned on their heads once staff members return to work, requiring new or modified procedures. One way to manage this efficiently across the organization is to identify one individual in each department who is willing to own the updating of relevant procedures for their area. This team lead should keep communication lines open with their executive team and ensure all newly adopted procedures are vetted through leadership and compliance before being put into practice.
Policies will also need to be updated to reflect pandemic lessons learned and any resulting updates to the credit union’s approach to viral outbreaks. These include, but are not limited to the business continuity plan, as well as the risk management policy, health & safety policy, emergency response plan and do not forget the employee handbook.
Office design and layout is another factor to think through, as credit unions will need to maximize office space while adhering to social distancing guidelines. Consider the physical distance between desks and in common areas, such as meeting rooms, staff break rooms, restrooms and even entrances and exits. In spaces where distancing will be difficult, facility managers may be able to configure Plexiglass or other separators.
Hygiene is a fourth component to fit into return-to-work strategies, as the COVID-19 outbreak may continue for a long time in many communities. A credit union’s plan for the continued well-being of employees should consider the frequency with which offices will be disinfected, the availability of cleaning materials to staff and training on any relevant policies that may already exist, such as a clean desk or workspace policy. Leaders should also consider making hand sanitizing and PPE stations available in many areas throughout the workspace, as well as modifying the physical environment to reduce touching of surfaces (i.e. through the use of foot-operated trash bins and door openers).
When staff return to the office, they will expect frequent communication and transparency around steps the credit union is taking to keep them safe. Some educational components are also likely to be welcome especially if they provide information on how COVID-19 spreads, what symptoms look like and how to stay safe from infection.
To further protect employees and any visitors that may be onsite, credit unions may also want to consider implementing a self-declaration process. This can be as simple as a short form employees and visitors fill out each time they enter the building. Questions would confirm the employee or visitor is not showing any signs or symptoms of COVID-19, that they have not been in contact with anyone who has tested positive and that they have not been required to self-quarantine.
It would also be wise for credit unions to strategically plan for managing a suspected case of COVID-19 in the workplace. Planning ahead will allow such a scenario to be managed quickly and effectively, mitigating the threat to others, all while maintaining employee confidentiality. There are a number of controls that can be put in place, such as the identification of an isolation area, availability of masks and hygiene facilities for the affected person, as well as the development of a support teams for impacted individuals.
Additional steps to consider include performing an audit of the credit union’s management of a suspected case. Although this is a backward-looking strategy, it will help leaders identify areas that need improvement and also record the series of events should the credit union be required to provide it.
Employees want reassurance that their credit union is continuing to prioritize their physical health and safety as they return to work, but their mental health is just as important. These unprecedented times are overwhelming, so keep an open dialog with employees to continually check-in on how stress, uncertainty and fear might be impacting their well-being. Work closely with your human resources department to make sure employees have access to resources to cope during these stressful times.
Returning staff will also want clarity on the preparations being made if a second wave of COVID-19 impacts future operations. Be sure your credit union’s BCP is reviewed and updated with reflections from successes and challenges experienced during the onset of COVID-19. Take time to enhance and communicate your refreshed BCP to staff to prepare for future interruptions in operations.
Initiating each of the above and more is an extensive piece of work that will take time to plan and complete. Therefore, it’s never too soon to begin formulating a plan of action. Be sure to continue to stay informed. Reach out to peers to crowd source best practices and stay up-to-date with local, state and federal guidelines including resources from the CDC, WHO, OSHA with the latest guidelines for keeping a safe workplace.
Even if you’re several weeks or even months from bringing staff back into the office, it’s a good idea to begin formulating your strategies, rewriting your procedures and talking with employees now about what they can expect down the road.