Social distancing creates staffing, service challenges

Remote workers, closed lobbies becoming the norm.

March 23, 2020

Credit unions are adjusting their service and staffing to comply with social distancing standards associated with the COVID-19 virus.

Bronco Federal Credit Union, Franklin, Va., has closed its lobbies and is offering service by drive thru and appointment in its three branches, says Holly Ledbetter, human resources and administrative manager at the $182 million asset credit union.

“We have been able to spread our folks out and set up workstations according to social distancing guidelines,” she says. “Thankfully we have enough extra space in our buildings to put employees in their own individual spaces. We have our frontline tellers rotating between teller and call center agents to help with the overflow of calls.”

Calls are being directed to employees’ direct extensions in some cases, Ledbetter says. She says the drive-thru has been “booming.”

Accommodating staff

Bronco Federal identified employees who were more susceptible to the COVID‐19 virus, such as staff more than 60 years old and those with immune deficiencies, and set them up to work remotely.

Ledbetter says employee have been “really great” through what most people consider the first week of a long period of transition related to the coronavirus.

“They really appreciate that they have their jobs,” she says. “This is an anxious time for a lot of people. They also appreciate that we’re doing everything to create the social distance needed to keep them safe by closing the lobby and limiting personal contact.”

Ledbetter says she will look for creative ways to keep employees relaxed and safe. “It's impressive to see how our communities are rallying behind one another.”

A chance to train

Great River Federal Credit Union, Saint Cloud, Minn., closed the lobbies in its four branches Thursday and allows members to enter for service by appointment only. “We provided our membership with a two-day notice, and they have handled it very well,” says Rebecca Nelson, chief administrative officer at the $188 million asset credit union.

“We sent notifications to our membership via email, on our website, through social media, and physical postings, explaining the variety of online and mobile options available to them,” she says. “Our members have been very understanding, and we continue to assure them that their funds are safe and insured, and it’s in their best interests to keep their funds on deposit at the credit union rather than withdrawing large amounts of cash.”

About 30 of the Great River’s 64 employees are working remotely, Nelson says. “Fortunately, we have been enabling staff to work at home for the past year to provide more flexibility and employee satisfaction, so we were already prepared.”

Most of the employees working remotely have non-member-facing positions. However, the credit union has equipped its lenders with video capabilities. “We are working on options to equip our contact center personnel to work remotely as well,” Nelson says.

Due to lobby closures, some front-line staff have extra time on their hands. Great River Federal is using downtime for training rather than laying people off or reducing hours.

“Our goal is to provide some stability for our staff during this uneasy time,” Nelson says.

Nelson believes these training opportunities are part of the silver lining the credit union will find as it adjusts to the “new normal” that reveals itself in the coming days.

“We have been forced to find solutions for things like additional remote work capabilities and becoming more efficient,” she says. “Our members are also being forced to learn some of the online solutions we have. I believe we will come out of this a stronger credit union.”

Keeping spirits high

In addition to moving to drive-thru-only service, LincOne Federal Credit Union, Lincoln, Neb., is accommodating employees and members through enhanced sanitary procedures, social distancing, and encouraging staff to stay home if they’re sick, says Nathan Brock, director of human resources for the $133 million asset credit union.

“With 42 employees, teleworking wasn’t something we were equipped for on a moment’s notice for everyone,” he says. “We hold a lot of meetings via Microsoft Teams and teleconferencing. We’ve done a lot of innovating, and we’ll continue to do that as the situation evolves.”

Brock believes financial institutions will have to keep staffing levels relatively high, especially with public-facing employees, because they are in a “critical services” industry.

“We are a critical resource for our community to survive, and we take pride in that,” he says. “Our work family is willing to make some sacrifices while taking proactive measures to prioritize everyone’s safety and health.”

Keeping spirits high is important as well, Brock says. LincOne’s employee “fun committee” rolled out March Madness pools for employees to vote on their favorite movies and musical artists.

This was an opportunity for staff to bond, and a healthy activity to do at home.

“We control what we control. We can’t eliminate all of the drags in life,” Brock says. “At the same time, we can incorporate some of the things that lift us up and bring us joy. Our mental health is also an important part of our overall well-being. People need something that distracts us from the news.”

Keeping lobby service open, responsibly

Closing lobby service is not an option at CDC Federal Credit Union, Atlanta, which primarily serves employees of the Center for Disease Control.

“We don’t have a huge branch network and because of that, we don’t have any drive-through services at any of our locations,” says Australia Hoover, president of the $314 million asset credit union. “We don’t have the luxury, like some credit unions of closing the lobby to walk-ins and continuing drive-through service.

"We’ve had to keep our lobby doors open through all of this. We have precautions that limit the number of individuals that can enter the branch at one time, and we keep extra hand sanitizer on hand and make social distancing a priority.”

Hoover says branch traffic has “dwindled” in the past week.

“CDC employees have been placed on mandatory teleworking hours, so they don't need to visit credit union branches very often," he says. "For those members who do need us, though, our doors are open.

"We have some limited hours at our main location, and have suspended our Saturday hours because we want to limit any opportunities for exposure. So we're here to serve, but we're doing it in a responsible way.”