How To Carry On Culture In A Work-From-Home World

Greylock FCU connects with staff members to address work/life balance and member service.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • More than half the staff at Greylock FCU works from home as the cooperative firms up a hybrid workforce strategy.
  • As a new normal emerges, the credit union continues to focus on culture and member service.

Thanks to a desktop planning exercise for a global pandemic that leaders of Greylock Federal Credit Union ($1.4B, Pittsfield, MA) conducted in January 2020, the Massachusetts cooperative was as ready as could be when reality arrived.

Today, 65% of Greylock’s staff is working remotely and three of its 14 branches remain closed as the 90,000-member cooperative works to sustain service and culture in a hybrid in-person/virtual reality.

“We’re blessed to have a proactive risk management team,” says CEO John Bissell, who joined the credit union in 2003 and has been at the helm since 2015. “Even though COVID-19 was not detected in our area until March 2020, their forethought helped us to move quickly soon thereafter.”

Here, Bissell describes the moves the credit union made in the early days of the pandemic and how it is positioning itself to move forward in this new environment.

John Bissell, President/CEO, Greylock FCU

When did Greylock close branches and when did you re-open them?

John Bissell: We began limiting lobby access to the public on March 17, 2020. It took a significant amount of logistical support and teamwork to ensure we could meet members’ needs through other methods.

We slowly began reopening in early July, after making significant changes in our systems and processes to make sure our members and employees were safe. We continually monitored regional public health conditions and limited access again for a few weeks after Thanksgiving.

Due to space limitations and access to the surrounding areas, three of our branch locations are still closed. We hope this is over soon, but we’re not letting down our guard and will continue to follow recommendations.

CU QUICK FACTS

Greylock FCU
Data as of 12.31.20

HQ: Pittsfield, MA
ASSETS: $1.4B
MEMBERS: 90,406
BRANCHES: 14
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 15.1%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 3.7%
ROA: 0.64%

How many employees do you have working from home? How did you get there?

JB: At this moment, we have 176 of our 273 employees working from home. I’m grateful to our IT, operations, and security teams who moved mountains to keep our employees safe. Prior to early March 2020, Greylock didn’t have a formal work-from-home plan. By late March, we were up and running with the equipment and approach to allow a significant portion of our workforce to work remotely and safely.

How did Greylock handle technology and security when transitioning to a remote environment?

JB: At the onset of COVID-19, we accelerated our work-from-home posture and implemented a board-approved work-from-home policy. The policy provided the framework for approving WFH requests. Employees sign-off on terms of acceptable use of company-supplied equipment and acknowledge the other HR and security policies they must adhere to while working from home.

For security purposes, we don’t share information about our home workstation configurations. Monitoring usage of company workstations at home is the same as if the employees were working in the office. No local printing is allowed while working from home. No personal devices are allowed to access our network. A limited number of employees in our contact center who are working from home also maintain high standards to ensure member security.

Work-from-home also accelerated our workstation video rollout. Now, almost every employee has a monitor and software capable of conducting a video call. This capability was essential for effective collaboration during the pandemic and helped us build on our culture.

You Might Also Enjoy: Leaders from cooperatives rural and urban talk about how they are handling staffing strategy during the pandemic. Read more in “Bring In The Staff, Or Leave Them At Home? A View From 7 Credit Unions.

What’s your thinking around a return to the office?

JB: We’re still operating under a quarantine scenario, and our long-term plans are not complete. That said, our work-from-home program is functioning well and we have no immediate plans to require a mass return to the office. In fact, we’re so confident in the success of the WFH model that we are consolidating one of our branches with a nearby operations center.

Even as we do return to the office, we’ll use shared space more, which requires less real estate investment and increases efficiency. For now, we want everyone to be safe and to serve our members at the same level of excellence they’re accustomed to receiving.

How has this new normal affected your approach to human resources issues like work-life balance?

JB: Greylock recognizes the need to find more effective, employee-friendly solutions to work-life balance. We survey our employees often and provide social and business interactions to maintain a unified corporate culture within our virtual and in-branch workforce. We also host regular companywide CEO chats and employee recognition events — virtually, of course.

We encourage every manager to work directly with their team to seize opportunities for greater interaction and keep the communication channels open. Greylock wants every employee to know we support them as we all learn to address competing priorities in this new normal.

"The employee/employer relationship has been tested, and we have found our culture is resilient."

John Bissell, President/CEO, Greylock FCU

What are your major considerations as you bring people back into the office? How are you addressing them?

JB: Our biggest priority is always the health of our employees and members. We continue to work closely with public health officials in determining next steps. I am grateful our local health system provided open access to its public health experts so we could pose questions to them throughout the pandemic.

My greatest takeaway from all of this is that we must pay close attention to employee needs and build in opportunities to meet them where they are. The employee/employer relationship has been tested, and we have found our culture is resilient with true collaboration shining through.

Each employee has felt the impacts of this pandemic in different ways. Those with school-age children or who are caregivers have different needs than those who might be at risk themselves or have a partner who works as a first responder.

Beyond the obvious concern of public health is the increased need to focus on personal wellbeing. Wellness was already a hot topic prior to 2020. Now, all employers recognize it is a critical component in human resource planning.

That’s why we’ve leaned into our employee wellness program. We partner with our local health system to provide wellness activities that not only provide the flu shot and measure blood pressure but also teach mindfulness and promote a low-stress lifestyle. We even begin our management meetings with instructor-led meditation exercises.

What’s Greylock’s philosophy for building and sustaining the relationship between employee and employer in these trying times?

JB: It all comes down to transparency and compassion. We must listen and respond appropriately to keep employees fulfilled and safe while also meeting our business goals. Human resource priorities need to top of our list now more than ever.

We believe employee/management collaboration should be based on mutual respect and shared goals. Respect must be earned and transparency is the key. We continue to seek input from all employees and assess their needs before we move forward with any decisions to return to a pre-pandemic workplace.

They trust us to keep them safe just as much as we trust them to keep all of our services available to members. Their resiliency has been tremendous. It’s all part of a highly successful collaboration built, again, on transparency and compassion.

“Many of our managers have scheduled team Zoom calls with no agenda. Simply an hour to connect as human beings. Employees tell me these have been highly effective.”

John Bissell, CEO, Greylock FCU

What about long-term working from home?

JB: We’re still working that out. We need to be mindful of culture, legal and logistical challenges, and equity as we map the future. We do anticipate a percentage of our support team will respond well to long-term WFH. If I have to guess, I would say less than 50% and more than 10% would become long-term WFH positions, with perhaps some hybridization and on-site connectivity to keep culture and innovate thriving.

Talk more about culture and connection? It sounds important to Greylock. How do you ensure continuity and effectiveness?

JB: We’re all switching from one Zoom meeting to another, with tight agendas and a lot of stress. These days, we often start each meeting with some deep breathing!

Also, many of our managers have scheduled team Zoom calls with no agenda. Simply an hour to connect as human beings. Employees tell me these have been highly effective and something they look forward to.

That’s the connection piece. What about culture?

JB: The pandemic has challenged the whole notion of work/life balance. Productivity is up, but personal interaction is down, which introduces new kinds of cultural stress on the organization. Greylock is not just a workplace, it’s a community. As such, we have responsibilities to employees and members, especially in times of great upheaval.

Greylock wants all employees to know we support them as we all learn to address competing priorities under unprecedented conditions. For example, we sent books to employees with children in the home to let them know we support their need to maintain balance and recognize the hardship of having children out of school. We develop ways for social interaction and personal wellbeing like an online book club and virtual yoga classes.

We know that having our staff at home creates a hardship for our local businesses, too. So, we redirected some of our discretionary spending to support them. We buy local restaurant gift cards to distribute among our staff and community non-profits. We develop products that encourage our members to support their neighborhood businesses, like a recent VISA card reward for shopping local.

Bottom line: How would you describe Greylock’s ability to continue supporting members while adapting to new work realities?

JB: Our work-from-home approach allowed us to be highly responsive while still keeping folks safe. Our lending team secured more than $43.5 million in Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans and helped save more than 5,752 local jobs as of the end of February.

Our community empowerment team shifted all of their educational and coaching work to online formats. This allows them to continue to provide access to education and financial coaching at a time when the community really needs them.

Our support teams have helped almost 4,000 local people defer their loan payments. All of these efforts create a stronger sense of pride and accomplishment for our staff. Even though this is a difficult time, our staff’s resiliency and agility create a greater feeling of community and purpose to their work, even if their day-to-day office routine is disrupted.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

 

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