Northern Lights Up The Work-From-Home Workplace

The upstate New York cooperative sets clear expectations and follows up with remote employees to ensure success in its WFH arrangement.


Top-Level Takeaways

  • Northern Credit Union branches are open, but many staff members still work from home.
  • The credit union’s robust WFH policy lays out expectations, and Northern collaborates with employees to ensure what is expected and what is completed align.

Since the coronavirus pandemic forced Northern Credit Union ($410.7M, Watertown, NY) to send home staff members, the North Country cooperative has learned a lot about how to ensure a high level of service and security even in a work-from-home arrangement.

Here, Jessica Ridsdale an 18-year Northern employee who became senior vice president of human resources, training, and compliance in February 2019 shares a few of those lessons.

Jessica Ridsdale, SVP of HR, Training, and Compliance, Northern Credit Union

What was it like sending people home at the onset of the pandemic?

Jessica Ridsdale: When the pandemic began, we closed our relationship centers for all but appointments only and set up the ability for employees in all areas of the organization to work remotely. For everyone’s safety, we had to move quickly. Our CEO and some senior team members were onsite helping employees pack up their workstations to take home. Our IT team was readily accessible over the phone to help employees set up their equipment at home.

For front-line employees, the focus shifted from in-person to phones and personal teller machines. As it became safe to resume normal business hours, front-line team members shifted back to the relationship centers. All others work remotely unless they have unreliable internet at home. For them, we have a location in our corporate office they can use.

Most of our 120 employees are now either working from home or have the ability to do so.

Do you plan to keep them at home or bring them back into the office? How did you arrive at that decision?

JR: Our CEO and senior leadership team engage employees in all decisions. We collected feedback from employees throughout the pandemic and asked what their level of interest was in continuing to work from home. The overwhelming response was that telecommuting was preferred.


Northern Credit Union
DATA AS OF 03.31.21

HQ: Watertown, NY
ASSETS: $410.7M
MEMBERS: 34,407
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 25.6%
ROA: 1.45%

Given the circumstances, employees like being able to offer support in a safe way they’re more productive and they save money not traveling to work daily. Based on all that, we’ve decided to make it permanent.

Have you established policies and expectations for telecommuting? Do you ask staff members to sign an agreement that they’ll uphold these polices and expectations?

JR: Yes, we established a COVID-19 telecommuting policy that outlines expectations of employees, including for security and equipment. We gave employees we set up to work from home a copy of the policy, and they signed the agreement. We give it to new employees when hired unless their role is in a relationship center. We make arrangements for the new WFH employees to pick up their equipment; IT is available by phone for support with setting that up.


Who created the agreements? How much do they differ from what you were doing pre-pandemic?

JR: I created the agreement based on a sample. With so many companies shifting to a remote work environment resources were readily available. Whether a local business or a credit union, people wanted to help one another.

Our policy is not much different from a standard telecommuting policy. What made it different were the circumstances. With the pandemic, there was a sense of urgency to move everyone home so we could maintain service through alternate delivery channels.

Is your credit union considering a permanent option for remote work? Click here to download Northern’s work-from-home policy. Find this document as well as other policies, job descriptions, templates, and more in the Callahan Policy Exchange.

Are expectations and compliance different for people working from home?

JR: Whether an employee is onsite or working from home, expectations with respect to performance are the same. What someone is producing throughout the course of a day is easier to monitor in some areas versus others. For example, understanding call performance in the contact center is different in comparison to a project-focused team like marketing.

It all comes down to effective communications to ensure what is expected and what is completed align. If they don’t align, what’s the cause?


5 Ways To Succeed At WFH

Jessica Ridsdale, HR and training executive at Northern, offers five best practices to manage a work-from-home world.

  • Communicate. Talk through what is and what is not working. Be open to making changes.
  • Be secure. Ensure you have policies and practices in place for securing the confidentiality of member information.
  • Have a backup plan. Not all employees will have reliable internet. Northern has a centralized office for WFH employees to use when necessary.
  • Create comfort. Encourage employees to take frequent breaks and educate them on ergonomics. Ask them to send to HR pictures of themselves seated at their workstations, then offer advice on how to best position monitors, keyboards, and other equipment to increase comfort.
  • Teach telecommuting etiquette. Help employees position cameras so they’re looking directly at the person or team they’re communicating with. Talk about the importance of muting to avoid disruptions like dogs, doorbells, and loud typing.

How do you address security and compliance in your policies?

JR: Everyone is expected to ensure the protection of proprietary and confidential information. That’s of utmost importance. Employees are expected to abide by all policies, including those that govern use of equipment and facilities, software, support services, data security, internet, telephone, and more.

Employees don’t have Northern printers at home, and documents are not permitted to be printed or stored in a home office. Personal devices cannot be connected to Northern equipment.

Additionally, in-person credit union-related business must be conducted in a Northern facility, not a home office.

What opportunities do WFH arrangements present? Do agreements address those?

JR: Work-from-home arrangements offer greater work/life balance. Employees gain added personal time with not having to commute. We’ve also found that offering the ability to work from home has created opportunities to recruit talent from outside the area. This has been especially helpful with positions that can take longer to fill.

How do the agreements address other HR considerations?

JR: Our policies also outline other expectations for the work environment. The workspace must be set up in an area that is quiet and free from distractions, for example.

We also lay out expectations related to availability for communications through all internal channels telephone, chat, email, etc. These channels must be checked and responded to in a timely manner throughout the day. And, if any employee is injured at their designated work area during their assigned work hours, they’re expected to immediately report it to HR.

Engage employees to make sure you understand what’s working and what isn’t. Best practices will emerge that work best for your credit union and culture.

Jessica Ridsdale, SVP of HR, Training, and Compliance, Northern Credit Union

What is the biggest to-do and not-to-do you’ve learned during this process?

JR: The biggest to-do would be to continually engage employees to make sure you understand what’s working and what isn’t. Best practices will emerge that work best for your credit union and culture.

The biggest not-to-do would be to assume you’ll lose culture by shifting to a remote workforce. Leveraging platforms like GoToMeeting or Zoom enables teams to stay connected. New ways of engaging employees and teams will be discovered if everyone is continuously looking for better ways to communicate and involve one another.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


June 14, 2021

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