TwinStar Credit Union Shares its Approach to Short-Term and Long-Term Remote Work
October 20, 2020
In March, the coronavirus forced TwinStar Credit Union, based in Olympia, Washington, to close branches and move support staff remote. Since then, the credit union has split its focus between what it needs now and what it will need in the future.
“We’ve been working to build out the right support structure for the current environment while also thinking about the long term,” says Scott Daukas, the credit union’s Chief Strategy Officer.
When operations changed in March, TwinStar ensured systems were in place to serve members during a short period of uncertainty. Daukas estimates that by year-end, TwinStar will have completed nearly three years’ worth of strategic development projects, many including digital technologies.
Now, more than six months since the earliest shutdowns began, the credit union also is focusing on the future. The organization is considering challenging questions such as: How will consumer behavior change? Will member needs change? What can be done now to prepare for tomorrow?
“We’ve been in this for six months, and we think it’s going to go on for a year or more,” Daukas says. “So, when we come out of this, what do we go back to?”
TwinStar has been asking its member-facing staff as well as its back-office employees that question for the past five months. The pandemic has proved members can use digital services in lieu of branch closures and wide-scale remote work can succeed; however, will the next six years look will the past six months?
At TwinStar, the answer is yes … and no.
The credit union has changed its branch operations to accommodate the immediate needs of employees, but it sees changes to where work will occur in the long term.
The Hub-And Spoke Temporary Approach
In early September, TwinStar introduced a hub-and-spoke strategy in preparation for a challenging fall for its front-line staff.
TwinStar organized its branches into four major regions. One branch within each of those regions serves as the hub. It is open for full, walk-in service banking. The four or five other locations within each region are limited to appointment-only or drive-thru service.
“We are, in effect, asking our members to use our digital channels,” Daukas says.
The timing coincides with the beginning of the school year in TwinStar’s markets. Many of the credit union’s front-line staff have school-age children, and the hub-and-spoke strategy offers a way to balance at-home learning and work responsibilities. And, because these employees are cross-trained, employees who aren’t in the branch can assist the call center or mortgage origination teams as well as participate in the floating pool that supports branches in the case of sickness or absence.
“There’s work to be done within the credit union,” Daukas says. “They can take calls or chats and still feel productive even though their day-to-day circumstances have changed.”
TwinStar plans to use this model until summer 2021. By that time, the academic year will be over and a vaccine for COVID-19 might be available. In the meantime, the credit union is learning more about member behaviors and the utility of its digital channels.
“Already we’ve seen high service-level ratings,” Daukas says. “But we’re also interested in seeing any changes to the demographics of who is using what services and how behaviors are changing. When things return to what we might consider ‘normal,’ what’s going to be different?”
Remote Work And The Three Rs
Presently, TwinStar has no plans to make its back-office a remote-only operation. However, remote work capabilities do provide flexibility and are a valuable competency for an organization.
“Our goal is to put TwinStar in a spot where our back-office employees don’t have to come back to the office if it doesn’t make sense,” Daukas says.
According to the strategy officer, remote work offers benefits in the forms of resiliency, recruiting, and retention. For example, technology at disparate locations can help the credit union more seamlessly tackle potential business continuity events. Additionally, remote work opens the credit union to larger recruiting pools and broader retention strategies than an office-only environment.
“We can recruit from anywhere and create a quality of life advantage for some of our team members who commute from Seattle or areas north of Olympia,” Daukas says. “The remote option allows us to be flexible with how we approach work.”
That flexibility isn’t always easy to attain, but after operating in a remote-work environment for the past six months, TwinStar has solidified remote policies and established a remote-friendly culture.
“It’s a mindset shift,” Daukas says. “You have to change your mentality. The office is no longer this corporate, nine-to-five place where all work gets done.”
Luckily, TwinStar has a physical infrastructure that has allowed employees to get things done outside the office. According to Daukas, most companies have figured out how to maintain an appropriate standard for hardware, connectivity, and privacy. He’s confident about his team’s remote infrastructure, but the credit union still wants to make enhancements.
By year-end, Daukas anticipates his credit union will be up and running with a virtual desktop software that will allow TwinStar employees to access their work computer from any device — whether laptop, tablet, or even smartphone — securely.
“We’re not talking about using a VPN to get into our network,” Daukas says. “We’re talking about being on our network on any device you want.
In advance of that software, TwinStar accelerated a project to extend the bandwidth of its network and added staff to its IT team to manage the progress. Both actions helped the credit union get to a place where it’s ready to introduce a virtual desktop.
Now, the credit union is fostering a culture that is accepting of long-term remote work.
“Change management is paramount to making this all work,” Daukas says.
The credit union is investing in communications to set expectations and spur engagement. It has been rebuilding its intranet, rethinking how it will spotlight employees and recognize successes, and re-establishing expectations for what meetings will look like. For the most part, Daukas says, meetings will likely have some virtual element, no matter the size or scope.
Ultimately, however, physical space might be the variable most affected by remote work. And according to Daukas, the credit union is working through several questions from a back-office standpoint. Who will be in the office? Who will be remote? Who will flex between? Based on those answers, how much space is needed? And what does that space need to look like?
“We’ve pretty much flipped everything on its head since March, and there’s more to come,” Daukas says. “But we think the changes will ultimately be positive.”
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Posted in Around the NW.