“We sense that ‘normal’ isn`t coming back, that we are being born into a new normal: a new kind of society, a new relationship to the earth, a new normal experience of being human.”
——Charles Eisenstein, Public Speaker & Author.
The “new normal” has certainly become a household name in the last few months in the heat of the novel corona virus pandemic. From the corporate offices through religious circles and education, it is significantly becoming accepted that the world cannot be in the “old normal” again even after the ghost of COVID-19 has been exorcised.
Many financial institutions have been at the centre of those operational changes emanating from the effect of the pandemic. As less clients patronize banking halls physically, institutions are assiduously embracing themselves with measures that can help mitigate the negative results of the pandemic and to propel them to become very ready in the “new normal” era. As we hear a lot about restarting the economy (allowing businesses that were required to close during this ongoing public health emergency to reopen and permitting nonessential workers to return to work), it may sound great in theory because we are all eager to get back to “normal” but this isn’t a situation where doors can immediately be flung open and employees can return to work without restrictions.
How have banks adjusted, and what needs to take place for them to be ready for inside traffic once again. As an essential business, banks have continued to operate, but many changed gears by limiting access to branches and encouraging more online banking. With changes to stay-at-home orders happening or on the horizon, there are many practical implications that banks should start thinking about now to prepare for reopening especially branches or expanding operations and to create a safe environment once employees and customers return. Here are a few things to consider:
- Reinvent the physical act of ‘re-opening’ or expanding services:
Most, if not all, banks have temporarily closed at least some branches or limited branch operations, such as limiting customers to “drive-through access” and requiring customers to make appointments or advisedly use their digital platforms. As life shifts toward the “new normal,” banks must begin identifying areas of business that are most in need of physical access to a branch to ensure prioritization. Banks should start considering how many of their temporary measures, if any, will remain in place once national directives are revised or lifted. Issues to address include
- Whether the bank should continue limiting customers to “drive-through access” for certain transactions;
- Whether the bank entrance should be open; if so, whether the number of customers allowed in at a time should be limited and by whom. Think practically about what needs to be done, and where, in order to physically reopen.
- Strategize on returning employees at the branch to work:
This process will vary on a bank-by-bank and branch-by-branch basis. A key issue that needs to be addressed is who will actually return to the workplace and when. Banks need to think about the employees who need to be physically present in the workplace to do their jobs, such as tellers, and contemplate returning employees to the workplace in phases, potentially prioritizing those who must be physically present. Banks should consider which employees can telework (or continue to telework) without affecting productivity, in order to cut down on the number of employees in the workplace.
Banks should also look at the hours employees typically work and determine whether there should be any changes to schedules or work times. This could involve having different groups of employees in the office on different days. For example, some management-level employees could continue to work at home and come in only one day a week. The goal is to reduce branch capacity and thus potential exposure to COVID-19.
- Institute measures to keep the workplace safe, as employees and customers return:
Employers need to be proactive to mitigate the risk of exposing employees and customers to infection and creating a second wave of COVID-19 cases once branches reopen or expand operations. Regardless of which employees return to work and how often, banks need to develop and be prepared to enforce social distancing plans and other preventive measures. Banks should look at whether any physical modifications should be made to the workplace. For tellers, this may include extending partitions upward between cubicles or leaving every other cubicle empty, building out cubicles to create more distance between tellers and customers, or putting in a clear shield at each cubicle.
In the entrance, this may include removing chairs temporarily so customers are less likely to linger, and rethinking where and how customers can complete deposit and withdrawal slips at the branch. In other areas of the branch, this may involve repositioning desks, creating additional space between cubicles, or closing conference rooms. And take this opportunity to stock up on proper supplies, such as cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant to be used by customers and employees. Given the sheer number of high-touch surfaces in any given bank branch, there will be a lot of areas to sanitize throughout the day, so adequate supplies and a good cleaning protocol need to be considered.
- Plan for the unknown ahead:
Before the stay-at-home orders were put into effect, we were all reacting to what was happening in the moment. Banks should reflect on their processes and how they will need to change when employees return fully to work. Ensure there’s a solid procedure for tracking and reporting illness as well as a plan for reporting workplace safety issues, such as a co-worker who isn’t practicing social distancing. Consider whether any leave policies need to be temporarily revised to allow, for example, for child care difficulties if child care facilities are still closed, as it looks like many will be for a long time. Banks should also take this opportunity to make sure it’s clear who is responsible for engaging in the interactive process with employees.
- String together communications to employees and customers:
As much as we all want to return to business as usual, that isn’t the reality we’re facing right now. Employees need to understand that the workplace they return to won’t look or operate the way it did prior to the pandemic, there will be changes. Start working on messaging about the return-to-work process as well as expectations for employees once the branch reopens fully or expands operations. Customers, too, need to understand the changes occurring at bank branches.
If customers will be coming into the lobby and interacting in person with tellers or other bankers, consider putting up signage that sets forth expectations for customers. If banks haven’t had “drive-through service” during the pandemic and are going to reopen this operation, they need to make sure they are thinking about that process, such as how and when to ensure items exchanged between the customer and employee are comfortable and safe.
- Stay current on protocols:
All employers need to make sure they are up to speed on the most current protocol guidelines for the workplace. Check national directives on wearing a mask, using hand sanitizers and keeping social distancing. Banks must ensure they are following all applicable rules on safety, which are regularly being circulated.
About the Writer:
Ebenezer ASUMANG (CGIA) worked extensively in mainstream banking and NBFIs. He is a Google Certified Digital Marketer, an Author and a Chartered member of the CGIA Institute, USA.
www.ebenezerasumang.com /[email protected]/0242339145
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