The New Normal: Getting Back to Work During COVID-19

By Joel Williquette

As parts of our country prepare to “reopen for business” what constitutes the new normal for our nation’s community banks will depend on several parameters. These include local pandemic conditions, state and federal guidance, business requirements and the needs of the local communities they serve.

ICBA has created a pandemic return to work guide to help community banks develop, implement, and communicate workplace flexibilities and protections as they gear up to resume more normal operations and reopen or expand in-branch services. The guide covers considerations surrounding employee and customer interactions, risk management mitigation, matters of legal liability, and coordination efforts as appropriate with government entities.

This could entail shifting workplace configurations, extending telework options for staff in high-risk categories, or providing personal protective equipment, if circumstances warrant. It also may include erecting physical barriers of separation (i.e., plexiglass partitions or social distancing markers) or changing protocols related to small spaces (i.e., entering safety deposit box areas).

Spacing and safety considerations may also mean doing away with coffee and pastries in favor of hand sanitizer stations or continuing to promote digital remote capabilities and technology-enabled services like online or mobile banking, call centers, ATMs and drive-thru services.

Exposure or Outbreak Response

Any community bank reopening strategy also should include protocols in the event of a COVID-19 exposure or outbreak. ICBA advises community banks to follow appropriate COVID-19 and health procedures, which may include:

  • Reinforcing the importance of social distancing,
  • Providing symptom-reporting guidance to employees,
  • Requiring employees stay home or self-quarantine if they’ve recently traveled or have been exposed to COVID-19, experience symptoms, or are diagnosed with the virus, and
  • Establishing a communication’s plan to report cases and any resulting quarantine, facility shutdown, and cleaning actions to employees, shareholders, customers and state and local authorities.

Maintaining Lines of Communication

In addition to implementing best practices for the safety of employees and customers, it’s important to continue providing relevant and timely updates that outline the bank’s ongoing COVID-19 response to maintain the trust and comfort of staff and customers.

Ensuring that your message is consistent and clear across touchpoints and channels will go a long way to providing reassurances. While the branch experience may be altered, the standard of service and support offered by your community bank remains as important as ever. After all, community banks are, and will continue to be, relationship bankers.

Your employee communication plans should provide information about physical workplace changes and safety measures, and set expectations for following new procedure. Use multiple channels (email, chat, video, social media, and branch signage) to ensure messages are widely received and reinforced. Make sure employees feel included and invite them to provide feedback or come to you with any questions they may have after you share your plan.

It’s important to remember that during these difficult times, customers understand and expect your bank will be operating differently, but they expect a level of transparency as you establish a path forward. As always, continue to demonstrate customer welfare as the top priority; and address their concerns about your community bank’s safety practices and any perceived risks of which they should be aware.

Given the scale and fluidity of the COVID-19 pandemic it’s impossible to predict when or if “business as usual” will return, but by remaining responsive to the needs of employees and customers, community banks will be one step closer to instilling a sense of consistency when their staff and customers need it the most.

Joel Williquette is ICBA senior vice president of operational risk policy.