Published: August 10, 2020
Unity Trust Bank HR Director Julia Tarpey shares her experience of operating through lockdown at Unity.
When lockdown first started in March, I felt that Unity was uniquely placed to support its customers. Unity Connect, our UK Customer Service Centre enabled customers to speak directly to one of my colleagues, we aim for 92% first call resolution. I feel proud of this level of service and feedback from our customers confirms they really value the human interaction. At the height of the pandemic I heard someone on the news say, “It’s Time for Unity”, this struck a chord with me and I used this as the subject line for my regular emails to our colleagues across the business.
We invoked our Business Continuity Plan and rapidly migrated to home working in mid-March, just before the lockdown was announced. We had little time to prepare and it felt like a very sudden change to our way of working. Pulling together and mobilising remotely enabled us to avoid furloughing any of our 115 employees.
My regular emails to colleagues were intended to provide reassurance and ensure we stayed connected during this challenging period. I wanted to ensure colleagues had a clear message and dispel any unhelpful rumours. I covered topics such as:
I also covered personal disclosures about how I was feeling and how the situation was impacting me and my family personally. People emailed back with comments such as:
No one expects the ‘clap for carers’ to be extended to the banking industry but I shared the letter we received from the Treasury thanking us as key workers and colleagues really appreciated this recognition: “Great to see the work of us bankers, in supporting organisations and the economy, recognised in the letter from the Treasury…”
I encouraged colleagues to step forward if their new working conditions meant they had spare capacity, colleagues were great at picking up tasks that they wouldn’t normally do and we encouraged people to speak up if they felt overwhelmed or needed more coaching to undertake new tasks. Working remotely removes that line of sight, it’s not always easy to see who needs help.
I encouraged staff to:
Mid-April was a particularly low point – several colleagues had lost loved ones in the pandemic and it was challenging to support each other in a bereavement situation. From my own experience I knew that, even if everyone was healthy, getting along with the rest of the household, or if someone was alone, it could be really hard during lockdown. I reminded colleagues of our Employee Assistance Programme and other benefits that might be useful for health concerns, as well as free resources at MIND.
Our Phased Return to the Workplace
Encouraging people to come back to the office as lockdown eased represented another challenge. Whilst some roles could easily be performed from home, others were more difficult. We were concerned about the potential risks of managing confidential data and conversations with customers remotely; we had invoked continuity plans, but this was not intended to be a long term solution. We reviewed our offices in May to ensure they met the ‘COVID safe’ government guidelines and began a slow, gradual migration back to the office in June. We agreed a 3 phase approach, adhering to the government advice and taking input from our Health and Safety Committee. Line managers were in contact with each member of their team to discuss any individual concerns.
I personally returned to the office on 1 June after 10 weeks of working from home and shared the detail of the experience in my next ‘all colleague’ update. We produced a video and shared that on our intranet. This showed how our office had been set up to according to the Government’s new Covid-secure guidelines and our Risk Assessment was published on our intranet too. Everything felt squeaky clean and well controlled and it was lovely to see colleagues. Life was beginning to return to some normality.
Throughout the pandemic I felt it important to recognise that everyone had their own unique circumstances, and these should be discussed individually with their manager. Our CEO held monthly cascades by videoconference, each with different themes and different speakers, and with lots of recognition and the employee Q&A sessions. I really feel that our people have been a credit to Unity during this pandemic. It’s not over yet but I feel confident that we can weather the storms together and use this opportunity to shine. We are now moving to “Unity 4ward”!