Long reads

How are people teams responding to coronavirus? ...Bank of Ireland

24 Apr 2020 By Francis Churchill

People Management finds out what employers are doing to tackle the logistical, financial and staff wellbeing implications of the global pandemic

The Bank of Ireland (BOI) is one of the Republic of Ireland’s (ROI) largest commercial banks and has over 11,000 staff internationally – including 3,000 in the UK.

The business impact

For Matt Elliott, the bank’s chief people officer, the focus has been on supporting customers and staff during the pandemic. “We recognise that keeping banks open and keeping the financial system working is absolutely essential for society,” he says. “We’re in a health crisis but obviously there’s an economic crisis too and we really see the importance of our role in supporting wider society by keeping our services going.” In the ROI alone, the bank has kept 161 branches open, closing around 100.

Keeping employees safe

In branches, the main concern has been “customers understanding what distancing means”, says Elliot, so clear screens have been installed between staff and customers; markers have been placed on the floor; and a new ‘chaperone’ role has been created in busier branches to help explain and enforce the measures.

In offices, Elliott and his team audited roles to ensure everyone who was able to worked from home. “In preparing for lockdown, we needed to define our critical services roles. Many of those can work from home, but some can’t,” said Elliott. This was communicated before the lockdown came into effect so everyone knew whether they could work from home or not. “What that’s done is enabled us to be really clear about social distancing for those who still need to come in.”

The bank had already started a programme to increase the number of people working from home, but it has “really supercharged that given the circumstances”, says Elliott. It has increased remote working IT capability and is supporting employees in getting the right ergonomic setup.

Redeploying staff

While footfall in branches has slowed, many customers have switched to using telephone banking services, making contact centres busier than usual. “We have been pretty creative in making sure colleagues in branches can support the contact centre,” says Elliott, noting that BOI has not furloughed any of its staff.

“Colleagues who just don’t have the customer footfall to support just now can absolutely go on to the phones. As a result we’ve managed customer demand really well, the team has come together very well and we've been able to satisfy that,” he says.

The bank has also been offering to retrain anyone wanting to support teams seeing an increase in demand, so the business has the resource, particularly in its contact centres, for if volumes or absences through illnesses increase. “We’re at a point in this curve where we have to expect there’s more to come from an illness perspective,” says Elliott. 

“We’re watching carefully what’s happening in Italy and Spain in particular and actually talking to the banks and HR colleagues there too,” he adds. “There definitely is a sense in HR of more sharing and learning than there normally is, and talking to the Spanish banks you get a bit of a sense as to where we might be and what the demands might be in three or four weeks time.”

Staff wellbeing

BOI launched a new wellbeing app at the start of the year which can be accessed by staff on their personal devices – a move Elliott describes as “timely”. “We don’t have everyone on bank systems when they’re outside of work and so a huge issue for me has been making sure our people can access the support they need at any time on any device,” he says.

The bank partnered with well-known Irish celebrity and wellbeing expert Karl Henry to create a 10-week programme covering mental, physical and financial wellbeing through online seminars, live feeds and interactive sessions. “That was our approach to wellbeing anyway this year, but now it’s a top priority whereas it was one of many before,” says Elliott.

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