COVID-19 – What We’re Hearing and Lessons Learned
June 23rd, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented and challenging times worldwide. While organizations have had business continuity plans in place for years and conducted tests in preparation for natural or manmade disasters, those plans and tests were limited in scope. Most plans never considered that their customers also would be in the same situation, and they rarely took into account durations of lengthy disasters like that caused by the coronavirus.
COVID-19: What are we hearing from clients?
How are clients reacting to the current situation? Many are operating quite well, which I will share a little later; however, it took time for them to get their operations on the right track.
Initially, there were many distractions. The situation alone was enough to distract. However, with entire families forced to be at home, those with children had to be productive and, at the same time, serve as a teacher and care provider. While many had worked from home before the pandemic, it was not for extended periods of time. As a result, new “semi-permanent” workspaces needed to be created.
Employees went from using multiple computer monitors in their offices to using a single monitor, and, in many cases, a small laptop screen at home. In most geographic areas, internet stability was not an issue. However, it was extremely challenging in some areas, especially in offshore locations. In addition, beyond internet challenges, not all employees were previously set up with remote access. So organizations had to arrange for those employees to gain remote access from their homes and possibly equip them with computer hardware as well.
In at least once instance, an organization had multiple laptops held up getting through customs, causing delays in getting employees back to work. That said, while there were pockets of problems initially, most organizations are indicating technology hasn’t been a huge problem overall. In fact, many of our clients are surprised at how well things are working out.
Organizations that rely on physical hard copies of documentation, especially those requiring wet signatures, were especially challenged. With so many sheltering in place, sending and receiving documentation proved to be difficult, as most client employees don’t have scanning equipment in their homes. As a result, they were forced to take scans or photos with their cell phones, and email them from their personal accounts to get them into their corporate environments.
National pandemic relief packages, such as CARES in the U.S. or CBILS in the U.K., added a huge amount of demand and stress on systems that were already experiencing challenges and start-up struggles due to the pandemic. For example, one U.S. organization processed as many loans in one week as they had processed the entire year prior.
Some organizations chose to shut down select branches, which funnelled customers through main locations. As a result, foot traffic in those locations increased dramatically. Cash withdrawals increased, however, many reported that the number of cash transaction reports (CTRs) overall were down. One could conclude this was caused by the number of cash intensive businesses that needed to close their doors. There were some organizations that saw a spike in CTRs; however, those tended to be organizations with higher net wealth individuals whose cash withdrawals were exceeding the CTR threshold. For the most part, transactions remained steady, as did most transaction-related alerts, with the exception of alerts related to cash.
What have we discovered?
Although we were beleaguered by many of the “startup” issues at the beginning of the pandemic shutdown, we are now almost three months in, and progress has been made. We are hearing from our customers that productivity is actually up. Many people are adopting staggered schedules between work and family, which is tending to increase productivity. That begs the question: “Will the increase in productivity continue when some of the non-essential businesses start opening up?”
Access to technology was a key concern on many people’s minds if a major disaster, such as the current pandemic, ever happened. Again, except for some of the startup issues, technology has been holding strong, both from an overall infrastructure perspective to support employees working remotely, as well as organizations’ internal systems and processes to support their employees.
Where do we go from here?
As mentioned above, organizations have uncovered some processes that are not optimally designed for large groups of employees, as well as their customers, in a remote setting. Changes will need to be made to accommodate for the shortcomings.
There is going to be a bigger push for digitization. While organizations have been trending in that direction for years, the pandemic is going to expedite the adoption of digitization. Projects that would normally take four to six months were completed in a matter of weeks.
Lastly, organizations are determining how to return to normal. However – and I hate to say it, because it’s so overused – it will no doubt be a “new normal.” Companies are right now defining what that new normal will be for them and their customers. Over the last several years, many organizations have gone to an “open concept” work environment with tighter open spaces. Those will more than likely be altered to allow for “distancing” (another favorite, overused word). Returning back to work will be a phased approach. Many organizations are considering rotational schedules, where employees will work part time remotely and part time in the office, with another group on the alternate schedule.
As we move into the next phase, we will undoubtedly learn more lessons and face more challenges, but I’m confident that we will successfully navigate through them. In the meantime, be safe.