The start of the 2020-2021 school year is approaching fast, and it will be an academic year like none we’ve experienced before. As of this writing, most Wisconsin school districts have yet to declare whether they will be opening with fully in-person learning, physically distanced learning, or fully virtual learning (see the recommendations in the Department of Public Instruction’s Education Forward plan). 

Already, the state’s two largest school districts—Madison Metropolitan School District and Milwaukee Public Schools—have announced they will be opening 100% remote/virtual through at least Oct. 30 (the end of the first quarter). 

This puts employers, banks included, in a difficult position. Employees who are also parents may face a lack of childcare options if schools choose to operate virtually, but planning is difficult until schools announce their decisions. With how quickly the situation keeps developing and changing, most banks are taking a “wait and see” approach. However, having a plan in place for each of the above scenarios will equip banks for a nimble response. 

Even though banks were classified as “essential” and allowed to continue in-person operations for the duration of Wisconsin’s Safer-At-Home orders, many allowed employees to work from home if their job duties allowed for it. In addition, a few banks adopted flexible hours and/or work-from-home (WFH) policies to accommodate employees with childcare constraints. 

However, that was in March, when most of us expected the pandemic to be a relatively short disruption. Now, signs point to a much longer period of "covidian” reality. Bank leadership must determine the best approach to take regarding how and when to provide accommodations to employees who are also caregivers. 

When determining if/when to provide flexibility for staff, variables to consider include: 

  • Which schools will be affected? 
  • What ages are the children? (impacts caregivers’ ability to work while supervising) 
  • Will the school be entirely virtual or a hybrid? 

Or, if unknown: When does the school/district plan to announce this information? 

  • What position does the employee hold? Do their job responsibilities allow for remote work or flexible hours? 
  • Do staff want to work from home? Many employees prefer working in an office environment and seeing their colleagues face-to-face. 
  • What is required of the bank under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which is in effect until Dec. 31, 2020? 

When determining what accommodations to offer, banks have three primary options to consider: in-branch/office work only, full-time WFH, or a hybrid approach (such as flexible work hours or split shifts). The split shift, in particular, could be a useful tool for employees with customer-facing roles who need to be “on the clock” in order to do their jobs (ex: customer service). Establishing a split shift schedule could potentially allow staff to coordinate childcare with a spouse or other family member/caregiver, allowing them to work from the office at least part of the time. 

Any remote work solutions will likely rely heavily on the bank’s IT team to roll out, especially if not many staff (or any) worked remotely during the Safer-At-Home shutdown. 

WFH Resources from WBA 

Regardless of the bank’s approach, flexibility and communication with employees will be key. Learning from employees what their needs and wants are, and then working to accommodate those as much as possible given the circumstances is a fundamental way to build engagement and loyalty in staff for the long term. 

Take care of your employees and they will take care of your customers. 

Seitz is operations manager and senior writer. 

This article was written with the input of the WBA Human Resources Committee. Thank you to all for your insights.