Covid update 1/2021
We met with Community Bank business leaders yesterday to discuss the lockdowns announced in Scotland and England, as well as the on-going measures in place in Wales and Northern Ireland.
Feedback from members was shared and an exchange of views aired on the three key areas of concern:
- Opening hours
- Tackling customer behaviour in relation to face masks and social distancing
- What services should be available to customers
Here is the resultant updated COVID-19 Restrictions Guidance and our commentary in in the newsletter below.
Our members called for a reduction in opening hours, so we’re pleased that the business has agreed revised branch opening hours from 9.30am ‘til 2pm, Monday to Friday (except where existing opening hours are less). All branches will be closed on Saturdays. This will take effect from today, 6th January until at least 15th February.
Whilst this doesn’t go as far as the changes put in place during lockdown (1) last March, the rationale is based on transaction analysis which shows a peak of activity at 10am. It’s felt that a 9.30am opening time should avoid lengthy queues building up which would be worse for customers in winter weather conditions. It should also mean staff can travel to work off-peak.
The business has also agreed to reinstate the offer to pay travel expenses to colleagues who would prefer not to travel by public transport, including car parking charges and taxi fares.
When the branch closes at 2pm, you should be allowed to go home, unless you’re needed to support critical run the bank activities (e.g. cash deliveries) or to support another part of the Group (e.g. Group Customer Services / Connect).
This doesn’t mean a return to staying behind to do ‘meaningful work’. But you may be asked to support ‘critical work’. We’ve asked for more information on this expectation but accept that it will take time to understand what’s necessary and do-able as the lockdown kicks in. We’ll tell you more when we know more.
In the meantime, we encourage all colleagues and line mangers to be as flexible as possible - working closely together to agree what’s safe, sensible and reasonable in each individual’s circumstances. If you can’t reach agreement, then come to us for advice and support. (See contact details at the end of this newsletter, based on branch postcode).
Don’t forget - you will be paid your full contracted hours no matter how many you are able to work and there will be no requirement for you to work any reduction in hours back.
This is an important commitment and we’re really pleased that it remains in place – it will be increasingly important as colleagues have to manage childcare, self-isolation, support for family members and other demands on them during this lockdown.
Thanks to all of you who sent in your experiences of, and views on, deteriorating customer behaviour. Particularly in relation to wearing of face masks (or not!) and social distancing. The business acknowledged the need to suppress customer demand and reduce the number of customers who go to branch, accepting that it should be the last resort, and agreeing to do all it can to minimise overall demand levels through:
- Increased guidance through social media (Facebook, Twitter … )
- Increased prominence of new opening hours
- SMS messages to customers
They’re working with the bank’s Chief Customer Office to reinforce the message that customers should stay at home unless their visit to a branch is essential.
Services to customers
There was a debate about whether or not restricting services to ‘essential’ only was appropriate this time round given that branches have been made COVID safe and PPE and other supplies are now provided for all customer facing staff.
The question of what should be deemed ‘essential’ was also talked through. For example, if essential means simply paying cash in and taking cash out – where would that leave a customer who needed to extend their overdraft to be able to get cash out? It is indeed a tricky one. One that the business feels is better dealt with by a more robust customer behaviour campaign than trying to legislate for what can or can’t be done once a customer gets to branch.
Their own feedback from colleagues throughout has been that restricting transactions during lockdown (1) led to more aggressive customer behaviour and achieved very little in terms of limiting colleague exposure. Put simply, by the time a colleague had tried to explain to a customer that they couldn’t transact their business and the inevitable discussion that followed, they could have completed the transaction anyway.
We know there will be mixed views on this and we’re happy to take more feedback from you in the light of experience. Take the time to review customer transactions and behaviour over the next few days and let us know how things are going. Email [email protected]
Other issues we discussed yesterday included:
- Face to face interviews – these must STOP unless for vulnerable customers and only if a colleague is comfortable to do so.
- MaPAs – should work from home if they’re equipped to do so. If not, they should continue to work in branch in the same way as other colleagues.
- SBMs – are regarded by the business as a critical resource to support branches and should work from a single branch only.
Cross-branch working – colleagues should stay working in one branch only except in exceptional circumstances, which can only be signed off by an Area Director.
- Pregnant colleagues – we’ve asked for clearer guidance particularly for those who are 28 weeks or more into their pregnancy who we feel should be able to stay off work with full pay. The current government advice is here and we’ll circulate the bank’s response as soon as it’s available. In the meantime, if you’re pregnant and need support, contact the Accord officer who covers your branch (details at the end of this newsletter, check for your branch postcode).
We’ve also asked the business to consider going back to more flexible resourcing during reduced opening hours if it’s operationally possible so staff get more time away from branch and therefore are less exposed to each other and to customers. This worked well in many branches during lockdown (1) when staff were split into teams and worked opposite days, for example.
We’ll be meeting regularly with Community Bank business leaders over the coming weeks, reviewing customer transaction levels and behaviour, staff absence, branch closures and feedback from the most important people – you, our members.
Our job is to keep you as safe as possible. If we’re not doing that – let us know. We can deal with individual branch situations quickly and confidentially – just drop an email or call the Accord officer who covers your workplace (details at the end of this newsletter).
And we’re not just working with your employer. Through our affiliation to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) we’re calling on the government to urgently update workplace safety rules to protect essential workers – like you – who can’t work from home. We believe the government must update the rules on ventilation, masks, limits on numbers and social distancing in workplaces. You can read more about our work through the TUC here.
This is a really worrying time for us all. But we know and appreciate that it’s much more worrying for members like you who have to leave the safety of your own home to keep the UK’s financial services going. You really are key to getting us through the pandemic and we can’t thank you enough. All of us here at Accord HQ are very proud of you. Thank you for being an Accord member.
Any comments or queries should be sent to the contacts listed in the newsletter.
Further updates will follow.