The COVID-19 pandemic has turned everyone’s world upside down – especially for companies that have been forced to work remotely. When PenChecks Trust™ made the decision to have all staff work from home, we knew we had the technology and systems in place to handle it operationally. What we didn’t know is how employees would react to the social isolation.
As senior management discussed how to approach this unprecedented situation, we wondered: how would people work at home? Would they stay focused on the job? Would they put in the same effort they do in the office? As we pondered these questions, we realized that much of our success over the past 25 years can be attributed to our core values – trust, innovation, dedication and accountability. To keep employees motivated and focused during this unsettling time, we decided to focus on two key strategies – constantly reinforce our core values and treat our employees like we treat our clients.
PenChecks has placed a high priority on innovation since the day we opened because our entire business proposition was based on performing tedious tasks faster and cheaper than our clients could do for themselves. Nearly 18 months ago, we began a major initiative to update our systems and operations from a client service perspective.
In particular, we updated our client service case ticketing and tracking system to be entirely automated and cloud-based. That way, our service reps can work at home with the same speed and efficiency as they do in the office. With the speed and breadth of the COVID pandemic, we were able to move our entire operation offsite with no degradation in service. Had we not performed the updates before the pandemic, working remotely would have presented a significant challenge.
Accountability and Trust
As a trust company that handles other people’s money, PenChecks has always felt accountable to the broader community as well as our clients. With many of our clients still going to the office every day, we felt a responsibility to help them continue serving their clients as efficiently as possible. We also had to consider the health and wellbeing of our employees, as their safety always comes first.
We took a proactive approach, moving our entire workforce to a mobile work environment a week before the state of California issued the shelter in place order.
Currently, all our employees work from home except for a few individuals who come into the office once or twice a week to perform operational tasks. The head of our distributions team comes in every day because it’s more efficient to use the printers and specialized machinery we have in the office. Crisis or no crisis, it’s our job to get distributions out on time, every time.
In the workplace, trust is built through open communication and a sense of connection. To keep employees feeling connected we leveraged technology, such as instant messaging, video conferencing and screen sharing, to make it feel like we are sitting across the table from each other when conducting business.
For example, PenChecks typically holds an all-staff meeting once a month to provide corporate news, announce updates and celebrate milestones. Now we do it once a week via a video call. We keep it short and to the point, but it gives people a chance to see each other, which we have found is powerful during this quarantine. We also have an employee give a prepared three to five-minute presentation on one of our core values – why it’s important, what it means to them, and how they try to emulate it in their work.
Thanks to the enthusiasm and creativity of our employees, this has become the highlight of each meeting. Some have delivered PowerPoint presentations. Others have created videos. Some have shared funny and touching stories. No matter the presentation style, it reminds us all of the standard we want to hold ourselves to, even while working at home. And this has built a tighter bond among our team.
Making it Fun
Fun is not one of PenChecks’ core values, but it has certainly helped keep us connected while we work from home. Every employee is set up with Microsoft® Teams, which works like an IM/chat platform, to enable video calls with team members. We also created team channels so people can share social things within the company. One channel focuses on people’s kids, another on what folks are eating and cooking at home. We also have a photo of the week contest, with the best original photo earning a gift card prize.
Additionally, over the past two months we have sent employees three different care packages. The first was a fruit basket with nuts, crackers and other munchies. The second consisted of a package of gourmet hamburger patties. People loved it, and pictures of employees grilling the burgers at home immediately began popping up on the team channel. The most recent package held a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle – a montage of pictures of almost everyone in the company. We included a note that said, “Thanks for being such an important piece of our puzzle. We thought we’d give you something to do while you’re at home.”
Over the past two months, we have discovered (or re-learned):
- Culture counts. A crisis can bring out the best or worst in people. Corporate culture is the same. We believe our culture has actually improved due to the way we have handled working remotely.
- The importance of living your values. Keeping our values in front of everyone in a meaningful way is a powerful motivator. Not senior management talking at employees, but having front-line employees give personal examples of how they strive to emulate the values.
- Connection is vital. The social aspect of work often gets overlooked. Supporting social communications shrinks the sense of distance and isolation that can arise in remote work situations.
- Make it fun. Fun activities build a sense of connection and, by manufacturing fun experiences that were common to all our employees, we were able to bring people together (grilling burgers and assembling puzzles) even though they were in their own homes away from each other.
- Be intentional. These interactions don’t happen by themselves. Chart a course for helping employees get through the work-at-home experience and they will continue to deliver the results your business needs.
In a way, our journey with employees through the pandemic has mirrored our journey with clients.
It has always been our philosophy to treat our clients with respect and care so they feel part of the PenChecks family. With everyone working remotely, we took a page out of our own book and became more intentional about making sure our employees felt plugged in and connected. Yes, most people are ready to get back to the office. But until we can, we’ll continue to remind them that PenChecks is a company that values them and cares about each other no matter where we work.
President and CEO