The Bankers’ Guide to Working from Home

March 19, 2020 Dallas Wells

Over the last several years, the work-from-home movement has been gaining significant momentum in just about every industry in the world. Except, it seemed, for banking.

Of course, COVID-19 has changed that in short order. Many of the world’s largest banks have been scrambling over the last couple of weeks to figure out how to accommodate remote work at scale, and I’ve heard from a number of bankers who are being thrown into the deep end of remote work with little to no preparation.

As a former banker that has been working remote at PrecisionLender for more than 4 years now, I thought it might be helpful to share a few tips. Obviously, your own IT department will handle the deeper technical and security issues (don’t forget to log in and out of that VPN!), so my goal is to cover the “how to get work done” aspect of this.

First, the bona fides. In my 4+ years of working remotely at PrecisionLender, I’ve worked on multiple teams across a span of functions and geographies, have reported to a handful of bosses, and have managed teams of all sizes. Here’s what I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) that works, what doesn’t, and a few in between.

(Also, for full disclosure, many of these are things that I know to be true, but I still struggle to execute properly…just ask my teams.)

Routine

Figuring out your daily routine is critical. This is the part I struggled with the most in the beginning, because I was used to a certain morning routine I had been practicing for years. When I started working remotely, all of that was suddenly gone, and I had to figure out a new way to kick my brain into work mode. This will obviously be different for each person, but consistency is what’s important.

My day starts best when I get up early, work out, shower, have coffee with my wife, and then go into my office at a set time. It doesn’t always happen in that order (I have too many kids for it work that smoothly), but I function best when it does.

Two other really important related things here:

Environment

Do your best to find a dedicated place for work, and make it clearly divided from home life. I have an office where I can shut the door and I know when I am there, it is time to work. My wife and kids also know that I should be left alone while in the office. In establishing this environment, I have a clear start and stop time. I can “leave” work at the end of the day and have a proper work/life balance … I just have a really short commute. Your space might be the kitchen table, a spare bedroom, or a coffee shop, but it should be separate from “home” in whatever way possible, and help your brain arrive at and leave work.

Of course, this doesn’t always go to plan, and many of you won’t have an office space since you typically are not remote. We just all need to give each other some grace during this time.

via GIPHY

 

Movement

Make sure you incorporate some movement and a change of scenery. In my early days of remote work, I would often sit in front of my computer for 8 to 10 hours straight. There were no coworkers in the kitchen or down the hall to go talk to, so I would eat lunch at my desk, and would only occasionally get up for bathroom breaks and to refill water. That is a crappy existence. I now force myself to take mental breaks, and that requires getting out of my office. I’ll go for a walk or take my kids to a music lesson - anything to change the scenery and keep me focused when I return.

Communication

Once you have the foundation laid out, EVERYTHING else is about communication. Bankers do deep, technical work that requires a ton of collaboration between teammates, coworkers on other teams, clients, vendors, partners, etc. The communication must stay intact, and it will be harder than you expect without shared white boards and face-to-face conversations.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Err on the side of communicating too much, rather than too little. If you make it to lunch and realize you haven’t talked to anyone else by phone, email, or instant message, you’re probably doing it wrong. Your team should know what you are working on and what you need. Each team will figure out their own way of doing this, but it should be intentional. Be specific about what goes in Salesforce, email, intranet, Slack channels, and meetings, and hold each other accountable to consistently use the right tools.
  • Write it down or it didn’t happen. Meeting agendas, meeting notes, and calls all need to be documented. Again, better to have too much rather than too little, especially in the early days as we all figure out new routines.
  • Use a headset/headphones when on calls or in virtual meetings. Using computer audio or speakerphone makes it hard for everyone else to hear properly. There will inevitably be some echoes, feedback, lags, kids yelling in the background, and people furiously typing. (If you are going to multi-task during a meeting, shame on you, but at least have the courtesy to mute yourself.) I now use phone connections for every virtual meeting. It’s an extra step, but it makes communicating easier on everyone else.
  • Use video whenever possible. Some are very camera shy. I get it … I don’t like seeing my ugly mug on the screen for these calls, but I do it anyway. If you are only doing phone conversations, you WILL lose some of the subtle body language and facial expressions, and you’ll feel more distant from the people you work with. This is especially true if you are a manager. It helps to look each other in the eye whenever possible.
  • Finally, push your teams to adjust routines to fit this new reality. Try video stand-ups, virtual stand-ups, use your intranet or instant messaging, whatever works. Each team has different needs and different personalities, and you have to try a few different versions before you find what works. Just don’t expect it to happen auto-magically. It will take work and intentional thought, but it should be a priority.

Working with Clients and Prospects

Finally, even though it feels like much of the world has come grinding to a halt, banks are needed now more than ever. Business may not be “as usual,” but it must go on. And that means occasionally selling stuff while working with clients and prospects.

Many of us are used to frequent travel and rely on face-to-face conversations with customers to get real work done. With all of the various restrictions, this will get a lot harder. Most of the same principles above apply to working with your customers:

  1. Don’t just rely on email. You MUST pick up the phone and talk to each other.
  2. Use video whenever possible. Most of my team is used to seeing me in a t-shirt, but I do keep a nicer shirt in my office in case I need to see a client. My coworker usually has a jacket handy for the same reason. It won’t always be feasible, but if it is your job to sell stuff (and we ALL have that job to some degree), voice and face work a lot better than just email. If you settle for email communication only, you will struggle through this.
  3. Sell carefully. The blatant and self-serving sales pitches are not being received well in the current environment. But that doesn’t mean you can’t offer a product when there is a genuine need. Bankers are generally pretty good at this, so I would urge that you stick to your normal approach and don’t let the pressure to continue to hit your numbers blur this line.

Thank you all for reading, and please let me know if I can help!

 

About the Author

Dallas Wells

Dallas is a writer, speaker and former consultant who has held executive roles at two banks with experience in capital planning, liquidity forecasting, investments, budgeting, financial reporting and mergers and acquisitions.

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