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We transferred the head office to remote work, gave the team more freedom. Why does the bank need it

26 January 2021

MC Today December 2020

During the quarantine, Credit Agricole has not just transferred its employees to working from home, but also changed the attitude to work. Conservative and serious bank now has dress code free days, transforms office rooms into co-working space, and allows employees not to show up in the office for months. 

As part of partnership project with MC.today, Olena Urusova, HR Director of Credit Agricole, told us how the quarantine had changed the top management’s and employees’ way of thinking, what the Head Office would look like, and what in the bank had remained unchanged.

Dress code and no remote work: that is how the bank was before the quarantine 

We started to change our bank even before the quarantine. In January, we launched our pilot project Telework (Eng. Remote work – ed. note), and shifted ten HO employees to remote work.

We wanted 10% of office staff to work remotely by the end of 2020. It seemed like a fresh and groundbreaking idea at the time: maintaining a work-life balance – a most-talked-about thing. Telework would differentiate us among competitors, we could hire the best specialists, and young people would willingly come to work to us.

I remember that opinions of the management regarding Telework varied. Some believed that working from home was inefficient due to a great deal of distractions, while some considered that we need only to set clear KPIs (Eng. Key Performance Indicators – ed. note) and it would work. Back then, all employees had fixed working schedule – from 9:00 until 18:00, and the time spent in the office was closely monitored. We also had mandatory dress code – no jeans, business-style clothing only.  

In 2019, when we discussed how exactly we would like to transform the bank, we could not imagine that lockdown would change us so much. However, 2020 showed that even such a serious and conservative bank could be progressive. The quarantine has introduced a term “new normal”: things that used to be odd and even unbelievable are now a reality.

Remote work, social distancing, limiting large meeting and gatherings, self-solation – these have become “normal”. If a company cannot adapt to it, it is unlikely to survive.

How we adapted to “new normal” 

A moment when metro was stopped was a game changer for us. People did not know how to get to work, warried about the virus, and felt depressed. Our task was to not lose a team, guarantee safety to employees, and show them that the bank can be relied on.

In Kyiv, we have two offices in the city center. In the first one located on Pushkinska street, approximately 600 employees including the Bank’s Board Members work. The second office located on Volodymyrska Street accommodates 300 employees who work with corporate customers. In March, both offices were switched to remote work. Everything was happening very fast, people took only essential belongings because they did not know when they would be able to come back to the office. In some rooms, you can still see wall calendars frozen on the page “March”. In September, a colleague said to me, “I do not turn over the page, you know. Because it has become our heroic history”.

Credit Agricole Team

Outlet employees work in safe conditions

During the first days of the quarantine, the bank has spent UAH 16 mln to purchase 700 laptops for its employees. IT and IТ Security were rashly setting up the secured system Telework, and providing necessary accesses to users. We continued working, and moreover, nobody was fired and salaries were saved.

For those who had to stay in the office – security guards, IT specialists that work with payment systems (Mastercard, Visa, etc. – ed. note), Board Members and the others, shuttle buses were arranged.

Humor saved us during the quarantine. When something was down in the Telework system of an employee, employees from Tech Support replied with a funny e-mail that reads “Congratulations! You won a trip to Pushkinska”, meaning that one had to come to the office to get his computer fixed or get a password restored.

In outlets servicing customers, there were – and there are – no remote mode of course. Approximately 20% of employees work in the Head Office, same as before. Everyone had his own personalized pass by using which the time spent in the workplace could be registered. Now our only focus is the result, though we still have passes – they are necessary for entering the premises.

An employee can go to the doctor in the afternoon, and finish the work in the evening after returning home. His efficiency remains. For instance, one of my colleagues picks his kid from school at lunchtime and it surely takes longer than our lunch break. Nevertheless, projects roll on. Sometimes, he sends me completed work in the nighttime, and it is quite normal for me. I can adapt to the new schedule of my colleagues, because a concept of working schedule became blurred a long time ago.

Free Friday in Credit Agricole outlets

During the lockdown, we have launched a new project – EasyNews, a selection of good news about the bank. Every Friday it described what new projects we were about to start, our financial indicators, and things like that. Now this newsletter is e-mailed once every two weeks, while latest news is published on our portal. EasyNews helps us to show our colleagues that the bank is strong and life goes on: number of projects is growing; we have profit and plans for the future. We have introduced changes for those employees who work in outlets as well. Now we are testing a pilot project Free Friday – one day a week, when they can come to work wearing jeans. It has been launched only in five outlets so far, and each one welcomed it with flying colors.

How our Head Office has changed

In 2020, we fundamentally reconsidered the need in office rooms, and decided to make them flexible. Reconstruction is underway. Therefore, when the pandemic is over, people will come to the brand new space. There will be more free space, but we will put smaller desks. Earlier, everyone had his personal workplace, and now one can come with a laptop and sit at any desk even on a different floor.

That is how the new office of Credit Agricole will look like

Not all employees were enthusiastic about this solution. Many people were reassured by the thought of a desk, a chair, and a mug waiting for them out there. For example, there were antique solid oak desks in some rooms at Volodymyrska, which we have replaced by more compact and modern ones. In return, complaints from colleagues poured down on us: “Viewing distance has become shorter and creates pressure on eyes”, “My knees bump up against a neighbor”. However, my favorite comment is that one about a chair. A couple of weeks ago, in November, we were discussing the office alterations with colleagues. And at some point, one of them asked, “Can I have my chair replaced? It is obvious that it would be hot sitting in it in the summer”. I advised to wait until June to see for sure. Unassigned workplace is also a part of the “normal” now, so we believe that employees will get used to it soon. Everyone was enthusiastic about the idea of converting one of the floors into co-working space. In addition to workplaces of the digital team, there will be meeting rooms, rooms without chairs for morning meetings, coffee zones to relax, and an open mansard. Everyone will work on laptops with personal access to software programs and information. It will allow leaving a laptop in a cabinet or taking it with you since now there is no need to come to the office every day.

IT Security employee working from home

The first online presentation of the Service Vision project for all employees of the Bank

How the Bank supports employees

Despite the quarantine, some things in the Bank remain unchanged. We hire people for their professional qualities; in all other respects, they are equal for us. More than 100 people with disabilities work in different units of the Bank – outlets, IT Department, the Contact Center, cash desks, etc. We do not consider age – more than 200 of our employees are 20 – 25 years old, but there are those who are over 60. We do not favor any sex: composition of our Management Board is 58% men and 42% women.

Our Bank provides equal opportunities to everyone regardless of age, sex, race, religion, etc., and it is written down in our corporate document – the Charter of Equality. 

For everyone who has passed a probation period and has worked for three months we provide health and life insurance. It also covers serious health problems like oncology. If the Bank’s employee dies, insurance company will pay an amount from UAH 100 000 to his/her family. If an employee’s family member dies, UAH 10 000 financial assistance will be available to him/her from the Bank.

In addition, we have in-house fund “True care” to which our employees voluntarily make their monthly contributions equal to 0.2% of their salaries. The Bank contributes the same amount every month. Employees or their family members can request the fund’s assistance, if money is required for treatment of a severe disease or a surgery. “True care” in itself is a mutual benefit fund: one can receive unreimbursable maximum amount of UAH 100 000 once a year. This year, we have paid the assistance 52 times totaling UAH 1.4 mln.

Since 2016, we have been helping our employees who became parents. We provide pregnancy and delivery insurance, and once a baby is born, employee receives UAH 10 000. Currently, approximately 250 our employees are on the maternity leave, which makes 10% of the entire team, and three of them are men.

Credit Agricole has four employees who are serving in the Joint Forces Operation. We preserve jobs, insurance, and salary for them and, of course, look forward to their return.

Signing of the Charter of Equality, autumn 2020

What we plan to do next 

Over the last year, the Bank underwent many changes, and we do not plan to stop. For example, we have reduced mortgage interest rate in our Bank for employees recently. For ordinary customers this rate is 18%, and for those who work in the Bank – 8%. Around 80 employees from all over Ukraine have already concluded mortgage agreements with Credit Agricole. We plan to reduce rates for other our products as well in order to support colleagues during the crisis.

These days, banks become more and more like IT companies. We move forward to it too. In 2019, apart from the telework experiment, we also adopted the Strategy of the Bank. Its primary focus is digital transformation.

We want our customers to be able to resolve their main issues online, so instead of the old mobile application CA MOBILE we launched the new one – СА+ created by the digital team of the Bank. Thanks to them we managed to launch it in June, only 10 months after the development started. It is a very short period for a mobile banking application. 

There is a funny story behind the СА+ launching. A few days after the application was released, one of its developers and a project leader Igor Holub stayed at telework. Suddenly, electricity went down. He found it in the nearest out-of-town café and launched this key project of the Bank there.

Igor Holub works remotely

We asked our employees to be the first testers of СА+ in order to receive feedback and fix any bugs. As the result, the Bank spent less funds and saved time.

The application allows you to exchange currency, pay utility bills, open a deposit account, and order a credit card. Actually, you can manage your finances without leaving home. Our Chairman of the Management Board said in recent interview that he did not remember the last time he withdrew cash from an ATM – he had been making non-cash payments for a while.

We plan to improve functionality of the mobile application. We are currently finalizing push notifications, card registration with Google Pay directly in СА+, and want to add chat with Bank consultants, and many more. During a period less than five months after the launch, we have released eight updates. Now, CA+ has more than 50 000 users, it is one of the three best mobile banking applications on the Ukrainian market according to users’ feedbacks in App Store and Google Play Market.

Moreover, we are working on the new internet-banking solution for private entrepreneurs. They will be able to make transactions involving large amounts without visiting an outlet.

The Bank aims to enter robotic automation sphere and introduce artificial intelligence. For instance, start chat bots that will be able to do standard procedures like changing credit limits on cards instead of a human.

2020 was a watershed year for Credit Agricole, and we have changed. However, I believe that the most important is not external changes, but changes inside the Bank and us all. In 2019, we were thinking how to transform some processes and add technologies, and now we decided to change the way of thinking. The same changes we expect from our employees. It is important for us that our people could quickly adapt to what is going on around them, and would not be afraid to act in any unclear situation. Now it is even more important than technical skills.

Watch the video of Credit Agricole. Year of humanity

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