KATMANDU, JUNE 07
The corornavirus pandemic has changed life in general, but at the same time underscored the importance of frontline workers providing essential services. These include most banking jobs, which are in direct contact with customers. At a time when the country is grappling with the second wave of the pandemic,
Sujit Shrestha, the chief operating officer of Standard Chartered Bank Nepal, shared with Himalayan times the many challenges faced in the first foreclosure, overcome them, and the outlook as the bank prepares to adjust to the post-pandemic ‘new normal’. Excerpts:
Were there any challenges at the start of the pandemic that were unique to Nepal?
Like any organization with responsibilities to its customers and staff, we have contingency plans for crises that are simulated regularly. Even during the 2015 earthquake, SCBN was able to provide services to its clients from day one using alternative locations and arrangements. However, this COVID-19 pandemic is a unique crisis that also for such a prolonged period and, therefore, no organization would have thought about it and would have been prepared for it. So above all, it was a big challenge to understand the extent and duration of the pandemic. However, having an international network, we started to get feedback from our offices in different markets that experienced a pandemic crisis early on, we started to receive the feed a bit in advance. But of course, as soon as we entered a full lockdown, it was a completely different situation than any of us had anticipated. Our people had to stay wherever they were and operate remotely from day one. The biggest challenge in the early days was communicating and coordinating a large number of dispersed employees. Despite a good number of employees connected remotely to the bank’s systems using their laptops, there were still a significant number of employees who required remote working capabilities.
As people had never had the opportunity to work from home for a longer period of time in the past, most of our staff did not have a suitable workstation setup for working remotely. Organizing these logistical and technological infrastructures was a Herculean task for our central support teams. We had to organize our regular meetings for many virtually large-scale teams. The requirement was much more than a few audio or video conference rooms. Some of our technology systems and capabilities weren’t ready to support remote access, requiring teams to travel to the office to process transactions and meet customer needs.
The first line of the meta tag on the Standard Chartered Bank Nepal website reads “Often the best way to inspire is by example.” Can you give examples of initiatives taken by the bank during the pandemic that were an industry first?
We were among the very few organizations that were able to switch the majority of processing and maintenance services to a remote working model very quickly. Our regulator, the central bank, appreciated the Work from Home (WfH) approach that the bank had adopted so as not to disrupt customer services while protecting the health of our staff. The approach has been more socialized to industry and many banks have gradually adopted it. Among the many services we have provided to our customers, our 24/7 customer service center, business and payment operations have ensured that critical transactions and services are never interrupted. We made sure that these services were fully capable of working remotely. Our technology team has provided many solutions on enterprise technology capabilities, voice / video conferencing and other collaboration tools at a much faster speed.
In the few weeks since the full lockdown, the bank has completely shaped its new virtual work environment, capable of withstanding the pandemic crisis for much longer. We have used all the communication tools available to keep our teams informed and connected. Our communications teams and people managers have helped everyone stay the course by over-communicating and maintaining a high level of engagement. The faster adoption of new ways of working by staff is something we have done very well.
StanChart said it would make the flexible working arrangements introduced during the pandemic permanent and could cut a third of its offices over the next three to four years. Will the Nepal office also follow this strategy and if so will this lead to layoffs?
We launched the Future Work Now program in various offices across geographies. It is being launched in phases and more than 80 percent of staff in various countries will be able to opt for flexible working arrangements over the next few years. Needless to say, the pandemic has prompted many organizations to review working arrangements with a view to obtaining the most appropriate model that will be sustainable both from the point of view of organizational productivity and employee well-being. staff. As we all know, the world to come will not be the same as in the past, significant efforts will be needed from organizations to prepare for the “new normal”. We believe that in the future people will have more preferences on how they work – balancing between on-site and remote work. We are exploring all possible arrangements given the unique requirements of different functions and roles and there will be a certain proportion of flexible work arrangements available for specific roles in the future on an ongoing basis.
The key goal of flexible working is to bring better productivity to the job while making it location independent. We are not focusing on layoffs as a result of this initiative, but will be looking at opportunities to optimize or maximize the use of our premises to support our future growth using a hybrid work model that offers the flexibility for staff to work from different locations.
There has been a growing discourse on the “right to disconnect”. Can you detail the measures put in place to ensure the work-life balance of SCBN staff?
Work-life balance for staff has never been more important than it is today due to the variety of ubiquitous official communications enabled by digital. We have flexible work practice guidelines to support staff work-life balance. Staff can opt for a flexible working model without compromising or affecting service to our clients with the approval of their HR manager. We strongly encourage our staff to “log off” outside of working hours as they would under normal circumstances. In addition to the physical well-being of our staff, we have also placed great emphasis on their mental well-being. We offer apps for the mental well-being of our staff where they can access a wide variety of personalized programs. We have organized a number of awareness sessions for staff on a variety of possible mental and behavioral issues due to the existing situation. We have recruited psychologists and mental wellness specialists where staff can choose to speak to them directly. Regular and consistent communications are communicated to staff on the need to stay fit physically and mentally.
Line managers are strongly encouraged to catch up with their teams regularly, not only to talk about work, but also to help them with personal issues. It has been made clear that our staff are under our responsibility and that in the event of a health emergency, the organization is ready to provide all possible assistance – whether financial, logistical or otherwise.
I am proud to belong to a truly “human” organization. The way the organization takes care of its employees is exemplary. Even in these unprecedented difficult situations, we have ensured that all possible help, advice and assistance is provided to our staff. As banking services are essential and some staff must be on duty, we have provided all facilities beyond just transportation, healthy meals and personal protective equipment. All of our staff are adequately insured. We have a “pandemic committee” which is convenient and accessible at all times.
A version of this article appears in the June 8, 2021 print of The Himalayan Times.