HR manager at Erste: Working from home is here to stay at Erste Bank

English2021. feb. 7.Növekedé

The proportion of remote work can reach up to 50 percent after the epidemic in the areas where work processes allow it, the HR manager of Erste Bank told növekedé According to Krisztina Mihók, although offices are here to stay in the future, they will have social functions, while in-depth work will be done from home. She added that because of the impact of the coronavirus, it is much easier to find new colleagues than before.

How many employees do you have in total? 

Erste Bank and its subsidiaries currently have a total of about 3,300 employees. 

Erste Bank introduced remote working fairly quickly and flexibly after the outbreak of the epidemic. To what extent is this advantage when recruiting and retaining employees? 

It is not the introduction of remote working alone that is an advantage, but the corporate culture that has made it possible. At Erste Bank, working from home was an option we provided years before the coronavirus epidemic, but of course it was very different from the current situation; it was only used a few times per month by each colleague. 

In March, about 90 percent of the colleagues at the headquarters switched to remote work in a matter of days, and later that proportion was further increased, thanks to the flexibility of our colleagues and the rapid expansion of the IT platform. 

We conducted several surveys among employees last year to see how they cope with this kind of operation, and their feedback got more and more positive over time.

Our latest survey found that more than 90 percent of colleagues see working from home as a sustainable alternative in the longer term as well.

The basis for this is a strong corporate culture, in which trust, empowerment and responsibility are crucial. This was confirmed by our colleagues, and it can be one of our strengths in the market.

In your view, did you introduce remote working faster than other banks? Do you get job applications from other banks just because of that? 

In March last year, all banks were involved in introducing and expanding remote working; some of them were faster while others needed a little more time. In this respect, we were in a fortunate position, as when the virus appeared, most of our colleagues working at the headquarters already had laptops and also experience with working from home. 

At the same time, it is not the speed of the introduction of remote working that is decisive in itself; the corporate culture is more important. We know that our responses to situations like this can vary considerably, so we did not force colleagues to return to in-person work at the HQ during the summer either, as we saw from regular surveys that many of them were still afraid of the virus. 

Therefore, even when it was possible to return to the office in shifts (in a weekly rotation), we did not make it mandatory. This flexibility, trust and care were highly appreciated by colleagues, and this might be of interest also to those who would like to work for us. 

What proportion of employees do in-person work now and how many work from home? How do your branches work during the epidemic?

In the headquarters, we are currently asking everyone to work from home if possible, so the number of people in the office is minimal. Only those come to the office who cannot work from home due to the nature of their work or lack of infrastructure. 

For them, we provide a shuttle service so that they can get to the office as safely as possible. 

At the same time, bank branches have always been open since the beginning of the epidemic and our colleagues commute to work every day, just like in other banks. 

We are grateful to all our colleagues who have been at the forefront helping customers since the outbreak of the pandemic, as in a situation with so many uncertainties it is particularly important to continue serving our customers. During the first wave, when there was a daytime curfew in force in Hungary and fewer customers visited the bank in person, we introduced a rotation of employees and in some places shorter opening hours in order to protect our colleagues. 

Currently, all of our branches are back to normal business operations, constantly monitoring compliance with the virus control regulations and supporting our colleagues in individual life situations as well. 

For example, those who are more at risk from the virus are given the opportunity to stay at home, or those who are forced to stay at home due to the closure of nurseries and schools are guaranteed not to be left without income. We provide this to all employees with small children who cannot manage childcare otherwise and thus cannot work from home; we offer them the opportunity to take extra time off in addition to paid leave.

What do you expect after the epidemic? What proportion of remote working will permanently stay with us? 

We will definitely not fully return to pre-Covid operations, as we have learned a lot from recent events and we want to incorporate these into our future operations. 

At Erste Bank, we believe that up to 50 percent of all work can be done remotely in those areas in the headquarters where work processes allow it. We would also like to introduce the possibility of teleworking, i.e. doing a larger proportion of work from home than at present. But the office and in-person meetings will definitely have a role in the future, albeit a little different than before.

What about your large office building? What function do you think offices will have in the future? Will they be needed at all in 10 years? 

Offices will continue to be needed in the future, as we are a community and meeting people face-to-face is still important. Also, certain meetings and workshops are much more effective if everyone participates in person. In recent times we have been relying on relationships that we developed before the pandemic, which is why it is very hard for those who newly join a team during the pandemic. 

We all really miss being able to meet with the whole team in person; the community and relationships will have an even more prominent role in the future and that’s what the office is needed for, albeit with a slightly different function. 

It will be much rather a place for personal encounters, a social space, while in-depth work will be done from home instead.

What additional measures have you taken because of the epidemic? How do these affect employees? 

In the headquarters, all employees are currently asked to work from home, if possible; and we have made the use of facemasks mandatory in all our premises. We provided facemasks to all colleagues already at the beginning of the pandemic, and hand sanitizers are placed at the entrance of the building and at the lifts on all floors as well as in the toilets.

We have adopted a new protocol regarding disinfection: some parts of the office are disinfected several times a day, and we also provide our colleagues with disinfectant wipes to keep their desks, phones and keyboards clean. We have reorganized workstations as well as the restaurant and canteens so that safer distances could be kept between seats, and we also ask colleagues to keep a physical distance of at least one and a half metres from each other. 

We restrict business travel, do not organize trips abroad, and hold most trainings and meetings online, and we expect our colleagues to do the same. 

We provide facemasks, protective gloves, and disinfectants to the nearly one thousand people working in the branches, and we have mounted plexiglass shields in each branch to protect workers and customers alike. 

In addition, we provide a special shuttle service for colleagues who come to work in the office; and in addition to paid leave, parents with small children are allowed to take the same amount of time off if they are unable to work due to the virus situation. At the same time, of course, we can hardly wait for the end of the pandemic so that we can take off our masks and see each other’s faces and smiles. After all, it’s much better and more natural to work without a mask. 

We all miss seeing other colleagues, having lunch or coffee breaks together, or simple conversations. Our employees are very disciplined and they follow the rules, but we are all looking forward to the time when it is all over. I hope we will have the opportunity to celebrate together with colleagues later this year.

Do employees receive additional support for working from home? 

Colleagues who work from home are allowed to take a chair and monitor from the office to use at home until we can return to the office. They are being encouraged to create an ergonomic work environment at home as much as possible. 

Which are the areas within the bank that are the most sought after and where is the greatest labour shortage? 

In the last few months, the labour market in Hungary has changed significantly. It has become much easier to find candidates in some less complex areas. 

Filling vacancies in jobs that require specialized knowledge, such as IT for example, still remains a challenge, but the situation there has improved as well. 

At the same time, we are looking for fewer new colleagues, as the employee turnover rate has decreased significantly recently. 

What is the basis for selecting new employees at Erste Bank? How important are qualifications and experience? 

This often depends on the job itself; there are many positions that require special expertise and so we have to expect experience and knowledge; but perhaps flexibility, openness to change and the ability to learn are becoming more and more important in every job. Everything is changing very fast in today's world; new things keep emerging and we keep introducing innovations that may radically change the way we work in a given area. We not only have to adapt to these, but often have to lead the changes and the revision of our processes ourselves.

Despite the crisis, the financial sector is stagnating or even expanding. How difficult is it to find the right professionals? 

Finding a new colleague is still a challenge in some specialized areas where the demand for specialists in the labour market is currently bigger than the supply. 

Plenty of people are working on various development projects and digitization, so these specialists are still in high demand, but it is certain that their future choices will also be greatly influenced by how a company reacted to the virus situation in the recent past. The values ​​undertaken and represented by employers and the community in which we work are becoming increasingly important. 

What has the epidemic permanently changed in HR? Do HR managers have more or less work to do now? 

All areas in the bank have been busy during the epidemic, and so has HR, but we have learned a lot in the recent past. I’m lucky to be able to work with a great HR team who last year found themselves in a new and unfamiliar situation overnight and they handled it very well. There has been a lot of work in all areas of HR and I think we have successfully tackled the challenges.

If someone had asked me last January how long I thought it would take to switch to working from home in the centre, my guess certainly would have been more than just a few days. It is not only HR that had a lot of work to do about this but plenty of other areas (e.g. internal communication, IT, facility management) as well as all the managers and colleagues, whose lives have changed completely overnight. 

I am very proud of the Erste community for supporting each other and successfully getting through the year 2020. The commitment of our colleagues increased and we were able to ensure continuous service to our customers. Personally, I also learned a lot from last year, and fortunately, in addition to responding to the virus situation, we were also able to engage in planning our future operations: the “new norm”. Of course, there is still a lot of work to be done with it, but I believe we are heading in the right direction.