Key Strategies for Technology Officers in Remote Financial Work Environments

Following the COVID-19 pandemic few expected remote work to last in the financial sector. But the benefits to employees and companies alike are too great, and flexible environments have become a permanent fixture. According to a recent survey of financial institutions, nearly 70% of banks and 80% of all financial institutions provide workers with at least some remote work flexibility. 

At the center of remote work is technology. Without it, work-from-home would be impossible. For IT leaders, the proliferation of flexible work environments has introduced new challenges. Growing geographic footprints of their companies means that technology officers at financial institutions are looking for new ways to minimize security risks while still maintaining continuous uptime and productivity. The IT department remains a financial safeguard in the operation of an institution.

Remote Work Challenges for IT Leaders

I have the opportunity to collaborate with IT leaders and teams as they navigate the realities of remote work. Recently I spoke with Richard Roark, Chief Technology Officer at Bay Federal Credit Union, a member-owned, not-for-profit financial cooperative that provides full-service financial products and solutions in the California counties of Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito. About half of the bank’s staff works remotely. Mr. Roark discussed the difficulties of informing and notifying employees regarding network problems, server outages, planned upkeep, and various IT tasks. He highlighted one of the primary challenges as the abundance of communication methods available for reaching team members in a hybrid work setting, which can lead to confusion and potentially diminish the effectiveness of using a single-channel approach for messaging.

Other challenges IT leaders commonly face include:

  • Increased security risks
  • Maintaining compliance with regulatory requirements
  • Compromised bank or customer data 
  • Weaker networks leading to connectivity issues
  • Greater time investment needed to manage issues

How IT Leaders Manage Remote Work

As technology officers like Mr. Roark identify challenges in flexible work environments, they are actively implementing strategies to cultivate remote-ready IT teams. I’ve summarized these steps in the following best practices which will keep employees informed, supported and confident with their institution’s network and data systems.

Offer multi-tier support: To keep up with the demands of a growing institution, it’s important to establish an efficient and scalable way to offer support everywhere regardless of office or remote work locations. Start by creating service level tiers and then categorize tickets based on those tiers. The lowest tiers are for straightforward problems that IT professionals with general skills can address, such as accessing email or an intranet. As the support tiers increase so too does the complexity of the problems within each tier. A more experienced, knowledgeable professional is needed if there is a security breach involving sensitive client data like bank account information or social security numbers. IT leaders need to make the best use of the team’s knowledge and skills.

Invest in knowledge management: Modern financial institutions use a variety of tools and software to streamline processes, improve customer experience, and reduce errors. Understanding how to access and use technologies for customer relationship management, transaction processing, fraud detection and business intelligence, among others is critical for employees. A searchable knowledge base empowers self-help systems that reduce the number of IT tickets employees log. With a dispersed workforce the value of a deep, searchable knowledge base increases. It’s a strong step towards productivity at all levels. Employees aren’t slowed down in their day-to-day tasks waiting for answers to straightforward questions and IT teams remain more free to tackle complex issues.

Make employee training collaborative and flexible: Training keeps employees informed about the myriad of security and privacy regulations in the financial sector. However in-person training can be difficult to manage for remote workers. Therefore, the training approaches offered need to match the work environment. Mr. Roark advocates for online training programs that offer assessments to verify that credit union employees have comprehended the material. He further stressed the significance of delivering security awareness training, either in person or via a web-based platform, to new hires during their onboarding process with the credit union.

Adopt desktop alert systems: Good communication between IT teams and employees is foundational to the success of business operations. In remote workplaces, bank employees need effective ways to get in touch with IT teams to notify them of issues. Likewise, IT teams need ways to send direct messages to laptops, tablets, PCs and mobile phones. Furthermore, those messages cannot be simple text messages. They must not be ignored as an email or a text message might, especially if customer or institutional financial data is at risk. The Bay Federal Credit Union team adopted a desktop alerting and notification system to notify employees about offline servers, lockdowns, scheduled maintenance and other information that is crucial to employees that cannot be ignored.

Streamline remote support in multi-platform environments: IT teams supporting remote workplaces have to manage laptops, PCs, tablets and more while accommodating employees using multiple operating systems. Multi-platform support has become as essential as backups and redundancy. To safeguard systems and shield them from threats, IT teams are implementing comprehensive solutions to effectively manage their networks and devices. There simply is no room in the day for 1:1 troubleshooting. Using the right tools lets IT teams make quick decisions and give efficient, effective support. For example, being able to view a customized summary of IT activity designed to help staff identify issues before they become a problem can scale the IT services division without requiring an investment in headcount. Additionally, instead of pulling a manual report, a team can save time by using tools that automatically show when new devices join the network, which is especially helpful for financial institutions that have multiple branches or locations with remote employees. 

Technology officers have always been at the forefront of innovation and adaptation. As financial institutions continue to embrace flexible work environments it is incumbent on IT leaders to ensure the systems and tools that underpin that approach work effectively. Adopting systems that enhance security, flexibility, collaboration and efficiency will balance the freedoms remote work enables with the protections financial institutions need. 

Matt Jones is the Chief Operating Officer of NetSupport. He has spent his entire career helping corporate IT departments manage their networks and their devices.

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