By GSBC President Michael L. Stevens 

Second-year students at GSBC spend an afternoon working in small groups debating “hard questions.” The concept of our Hard Questions round table course is straight-forward: these leaders must work through the questions people don’t know how to answer or don’t want to answer. The Hard Questions topics for GSBC’s 2023 session were selected from strategic projects developed by the third-year students. The third-year students presented a synopsis of their work followed by small group discussions exploring the topic further based on each student’s experience, views on risks and thoughts on opportunities. 

The Unique Challenge of Working Remotely for a Community Bank 

The Hard Question of managing employees’ desire for a fully or hybrid work environment was framed by a third-year student who looked at the issue through the lens of ensuring the bank’s desired corporate culture. Three years after the pandemic, many organizations are still trying to identify the right solution that serves the employees, customers and organization. This is a unique challenge for community banks, which tend to have significant face time with customers and, in many communities, serve as a destination for their customers. 

As students discussed these issues, they identified best practices and creative ideas to respond to a changing work environment. Here are the second-year students’ best answers to the hard question, “How Do You Lead Culture in the Era of Remote Work?” 

State the Remote/Work-From-Home Policy Clearly 

Organizations need to be intentional with their work-from home-arrangements. Policies and performance expectations need to be clear.  When employees are expected to be in the bank should be clearly stated, including during the on-boarding of new employees and regular, all-staff meetings or activities. Managers need to be trained on managing and leading employees who work remotely.   

Students observed that there can be resentment of remote employees by others who do not have that flexibility. Banks should consider other benefits for employees who need to be predominantly in the bank, such as additional paid time off, volunteer time or “parent hours” to participate in their children’s school activities. 

Consider How a Hybrid Schedule Attracts Talent & Reallocates Budget 

Banks that allow employees to work from home can attract a larger talent pool. This may also allow the bank to expand into other areas. For example, over time, a bank may be able to reduce the cost of office space, leaving additional expense to improve the technology infrastructure to allow for digital collaboration. 

Prioritize Connection & be Open Minded to New Perks 

Banks should have specific initiatives to build and maintain the desired culture. There should be regular communication and collaboration between remote employees and those working in the bank. There could also be a “buddy” system where newer employees are partnered with a long-term employee to better demonstrate the culture and sharing of information. Banks need to ensure that all employees feel connected to the firm and each other. 

For banks that do not want to or are not ready to have a work –from-home program, students identified other ideas to be responsive to employees: A bank could grant each employee five or 10 days per year to work remotely. Under this approach, it is more an exception than the norm. One bank is working on a plan to make the “9:00-5:00” traditional workweek more flexible. This type of approach may help give the employees the flexibility they desire while still coming to the bank most days. Banks may consider seeking solutions that make people want to be in the office. This is probably more of an effort than pizza on Fridays, but that’s not a bad start. 

Leaders are being challenged to question their assumptions about the workplace. While this does not mean the bank needs to sacrifice its optimum culture, it is important to retain your best employees and recruit top-notch talent. 

The answer to the Hard Question: Bold ideas, creativity, deliberation and collaboration will get banks to their right answer.


Contribute to the Hard Questions roundtable discussions during your GSBC experience. Apply now!