Pension Fund Annual Review

Working through a pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on our lives and specifically how we work. Darren O’Neil shared how the Employee Pensions administration team has adapted to the challenges they faced. 

Darren O’Neil

Darren O’Neil

Darren, can you provide some insight into how your team has needed to adapt because of COVID-19?

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The biggest challenge for the team as the pandemic started to impact the UK, was trying to keep pace with the changes as we moved closer to full lockdown. Initially, we worked on the premise that we could continue to operate from Nationwide House, with a skeleton team on a rotation basis and with the rest working from home. We also considered allowing the team to work in the office in the evenings, to keep numbers in the office to a minimum. Then, just as we had the plans in place everything changed, we moved into a full lockdown with all of the team needing to work from home.

In recent years, the Society has invested significantly in IT. As a result, every member of the team uses a laptop computer, making the move to home working much simpler - they could literally pick up their computer, go home and log back into our network. This meant we were better placed than some others in the pensions administration industry, who also had the additional burden of equipping their teams with the technology to deal with home working.

You mention technology, what else has helped or hindered your team’s transition?

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The team was used to seeing each other face-to-face. Our procedures require peer reviewing as pension calculations can be complex, and historically this was easily achieved working alongside each other and using paper checklists handed from person to person. Now this is all achieved digitally. Good teamwork also requires a lot of personal interaction. Our team is only 15 people strong so getting everyone together was relatively simple whilst we were all in Nationwide House. Now we’re all home-based it’s even more important to make sure we maintain interaction. It’s important for productivity but more importantly, from a wellbeing perspective as working from home can feel isolating. We use Microsoft Teams which allows us to video call each other to achieve this.

 We’ve also started a ‘Chat roulette’ where every two weeks each team member is buddied up with a colleague who they would speak to rarely because of the nature of the work. They talk about anything other than work – it’s normally about what they’re watching on the TV, or just to hear about their plans for the weekend.

Does any team member still come into the office?

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Yes, whilst we’re encouraging members to communicate with us by email, we still receive post, and, where the member cannot receive a response by email, letters need to be printed and issued. Therefore, one member of the team goes into Nationwide House once a week to open and scan the post so it can be distributed to the relevant team member by email. They also print and issue any letters that have been produced over the week by the team. This often falls to me to do, which in some ways takes me back full circle to when I started work with Nationwide. It was more than 30 years ago, when I worked in the Post Room.

Receiving requests or responses by post can cause delays as it requires someone to go into Nationwide House. It would be a great help if members could email the team at rather than sending a letter.

Is there anything members can do to help the team?

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Definitely. We have lots of information available for members online. We have the Fund website which can answer many of the questions often asked by members. There’s also the Member Portal where members can access information about their benefits and complete tasks such as changing their address or updating their Expression of Wish form without the need to contact the team. 

As I’ve already mentioned, we do receive post but requests can be dealt with more efficiently if the member has registered on the Member Portal and can send us an email rather than a letter.

For some processes, such as setting up pension payments or transferring benefits, we do require members to send in proof of identity.

Rather than post their original documents to us, they can visit their local Nationwide branch where copies can be taken, certified and then emailed directly to the team. Using this method also means the member isn’t waiting to receive their documents back from us.

What are the plans for the future?

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The team won’t be back working in the office until the new year at the earliest, and home working will continue. I therefore expect a more flexible approach may be taken in future with the team if they prefer to split their working week between the office and home.

Darren, thank you for your time.