The new normal of remote working: practical tips for today and implications for tomorrow

April 15, 2020 /

While remote working has been on an upswing in recent years—the number of people who work from home has grown 140% since 2005—travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders from the COVID-19 pandemic have transformed a large swath of America’s employees into telecommuters practically overnight.

Businesses with a strong office-based culture and face-to-face ethos, including insurance agencies, are having to quickly adapt with little guidance or notice. Whether your company has been in this “new normal” for a few weeks or is still shifting to remote work, we’ve put together some essential tips to ensure business continuity and meet your clients’ needs, while keeping your teams productive and engaged.

Employee engagement and communication

Set-up a daily team check-in. Recurring “stand-up” meetings—preferably at the same time each day—provide a routine, mark a clear transition from “home” to “work,” set an agenda for the day, and help teams stay connected and collaborative. In addition, a daily check-in makes it easier to spot and address potential issues, such as employees who may be struggling with technology or stress.

No one loves more meetings. The key is to keep to daily check-ins focused, participatory, and short (think 15 to 20 minutes). One common approach is to have team members come prepared to briefly cover their priorities for the day and surface any challenges or roadblock. Daily check-ins are also a great opportunity to keep employees up-to-date on company news and decisions. And to make sure things on track, take any items that require deeper discussions or follow-ups offline.

Plan to spend more time communicating and engaging. Research shows that even under the best circumstances, remote workers are more prone to feelings of loneliness and isolation. For employees used to a chorus of “good mornings” and chats at the coffeemaker, the sudden loss of daily interactions with colleagues can be especially unsettling. But there are a few simple ways to adjust:

  • Open virtual meetings by asking how people are doing and allow for a couple of minutes of conversation before getting down to business. 
  • Balance email with more interactive options like instant messaging, video conferences, and phone calls.
  • Encourage all team members to appear on camera during virtual meetings whenever possible to provide a face-to-face experience.  
  • Create company-sponsored events like virtual happy hours, stretch sessions, lunch breaks, and trivia contests to encourage interaction.

Keeping employees engaged and connected will support their productivity, their well-being, and their sense of belonging to the organization.

Tackle outstanding projects. Most businesses have a list of “when we have time” projects. Tasks that require intensive planning or extended periods of concentration—things that can be challenging in a busy office—may be tailor-made for the current circumstances. In addition, working on sustaining tasks, process improvements, and infrastructure enhancements can keep employees productive if day-to-day activities have as slowed. Finally, moving these projects to the front-burner may set your business up for better efficiencies when everyone is back in the office. 

Allow for flexible work schedules when possible. While many of us are trying to keep a sense of business-as-usual, it is also important to recognize the ways in which life isn’t normal right now. Daycares are closed and many school-aged kids are home indefinitely. More employees are caring for at-risk relatives. And in households with multiple people working or schooling online, employees may be competing for a suitable workspace during business hours.

Allowing for a more flexible work schedule—including off-hours and weekends when and if business needs permit—will enable your team to balance their work and family obligations. And as an added benefit, your business is likely to see higher employee satisfaction and loyalty down the road.

Essential Technology To-Dos

Invest in virtual communication tools. If you haven’t already, now is the time to implement an internal tool for virtual communication. A company-wide solution is essential for consistency and cybersecurity. The good news is that solutions like Zoom, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Skype are relatively easy to onboard remotely and many include multiple communication methods—such as IMs and video conferencing—in the same platform. With the current economic uncertainty, it may be tempting to hold off on investing in new technology but doing so will pay off in improved productivity. Just be sure to consult with your IT and security team before enabling new solutions.

Get the most out of your existing technology. This is a perfect time to take advantage of the full range of features in the technology you already own without adding costs. Many commonly used business tools, like the Microsoft Office suite, have features that support virtual collaboration or are available as mobile apps to enable remote working. In addition, we’ve put together Vertafore product guides to help get your AMS and Vertafore solutions up and running from home. Consult with your IT team and review any relevant security requirements to make use of features and solutions from home.

Step-up your cybersecurity infrastructure and training to protect against scams. Unfortunately, the move to working from home has created new opportunities for cybersecurity gaps and attacks. General incidents of ransomware, phishing, and social engineering are on the rise and businesses and law enforcement organizations are reporting numerous COVID-19-related scams.

Stressed and decentralized workers may be more susceptible to phishing and social engineering attempts, so now is a good time for a refresher training on spotting cyber risks. Many carriers also offer resources on mitigating these risks, which can benefit both your employees and the clients they serve. In addition, ask your IT staff or consultant to ensure your systems are current on the latest updates and security measures.

What COVID-19 may mean for the future of work

Only time will reveal the true extent, but many experts, business owners, and employees believe that the extensive and prolonged shift to working from home will have long-term implications for America’s work culture, including how insurance agencies operate. Some potential trends include:

More blurring of work and home life. The shift to virtual meetings means that many of us are seeing our colleagues in a whole new light—literally. Views of home offices, dining rooms, and backyards—along with the occasional video-bombing by children, spouses, roommates, and pets—are changing how we interact with one another and may improve comradery.

A push for more remote and flexible work options post-COVID-19. In a recent survey of insurance professionals, Millennials and Gen X workers reported that after compensation, a better work-life balance would most influence them to leave the industry. However, concerns over culture, productivity, and security have made many employers reluctant to allow more working from home or nontraditional work hours. Now, employees and employers alike are seeing first-hand what can and can’t be accomplished out of the office. And while some things may work better when everyone is in the same physical space, other assumptions about the benefits of an office-based workforce are being challenged.

Acceleration of insurance modernization. Agencies and carriers have been talking about modernizing the insurance industry through InsurTech for years, and the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to speed up the trend toward eliminating paper and manual processes. In addition, restrictions on face-to-face meetings and increased challenges to mailings and even office phone systems are highlighting the need to give clients self-service access their insurance information when and where they need it.

In it together

A crisis like this raises new challenges in every aspect of life, from our global community, to our society, and on through our industry. As your trusted partner, we want to provide you resources to adjust to these changes as well as communicate how we are here to support you. Visit our In it together site for COVID-19 related webinars, articles, videos, and tools.