By Sharon Emek
For a number of years, many organizations were considering how remote, work-from-home positions would fit within their company’s business operations, thinking how to implement remote work sometime in the future.
That sometime is now. COVID-19 has forced global business into remote positions, and the insurance industry has joined the ranks of businesses now operating remotely. How prepared they are for running virtual operations is another matter.
Remote work is a model that the industry should have considered or moved toward long before the pandemic hit. And plenty of companies were already shifting some or all of their businesses to include remote work arrangements. Remote work grew by 159%, between 2005 and 2017,according to a FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics study.
Yet amid the rapid growth lies an unsettling truth; not all remote work models succeed. Companies that fail to plan how to manage and motivate a remote workforce quickly find productivity dropping and employee job satisfaction dipping.
Still, the good news is that every company, including those in the insurance and financial industry, can adopt smart remote work strategies that can keep both existing staff and future employees productive, satisfied and contributing.
Here are four areas that are key to successful remote operations: culture, onboarding, employee participation and communication.
Start With Culture
That cohesion begins with understanding that despite being out of sight, your employees still need to connect to management and each other. Employees who feel they are an integral part of the organization are more productive (Stanford University/Ctrip study), are more than 80% more satisfied in their jobs (Amerisleep survey), and are 25% more likely to stay with the company (Owl Labs data).
One of the best ways to build a culture that makes employees feel valued and respected is to design your business model around making each employee feel like part of the team. An easy way to do that is to engage employees. Establish weekly team meetings to ensure that everyone understands what’s happening throughout the organization and, more importantly, how each person’s job fits within the overall company goals.
Another meeting you should be having regularly: one-on-one meetings with each employee. Meet with each employee monthly. Check in with each employee to see if there are concerns or questions, and address any performance issues or warning signs.
Also, be sure to give kudos to employees when they achieve project outcomes or performance metrics. And use the time to work with your employee to help them set goals and measurable steps toward those goals. Build a rapport with your employees by helping them plan for, and achieve, career successes.
Build trust with them, too. Especially in an environment where remote work is new to everyone, now is the time to rethink time off and other traditional work policies. Instead of adhering to a set number of days off, particularly since many employees are now working from home with family members present, switch to a take-what-you-need policy that gives more leeway to employees who may be experiencing increased pressures and stress.
Also switch your attitude toward how you measure employee performance. Because employees are working in new surroundings and without the physical support of colleagues, measuring their performance by how many hours they put in makes little sense. Instead, consider measuring according to results. Are deadlines being met? Are the results acceptable? Also, your employee’s best hours may be after normal business hours, particularly with other family members now at home. Let employees be productive during their peak productivity hours.
And acknowledge their productivity. When employees reach goals, celebrate. One company adopted a perks system; the company celebrated birthdays, had weekly games and prizes, and sent gifts to employees who hit particular milestones or who achieved something notable. Such perks can give remote workers a sense of being a valued part of the company culture.
You can have the kind of culture that attracts employees, but it’s still up to you to make sure those employees succeed. When you hire, make sure your onboarding process is adapted to fit a remote setting. Designate a human resources employee or other representative to spend time with your new hire, particularly within the first 90 days. That representative will serve as the new employee’s point person, someone who can direct them to the resources that can help smooth their transition.
Likewise, your new hire should have a mentor, someone who can give on-the-job guidance, and who is available via chat, email or video call and who they can shadow throughout the onboarding process. All current employees should have a template to follow that helps them mentor new hires on job function and protocols. Because your new hire will be part of the entire organization, they should be shadowing people in all departments to understand how their job impacts the work of others.
A mentor can help your employee set manageable goals, too. The idea is to get the employee used to setting goals, but also to communicate and follow up with supervisors to ensure job completion.
Mentors can also help your employee throughout their training process. Your organization can set up virtual training sessions, both with their point person and with mentors and other department heads, so that feedback can be immediate, questions can be addressed in real time, employees can achieve a better level of understanding faster than in a traditional training scenario.
Let Employees Lead
No matter how long your employee has been with the organization, you should encourage their feedback. Open the floor to your employees. Instead of doing all the talking during team meetings, listen. Build time into meetings for employees to share concerns or suggestions.
Then act on them. Assign someone to each point raised – possibly the person who is bringing it up – and charge them with actively finding a solution. They should expect to present their findings, ongoing or resolved, during the next meeting’s open forum.
For those employees who might feel too uncomfortable bringing up issues or concerns in an open setting, try setting up an online “suggestion box” that allows them to drop notes to the management team. You can acknowledge each one, then schedule a follow-up to try to resolve the suggestion. That encourages ideas from everyone.
Encourage also ongoing team communication. Group chats are a great way to build rapport that remote workers otherwise lack. “Happy hour” chats can be set aside weekly after hours so that employees can bond and share interests outside of the typical work conversation.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
That emphasis on conversation is vital. Regular team meetings, regular one-on-one meetings, and increased efforts on better communications is the real key to the success of your remote workforce.
The way you communicate is also important. Decide which communication tools your organization will use, but don’t feel limited to only one or two options. For example, video chat often gives people who are used to working in an office a better sense of togetherness, but chat programs allow them to interact throughout the day. When using video conferencing, establish a policy that everyone uses their monitor camera and not their avatar. Communication works best when you can see people’s expressions.
The same goes with how remote workers interact over projects. Collaborative tools allow your team to see projects from conception to intended outcome. Choose a program that gives a bird’s-eye view of all the project particulars, and includes the project manager and all team members and their roles/responsibilities.
Don’t wait until your monthly one-on-one with your employee to check in. Reach out to employees throughout the week. Ask questions: How are you finding the workload? What is hampering you? What do you need from me?
Embracing The Remote Workforce
In an intentional culture where the emphasis is on inclusiveness, your organization can thrive. Engaging employees and retaining key talent doesn’t require four walls. It requires additional attention to making sure all employees are given purpose and responsibility while also being given respect that comes with building a dynamic culture with high-performing employees.
When you build a remote business model based on the success of your people, your company – and your employees – win.
Sharon Emek, PhD, CIC, is founder and CEO of Work At Home Vintage Experts. Sharon may be contacted at email@example.com.
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