I have spent most of my career working in a remote setting, so it was an adjustment five years ago when I joined Prepared and needed to go into an office every day. At the time, Prepared had limited experience with remote employment and, like many businesses today that have been forced into remote alternatives, had concerns about drops in productivity, loss of collaboration, and degradation of company culture.
After doing some research and engaging in several lengthy discussions, we eventually created a policy that allowed tenured employees to work remotely up to two days per week with the approval of their manager. That may have been one of the most important decisions we ever made since it prepared our company for the rapid transition to remote work that COVID-19 has necessitated.
The good news for anyone who had lingering doubts about the legitimacy of working from a “home office” is that most of our managers have reported increased productivity in many areas. What they are witnessing is consistent with multiple studies that show higher rates of production in remote employees versus traditional office employees. Remote workers tend to take fewer breaks, fewer sick days, and they report a better balance between work and personal life. While I am a proponent of the home office, I don’t want to suggest that full-time remote is the best option. Many employees prefer the socialization they get from working in an office while others desire a more flexible hybrid option.
Those of us in insurance are lucky because our industry lends itself to working remotely: we do not manufacture or ship anything and our services can be done via phone, email, or video conferencing. Of course, we must do inspections and adjust claims in the field, but technology helps with that as well. Some carriers have insureds do self-inspections or send proof of a claim via smart devices. There is also technology for roof inspections, which Prepared is currently exploring, that utilizes the reflectivity of a roof to report its age and condition. As new technologies continue to develop we will see their implementation and efficiencies accelerate.
So how do we help our employees stay motivated and productive in a remote environment?1. Measure Productivity versus Time
2. Be Consistent
With that said, we must recognize the challenges that forced remote work poses for some employees. My own household comes to mind as a good example of what many of us face at present: both partners and a teenager working/schooling from a home that does not have multiple spaces for quiet concentration impervious to barking dogs and ringing doorbells from grocery deliveries. If only I had a dime every time—you can imagine where this is going, can’t you?—I have to ask my son to turn down the volume of his rap music or ask my mother-in-law- to turn off her sewing machine during my conference calls! The point here is that national quarantine requires us all to get creative about how best to help our employees and teammates navigate these rough waters without losing sight of the larger company goals. Two plastic folding tables from Home Depot were the key to creating three quiet workspaces in our home.3. Stay Connected
Tip: Schedule all routine meetings at the same time every week and make sure both the manager and team member comes ready with topics. Sharing topics the day before will help both to be prepared. Don’t forget, and this is important, to start the meeting by asking how everyone is doing outside work. Times are stressful and reminding people that we are here for each other is very important. Err on the side of over communicating. Our Regional Sales Manager, Laura Crumpton, says “When I call, it’s not just work talk. I’m really checking in and letting people vent if they need to. I also ask them how are they are doing personally and what’s the craziest thing that’s happened in their neighborhood. I do not want anyone on the team to feel like they are on an island when isolated!”
I believe this pandemic is changing the way we think about and perform our work. By prioritizing a “People First” philosophy, many businesses will realize they can run a remote operation as efficiently as a physical one and, with robust off-site policies, businesses might even find that remote work is more efficient and desirable. Lastly having some flexibility on working remote may give you the option to hire qualified talent that would not be able to join your organization without it.
Written by Bruce Bessire, Director of Sales