Living Prepared

30
Apr

Remote Work: Maintaining Company Culture and Employee Productivity

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 
This pandemic provides opportunities to empower employees. If the team understands what success looks like holistically and individually, and if the right scorecard is used to measure performance, then the team is set up to succeed. If an employee falls behind, however, it is imperative to act quickly. Have a conversation to find out why, check in for any personal issues, and determine the best way to help that person get back on track. Try connecting them with another employee who is a high performer for guidance and training. Our experience shows that when employees have the basic skill sets needed to do the job and they know the company’s expectations; they will usually step up and make the necessary improvements. The right metrics and scorecard are key!

2. Be Consistent 
Everyone on the team must be held to the same standards. When companies consistently enforce clear and fair standards, a culture develops wherein the team itself often corrects non-performers. Problems typically arise from inconsistent practices, such as when one member receives latitude denied to others.

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
We utilize daily huddles where every employee meets with their team at the start of each workday. These generally should take 10 minutes or less. We begin by asking for someone in the group to share something positive or a win from the previous day; next, each member identifies the top two or three things they will work on for that day; and last, we discuss any issues that require input from the group. We started this a few weeks before COVID-19 and I must admit I had doubts about how effectively they would work with my mostly remote team. I now believe these meetings are the most valuable we conduct. In addition to daily huddles, every manager is required to hold a weekly one-on-one meeting with each person they direct.

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!”
 
4. Team Projects
Anytime a special project or problem arises, we try and involve at least two team members to work on it together. Not only does this license the team to become problem solvers, but it also fosters collaboration, which, in turn, gives ownership of the solution to the team.
 
5. Have Fun
Our Regional Sales Manager Maureen Gomez reminds us, “Don’t Forget Socialization!” Try organizing a happy hour, a birthday celebration, or a virtual lunch on Teams or Zoom. Our sales team has hosted two happy hours. They are fun and keep us connected. People need to feel more connected now than ever before. Click here for a link with some ideas.

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