The COVID-19 pandemic turned many employees into remote employees. Traditional office work has turned phone calls into video calls. Yet, the flexible work environment of working from the coffee shop has now been replaced by working from the dining room table or the home office. Many remote employees feel as if they struggle with work-life balance while learning to be more productive in the new remote work reality.Insurance agency owners and managers offering remote work are learning as fast as we can about how to manage remote employees as well as work-life balance. In this article, you will learn more about why offering remote work is such a great perk as well as what you can do to better manage remote employees.
Why Remote work is a great perk
Around 20 years ago, it was on my bucket list to live and work wherever I wanted. Traditional office workspaces were the norm. Even flexible work and even working from coffee shops wasn't widely accepted until relatively recently. In fact, just five years ago, we purchased a telepresence robot for our insurance agency so that I could walk around the office and talk to people who were in their offices. And at that time, everyone laughed at us.
The use of technology in that way for a traditional office workspace wasn't common. Now, the use of various types of technology, such as AI, is quite common. In fact, we use that little robot all the time. It's a member of our team! It's taken quite a bit off of our plate so that we can focus on other work.
Moving forward in time (and technology) both traditional office workspaces and remote workers rely on various types of technology to communicate. Our office uses video conferencing tools such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom to communicate with others in real-time no matter where they are located.
With video call tools, messaging tools, scheduling tools, project management tools, and online collaboration tools, offering remote work and working with remote employees has never been easier. You and your remote employees can literally live and work from anywhere.
An abundance of amazing and affordable tools to choose from means that you can hire the best remote employees no matter where they are located. We have remote employees that live in two different time zones, five different cities, and three different states.
Yet, you may be wondering how we manage to make our employees feel included, what work-life balance is like, and how remote employee engagement is managed. Here are our top tips for managing remote employees.
Tips for managing remote employees
Being a remote employee is quite different than working in a traditional office space. When they are working remotely, they do not have a supervisor in the same building as them. They may have a more flexible work schedule. It can be harder for an employee to develop a work-life balance. It can also be harder for employees to feel connected. It is important for supervisors and managers to be proactive and understanding with both full time and part-time remote employees.
Since I now manage remote employees in two different time zones, five different cities, and three different states, I have learned an important lesson. It is less important to focus on whether they show up for certain hours according to an office clock. It is more important to consider whether they are meeting their goals. Think about it: are you a morning person? Maybe you are and maybe you aren't. Are you a night owl? Maybe you are and maybe you aren't. Maybe your sweet spot is in the middle of the day. When are you most naturally energetic and most likely to get the most out of your day?
The hours on the clock don't matter. The deals closed, the upsells, customer satisfaction, and other metrics are what matter. Remote employee engagement matters. Work-life balance matters. How your employees feel also matters. For the metrics, a good agency management system (AMS) can give you the information you need to track this information both on a broad agency basis and an individual basis for each remote employee.
KPIs are king
When talking about goal-based management for any type of employee, key performance indicators (KPIs) are how you determine what's working and what's not. My best tip is to take some time as you go into 2021 and consider the top two to five things you want each employee to be able to demonstrate in order for you to know that they're meeting their goals and succeeding. However, it is imperative that these KPIs are not chosen across the board. These should be chosen per position.
In fact, you may want to have a discussion with each remote employee to discuss which KPIs should be chosen and what goals are realistic. Even when you, as the manager or agency owner, retain the final power as the decision-maker, the employees feel heard and you get valuable feedback from those who are actually doing the work.
While traditional office workspaces were only open from nine to five, the truth is that people want and need the ability to do business 24/7. Your clients are pulling double and sometimes triple duty as teachers to their children, caretakers to their loved ones, and employees. It isn't uncommon that your clients as well as your prospective clients need the ability to do pretty much anything at a non-business time. So, it stands to reason that your employees are in the same boat. I mean, after all, eight hours of work are the same regardless of what time they are done. And, remember, it is what actually gets done is what matters. If you're managing remote employees by KPI, flexible scheduling becomes much easier.
When we first became a virtual office in March of 2020, I was hopeful that our experience would be positive. And so far, so good. This has been true for almost all businesses. Many surveys report remote employees are not only more productive, but they're also happier and there is around 25% less employee turnover. Happier and more productive employees? Sounds like every agency's dream! Another more recent study has shown that some employers save up to $11,000 per remote employee. And that's only during the pandemic. There could be greater cost-savings for agencies offering remote work.
Technology, not office space
In the case of our office, I think we may be up for a challenge. Do we reduce the size of our traditional office workspace? Do we choose to focus on investing our money in technology to continue with video calls, collaboration, and other tools to continue to improve work-life balance and improve employee engagement? After all, it would help our employees work from wherever they want to work from once it is safe to travel. That would certainly make employees feel valued.
You might want to consider this as well. Instead of desks, projectors, conference tables, and sofas, what about investing a virtual private network (VPN), a better AMS, or other technology to help you and your employees have a better experience in the new world. It isn't to say that there is no longer a place for a physical experience. It is only to say that technology is a necessity that we must all embrace. We might as well use it to make our work experience (and the experience for our clients and prospective clients) as great as we can!
Build and improve employee engagement
Employee engagement starts with building a team culture. People often ask me how I built such a sense of culture and teamwork when we don't see each other face to face. The answer is simple. Culture itself isn't based on slapping each other on the back. It is based on value. Without establishing culture, however, it is difficult to build and maintain employee engagement.
With that said, it is important to have video calls (also known as virtual meetings or video conferences) on a regular basis so that you and your remote employees can see each other. It helps with employee engagement and culture. We've found that meeting together each week on Zoom or Microsoft Teams is great for this purpose. Here are some things I’d like to point out about employee engagement and how we use online meetings:
- The fact that we've increased how often we see each other. We see each other weekly now instead of every couple of months.
- Department meetings are also held each week.
- Some departments hold daily meetings to discuss what's happening within the department.
This type of employee engagement fosters teamwork. Everyone can participate when and where they want since we also embrace a flexible schedule that focuses on goal-meeting. There are lots of ways that you can make this work for your team. You just have to take the time to think about it.
Get over your fear of change
Don't be afraid of the future. Whether we like it or not, we're all going to work in a remote or virtual way somehow for the rest of our careers. The key to getting over your fear of change is information. If you'd like more ideas on how to transition into a virtual insurance agency, check out one of my books. You can learn more about how to operate in the COVID environment that you can download right now from this very website.
I also invite you to reach out to me now. I'm happy to talk with you privately and brainstorm with you about how your agency can become more profitable and effective in this new and often scary environment.
Learn how to turn COVID-19 into a silver lining by downloading my book on virtual agencies now!
Always keen on helping others make their dreams come true, Tony and his team have helped independent agents grow into more than 250 independent agencies. This has made OAA the number one ranked Strategic Master Agency of SIAA for the last 5 years, and one of Oklahoma's 25 Best Companies to Work for.
Tony loves to share his knowledge, insight and wisdom through his bestselling books as well as in free mediums including podcasts and blogs.
Tony and his family are members of Crossings Community Church, and he is very active in community initiatives: he’s chairman of It’s My Community Initiative, Inc., a nonprofit working with disadvantaged people in Oklahoma City; and chairman of the Oklahoma Board of Juvenile Affairs., and he has served through many other organizations including the Salvation Army, Last Frontier Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and the Rotary Club.
In his spare time, Tony enjoys time with his family. He’s also an active outdoorsman and instrument-rated commercial pilot.