Focus on Culture: Engaging Employees in the Remote Environment

October 4, 2021 by

When the pandemic hit, the business world changed rapidly and drastically. Insurance organizations pivoted to focus primarily on keeping their businesses running and managing the technical and logistical aspects of remote work. Employees adapted to best meet their work obligations while also caring for family members and coping with difficult societal changes and challenges. Savvy leaders incorporated new technologies and processes into their talent management strategies, striving to keep individuals connected while they were physically separated.

However, remote work is no longer a new or a short-term novelty. It has continued to be the standard way of operating for most organizations. While some insurance organizations are beginning to act on their return-to-office plans, remote working arrangements are here to stay.

In our recent Q3 2021 Insurance Labor Outlook Study, half of insurance carriers shared they plan to offer full-time remote work and nearly three-quarters plan to offer occasional remote work, even as offices reopen.

A PwC survey across multiple industries found 36% of executives feel the loss of corporate culture is the biggest challenge in these blended environments. It’s vital insurance leaders develop long-term strategies around virtual engagement and take a proactive and intentional approach to remote employee culture.

Connect Face-to-Face

While “face-to-face” may not mean being together in person, there is much to be gained from seeing another individual — even if it is through the computer screen. Encourage employees to connect through video calls and turn their cameras on for meetings.

Schedule weekly or biweekly team huddles to discuss projects and upcoming priorities, while also setting aside time for informal conversations and celebrations. These meetings don’t need to be long but ensure your team is interacting on a regular basis and building relationships with one another, especially when impromptu hallway conversations and informal pre- and post-meeting conference room chats aren’t as possible.

Emphasize Remote Meeting Skill

Most professionals have experienced Zoom fatigue, video conferencing glitches, poor audio quality and a plethora of other remote meeting malfunctions. While seeing colleagues’ faces is valuable, hosting a meeting in a virtual environment — especially one with several attendees — can be a challenge. Well-developed meeting facilitation skills are vital for holding individuals’ attention and being most effective. Many of the same elements of in-person meetings carry over. However, there are additional considerations for virtual platforms. Be familiar with screen sharing, breakout rooms, chat functions and other video conferencing tools. Ensure all individuals have an opportunity to contribute, even calling on those who may be less inclined to naturally speak up. At the start of the meeting, ask individuals to turn on their video and remind them to mute themselves when not actively participating. Additionally, keep meetings short, avoiding tasks and conversations that can be performed over email.

Celebrate Work-Life Balance

Staff members look to leadership to model acceptable behaviors and levels of formality. The line between personal and professional lives has been blurred more than ever before. Individuals have moved their offices into their homes, and it can be difficult to set clear boundaries. As a manager, strive to avoid emails after hours and proactively demonstrate the importance of setting work aside in the evenings to rest and focus on personal priorities. Encourage employees to bring their full selves to work by initiating conversations around non-work topics such as kids, pets, weekend plans or favorite TV shows. As employees settle into the acceptable norms of the virtual environment, they’re looking to leadership to set the parameters.

Integrate Socialization

In a work environment with no organic hallway discussions or water cooler talk, facilitating these smaller, relationship-building interactions must be intentional. Consider an all-company or all-department chat (depending on your company’s size) where employees can share more personal information and wins, engage in casual conversations, and learn about their co-workers. To make this most effective, appoint individuals within the organization (ideally at the leadership level), who can set the tone and bring energy to the conversations.

Assume the Best

For some managers, it can be difficult to gauge team members’ work ethic and productivity without observing them in the office. However, even if you’re not working near your team, assume the best and trust they are putting their time in. If work is getting completed on time, the exact hours when it happens shouldn’t be as important. Additionally, if you call an individual during work hours and there’s no response, consider it similar to an office environment where they could have gone to the breakroom or been refreshing their morning coffee. Individuals are working differently than they were even earlier on in the pandemic. Provide them with autonomy and unless you have a true reason for concern, offer them the benefit of the doubt.

Although some employees may choose to return to the physical office, continuing to offer remote work options is key for remaining competitive. Virtual work environments are largely here to stay and the insurance industry must be dedicated to creating corporate cultures that resonate. By focusing on connecting individuals, facilitating personal interactions and mastering remote meetings, leaders will be able to increase employee engagement, productivity and loyalty.