As the insurance industry adapts to a workforce that is primarily – if not completely – remote, many managers are finding themselves overseeing work-at-home employees for the first time. At Jacobson, many of our corporate employees and temporary staff work remotely on a regular basis. We asked a few leaders across our organization for their key insights and advice on effectively managing remote staff.
Dave Coons, Senior Vice President: Stay engaged! Host regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings and team meetings over Skype and Zoom. Video is great because it creates a more personal connection and gives you the ability to read people’s non-verbal cues.
Salil Shenoy, Controller: My open-door policy remains the same whether we’re in the office or working remotely. Making time to be actively engaged and available is crucial. This entails scheduled and ad-hoc one-on-one and team meetings with clear agendas to ensure the time is focused and productive. Communication and trust are key! This is even more true when individuals on your team are dependent on other employees they no longer see in person. Open and honest communication helps create a collaborative and positive environment that is proactive and preventative, rather than reactive and corrective.
Set clear expectations.
Nikki St.Martin, Vice President, Marketing Communications: It is more important than ever to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding everything from work hours to deadlines and production levels. Schedule a weekly call with your team to share the department’s priorities for the week and address workflows and any challenges. Continue to provide regular feedback, both positive and constructive, so employees know if they are performing at the expected levels.
Karen Aiello, Assistant Vice President, Account Management: I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years, and it’s important to stay in constant communication. Make sure there is a good understanding of priorities, expectations and performance/quality goals.
Alison Wetmore, Assistant Marketing Manager: Coach your team for your communication style. Be sure to spell out the level of communication you expect. For example, if you want individuals to confirm they have received emails about new projects, be sure to let them know.
Focus on trust.
Kylee Lacson, Assistant Vice President, Life: It’s important to trust your employees and let them do their jobs. Micromanaging will have a negative impact on productivity. If you are seeing a dip in work product or quality, approach them from the angle of “How can I help?” versus “Why didn’t you do X?”
Tanya Rinsky, Senior Account Manager, Health: Come from a place of support, always assume positive intent and respond quickly, even if it’s just to say you’ll get back to them when you know more. When communicating by phone and body language can’t be used as a guide, it’s important to ask lots of probing questions to ensure you fully understand what the person is trying to communicate.
Recognize different work styles.
Abbe Sodikoff, Senior Vice President: For people who prefer to work alone, it can be challenging to get them engaged with the group as a whole. Finding ways for those individuals to lead a discussion or participate and contribute without feeling put on the spot can be challenging. However, taking extra time to meet those people at their comfort level is well worth it.
Judy Busby, Senior Vice President, Executive Search and Corporate Strategy: Each employee has different needs. You must adapt to each employee to maximize team contributions, company culture and professional development.
Kylee: Set boundaries around availability to help people unplug for the day. If an email isn’t urgent at 9 p.m., then use the “delay send” feature so your employees can feel comfortable setting boundaries with their time. People who are new to working at home tend to be challenged with turning off work. Small adjustments can help with that.
Beth Roekle, Senior Vice President, Talent Delivery: Leverage technology wherever you can. For instance, we use group chats, video conferencing and emails to help keep people connected. In addition, we prioritize our regularly scheduled communication as much as possible to ensure adequate opportunities to connect.
Alison: As our team has grown, we’ve needed to find ways to best manage multiple people working on different aspects of a project. Technology such as Basecamp and Trello can help track where projects stand at any given time, as well as who is responsible for each part of a project.
Connect on a personal level.
Dave: I believe that you don’t manage “people,” you manage “personalities.” What I mean by this is not all people are the same, and they have different needs when it comes to being supported and managed. It’s important to realize this and tailor the way you manage your employees using different means and techniques to get the best return on your investment.
Nikki: Small talk happens naturally in the office, in the lunchroom, passing in the hallway. When everyone is working remotely, maintaining a connection takes intentionality. Many of your employees are juggling more than they are used to in the game of life. Take a few moments at least once per week to just call (or even better, Facetime or Skype video) and see how they are really coping. Use group messaging software to say good morning, share a funny story in the afternoon or ask about employees’ plans for the weekend.
Judy: You need to make room for personal interactions, especially since people are now at home with their kids, cats and other distractions. This requires a relaxing of norms for all to feel comfortable videoconferencing. I’m learning so much about team members’ families, interests, pets and more and think it will bond us for many years to come. There’s typically so little time in the workplace to talk about these things, but it’s now integrated into everyone’s work day. As a high-performance leader, this is a great time to grab insight about someone to better lead them.
Catherine Prete, Senior Vice President, Operations: It can be easy to slip into “all business” mode when you don’t see the person. Be intentional about connecting differently in communications that don’t involve seeing your staff. For instance, start calls by asking about personal matters and express appreciation. Now that all of my staff is remote, I have learned that not only can we easily survive in this environment, we can thrive. Everyone has been diligent to keep the human connections in lots of unique ways.