With so many insurance agencies having relegated staff to working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic – some of them permanently – many principals are wondering how they can maintain their company culture with an increasingly dispersed staff.
Since the pandemic started and a large portion of America’s workforce began working remotely, managers have been struggling with keeping their team cohesive. Many companies have called their staff back to the office now that the pandemic has been waning in many parts of the country, but others have opted to let employees work from home or on a hybrid schedule where they telecommute a few days and work in the office the other days.
But remote work comes with drawbacks. Mercer Consulting recently found that more than 40% of businesses experienced significant effects on their corporate culture when they had their staff start working remotely in response to the pandemic. Asked what they missed most about going to the office, employees surveyed by Mercer said:
- Small talk and interacting with colleagues (57%)
- Collaborating in person with a team (53%)
- The separation between work and home (50%)
So, what are the experts recommending companies do to maintain their culture? Here are some tips from Mercer and other HR specialists:
Hold regular face-to-face meetings
To ensure accountability and cohesiveness, it’s important that you meet with your staff – all of them and individually – face to face, preferably in person. If you’re holding video meetings, you can use them to gauge how they are doing. You can get a lot of signals from body language, eyes and their voice inflections.
You may want to consider:
- Having managers meet by video with employees weekly to build trust and rapport, as well as getting an update on work.
- Holding regular video group meetings with teams so that all of your staff connect and see each other’s faces. You may want to focus on a specific topic – employee recognitions, customer service techniques, e-mail writing, for example – to keep them engaged.
Consider these meetings as regular check-ins to make sure they are on track with work, and also to ask them about any concerns or issues they’ve encountered and to make them feel like they are part of the team.
Keep things consistent
You had an agency culture before the pandemic, and it has not disappeared. You just need to reinforce what you already have with remote workers along with those who are working on-site.
To make sure you are consistent, you should meet with your managers, supervisors and team leaders to discuss how you can extend the vibrancy of your company culture so that it encompasses your off-site staff. While you may not have had to work hard to develop it in the past, it’s important that what you do with remote staff is consistent with your current culture.
For example, collaboration and team-building exercises that worked well in the past can be replicated for or adapted to a remote working environment.
Keep doing the things you were doing before. If you held regular employee meetings and events prior to the pandemic, you should continue doing so today, even if a portion or most of your staff are working remotely. For example, if you had one Thursday a month where the staff meets at a local restaurant, you can keep that going or come up with new ways that your employees can bond, like a virtual movie night.
When people are disconnected from the workplace, they could start feeling like they are not part of the team, and that they are not kept in the loop about important company developments.
It all comes down to transparency, communications and ensuring they are all included and invited to events.
This is especially important for remote workers, who may already feel separated from the rest of the staff. If they hear of meetings or team-building exercises they were not part of, it can sow distrust and alienation. That can lead to them feeling disaffected or undervalued, which can affect their mental health or prompt them to look for other work.
Keep all your staff informed of both the good and the bad news. Make sure nobody is overlooked when you are holding meetings or organizing employee events.
One important part of your agency’s culture is accountability and rewarding staff for initiative and going above and beyond.
Staff that get things done should be recognized and rewarded, as it encourages other employees to step up their game. This is also part of your agency culture. To keep your remote workers engaged and motivated, their managers should:
- Set goals and objectives so that remote workers can rise to the challenge.
- Foster a culture of accountability that provides your staff with feedback on how they are performing.
- Help your staff learn how to deal with distractions that arise when working from home, and provide them with flexibility to meet their goals.
- Clearly communicate the goals you set for your staff, what you expect from them in terms of work and standards, as well as celebrating their success and addressing their shortcomings. All of this builds trust as well.