First was the rapid restructuring of business and COVID-19 spreading across the globe. Across all industries, organizations were reshaping how they conduct business. Nearly half of all American workers were working at home during the pandemic, according to a survey conducted by Northeastern University at the beginning of 2022.
More than two years after the onset of the pandemic, business is restructuring once again. However, the reasons why have shifted dramatically. That’s because employees are demanding it: A Prudential Pulse of the American Worker Survey revealed that 87% of workers who have been working remotely during the pandemic want to continue at least one day a week. A surprising 68% would opt for a hybrid workplace model.
Particularly within the insurance industry, such news could become a competitive advantage when looking to fill open positions. Flexible work culture is a sought-after commodity among job seekers, and a recent McKinsey report stated that the finance and insurance sector has the highest potential for remote success since, as the report states, three-quarters of a worker’s time in that sector is spent on activities that can be done remotely without any disruption to productivity.
The successful flexible culture
With that kind of data as an incentive, agency managers and insurance organizations could well capitalize on the current shakeup brought on by the Great Resignation, which to date has resulted in 33 million people leaving their jobs. The finance and insurance industry needs to fill 313,000 openings, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those same workers are looking for more meaningful work within a more flexible work model.
Yet “flexible” is not limited to where employees work. Remote and hybrid models are indeed part of the flexible work model, but so too is management of the new hybrid workforce. A complete retooling of how a workforce is managed is essential. Success in a hybrid work culture isn’t measured within the standard 9-to-5 model. Instead, success requires a new structure and a new style of management.
It could be a tough sell for many. But there is a simple solution: By measuring a worker’s performance on outcomes rather than hours worked, agency managers can ensure that benchmarks are met and that performance is not lagging.
By basing productivity measures on performance, your organization can quickly identify issues that individual employees may be having and can just as quickly set up mentoring or additional training or accommodations to help those employees improve results.
Making the effort to adopt a better work and management style is a great move for the insurance industry. Flexible work arrangements make employees happy. Owl Labs research found that employees who work remotely at least once a month are 24% more likely to be happy and productive than their in-office counterparts. Likewise, 86% of workers say that working remotely reduces their stress, says FlexJobs data. An Owl Labs survey found that 84% of remote workers say they are happier, 79% say they feel less stressed, and 79% also say they feel more trusted and that their employer cares.
That has translated into higher productivity. In fact, a number of studies have shown a significant increase in productivity when workers are working remotely. Stanford University research shows that employee performance increased by 22% when employees were able to work from home. Employees are seeing it too — 90% of them report being at the same productivity level or higher working remotely when compared to in-office work, an Owl Labs study found.
If that’s not enough, here’s the real payoff: Offering flexible work attracts job seekers. A LinkedIn Global Talent Trends report found that organizations received 35% more engagement when a job posting mentioned flexibility. Companies have taken notice of what employees want, as well: Since 2019, there has been an 83% increase in job posts that mention flexibility.
For the insurance industry, that kind of data could help stanch the talent bleed.
Creating a flexible workforce
That makes the job of keeping some of those employees on the job and attracting new hires critical to the agency’s success. Agency managers must shift their thinking away from traditional management styles that are best suited to in-house staff and adopt new strategies that address the unique challenges remote workers face.
Employee management is no longer limited to the workplace. The successful organization attracts and retains employees by focusing on the entire work-life cycle. Issues to consider include establishing truly flexible work models and better productivity measures, as well as prioritizing employee mental well-being, stronger relationships and improved communication.
Ditch the 9-to-5
Do you really believe that requiring your employees to be at work for a set number of hours nets more productivity? When Microsoft Japan tested the idea of a four-day workweek, the company saw employee productivity increased by 40%. The company’s sales-per-employee figures rose 39.9%. An added bonus: Utility costs and printing costs dropped 23.1% and 58.7%, respectively.
Likewise, allowing your employees to work when they are most productive pays off in additional productivity. At WAHVE, our employees work at hours that best meet their needs. As long as the work is completed, the employees are free to make their own hours.
With the right productivity measurements, your organization can easily measure each employee’s performance. We recommend agency managers build a process that includes regular individual meetings with each employee. Those meetings should be used to help the employee set goals, to discuss productivity issues or challenges, and to talk about whatever is on their minds, including personal details such as financial pressures or upcoming milestones.
Keep a shared folder with your employee with notes on your discussions. Employees should be able to refer to the folder, which helps them check their progress. Should they feel they’re falling behind, encourage them to reach out.
The whole employee
That same advice applies to challenges your employee may be having in their personal life. As mentioned previously, your worker may have pressures on them that could disrupt their productivity. For example, an International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans survey found that 76% of employers say an employee’s financial issues have resulted in increased stress, 60% say the issues have contributed to a worker’s inability to focus while at work, and 34% say financial Pressures have caused absenteeism or tardiness in their employees.
Working with your employee to get them the resources they need — and giving them support — can help improve their well-being, which in turn will improve their performance at work.
A culture of relationships
A focus on building collaborative teams is another investment that can improve your employees’ well-being. Start with weekly team meetings. In general, meetings should be short, have a stated purpose, and allow for feedback and issue discussion. Let employees in charge of each department drive the meetings. Invite feedback. Brainstorm to solve problems. Encourage team participation and idea sharing in all discussions across the organization.
A healthy work culture is one in which employees have fun together. Make sure to celebrate milestones, to reward achievements, to call out success. And even if your employees can’t meet in person, they can still meet for happy hour. Hold virtual parties, enjoy a cocktail hour together, and hold game events with prizes to make everyone feel connected.
Communication at the forefront
All of this involves an increased focus on communication. How are your employees getting job feedback? How are you delivering it? Do you require cameras to be turned on in your video conferences? Build a plan that details how you and your employees will communicate, how often you will check in, how you will measure performance and how you will resolve performance issues.
When you give performance-related feedback, follow up with your employee. Work with them to set goals or give them access to additional training or mentoring. A performance report without the tools for improvement nets nothing. Feedback should help your employees overcome issues.
That feedback should be a two-way communication. Employees should have the ability to alert you to problems, ideas or concerns easily. A clearly defined feedback loop — email, online suggestion box, even in weekly meetings — gives employees the ability to reach out instantly.
All of this additional communication means your agency management team must revamp its approach to employee engagement. Build a regular feedback loop into the workday. Check in with your employees every day in some way. Acknowledge their performance milestones, their birthdays and other events. Be accessible. Ask if they need anything. Set their success as your goal.
Today’s workforce model continues to evolve to meet employee and job seeker demands. With a heavy emphasis on flexibility and communication, the flex culture is an intentional approach that strengthens and improves your agency’s culture.
Dropping the traditional beliefs of how employees should be managed is fast becoming a necessity in order to compete in a red-hot labor market. Removing the boundaries of where employees work creates new challenges, but savvy organizations that embrace the new business model can build a healthy model for managing remote and hybrid workforces. It’s a move that can help agencies win the talent war, improve productivity and create a successful work culture that retains your best employees.