Ten years ago, telecommuting was seen as a momentary trend. As we enter the 2020s, however, it’s clear that telecommuting offers a number of benefits both for workers and their employers.
Telecommuting and remote work options have been linked to greater productivity, reduced stress and lowered costs for workers and employers. Overhead costs can also be reduced: For instance, health insurer Aetna saves $78 million each year by allowing 14,500 employees to work remotely, allowing the company to eliminate 2.7 million square feet of office space, says Jeanne Meister, a partner with Future Workplace. Credit card giant American Express has seen similar savings, along with an increase in productivity.
Property and casualty insurers can realize similar benefits from supporting the remote workforce. Ongoing digital disruption continues to offer opportunities to build effective options for working remotely.
A Brave New World for Insurance Work
Insurance companies are embracing the remote workforce. Over the course of 2018, job listings in insurance that offered remote work options increased over 50 percent. These job opportunities included loss control specialists, case managers, premium auditors, underwriting managers and claims representatives, says Sara Sutton, CEO of FlexJobs.
“Just a few short years ago, working from home may have seemed out of reach within industries outside of data entry, customer service, or sales, but, as this diverse list of career categories demonstrates, today that is most certainly not the case,” says Sutton.
Technological innovations have disrupted many features of the insurance business, yet they also provide opportunities to embrace the benefits of remote work.
Get Your Teams Aligned
Having a single interface across all of your distribution channels is key for getting each of your agents aligned — wherever it is they’re actually working. A common infrastructure gives your agents, and the rest of your employees, a 360-degree view of your customer no matter what devices or channels those customers came through.
This sets your baseline for operational efficiency. Once your teams are aligned, you will be able to expand digital operations further and find new efficiencies and new opportunities.
Use Collaborative Tools
To run an effective remote insurance team, a collaborative software platform is essential. The platform serves as a virtual office space, keeping everyone’s work on track and supporting communication among team members, says Darleen DeRosa, managing partner at OnPoint Consulting.
Project management software used by everyone on the team, whether remote or in-office, can ensure that teams and departments have access to the information, schedules and tools they need to stay on track. Often, these platforms incorporate tools for tracking productivity and efficiency, which allow insurers to evaluate their remote work programs and view employees’ progress on key metrics.
Invest in Security
One of the largest digital disruptions in recent years has focused on data security and privacy. Many companies, including some P&Cs, have faced data breaches that exposed potentially sensitive data to attack or theft.
Remote workers can exacerbate the problem without intending to. For instance, an employee who uses a public, unsecured WiFi network — such as one belonging to a coffee shop offering free WiFi — may expose sensitive business data to hackers, says Neill Feather, chief innovation officer at website security solutions provider SiteLock.
As cyber security and privacy become major issues, tools to protect proprietary business data and customers’ personal information are improving as well. Implementing these tools and incorporating them into your software platforms is a must, particularly for insurers seeking to embrace the benefits of remote work.
As remote work expands, so do the tools that help remote workers further boost their productivity. Analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning can all make remote work a more powerful part of an insurer’s daily business.
For instance, many insurance workers begin their day by examining their to-do lists and prioritizing what they believe are the most important tasks of the day. This preparation, however, is often done within the context of what the worker wants to do, not within the context of what the team needs most, says Zachary Chertok, lead human capital management research analyst at the Aberdeen Group.
Today, however, adaptive analytics allow remote teams to log in to their work platform and see their daily tasks arranged for them. They save time in planning, and they have a better understanding of how their work fits into the big picture goals of their employer.
“[Advanced analytics] are basically able to prioritize my workload for me, day in and day out,” says Chertok.
Best Practices for Remote Insurance Teams
As remote work becomes more common, best practices for setting up and managing remote teams have arisen as well.
Consider the Risks
Laws and regulations surrounding workers’ compensation, premises liability and similar issues are adapting as an increasing number of people work from home.
“Risk managers, human resource professionals and adjusters alike need to stay on top of recent case law to recognize as to when an injury arises out of and in the course and scope of employment at home, and when it does not,” says Paul Meleedy, claims director at Arch Insurance Group.
Employers can take steps to help employees avoid injury and other risks, even when they’re working remotely. For instance, a guide from The Hartford recommends reviewing employees’ remote workspaces periodically to ensure they’re ergonomically sound and that key safety features like smoke detectors and up-to-code wiring are in place.
“Today’s work environment, no matter the working style, relies heavily on computers and electronic communication,” write Ray DiCello and Ed Moffett at PMA Companies. These tools also make it possible for work teams to collaborate effectively, even if the team’s members are in separate physical locations.
To leverage computers and electronic communications, make sure that employees have access to effective cloud storage options as well as a reliable network, they advise. Put backup systems in place to capture and store information even in the case of a sudden power outage, computer crash or other event. Also, make sure that IT staff is available during working hours, so your teams have backup if they encounter a tech issue.
Focus on Management
Many aspects of remote work are managed similarly to in-person work. Team leaders must still define key tasks for their teams, allocate tasks and measure progress. Yet problems with effective management that exist in an office environment will persist in a remote work environment and may even become worse, according to the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas Remote Work Toolkit.
Consider piloting a remote work project with a team and manager who are enthusiastic about the success of a remote work option and are willing to learn the skills necessary to work from home effectively. Employees such as insurance claims adjusters may be particularly well-suited to a pilot project like this, because their productivity is easy to quantify and track, says Ravi Gajendran, associate professor at the Florida International University College of Business.
Using the Remote Workforce to Improve the Insurance Business
Remote work options can be used to target a number of problems that plague the daily business of insurance. Identify targets early to build a remote work or telecommuting system that addresses them directly.
Currently, 65 percent of full-time employees think they’d be more productive away from the office. And they may be right: 66 percent of managers report that their remote workers are more productive than their in-office staff, says Mailbird CEO Andrea Loubier.
Telecommuting “allows workers to retain more of their time in the day and adjust to their personal mental and physical well-being needs that optimize productivity,” says Loubier. It can also help protect the rest of the team; for example, a worker with a slight cold can stay home and still accomplish key tasks without passing their illness around the office.
Improve Your Candidate Pool
Brick and mortar insurance offices are somewhat limited by physical distance. The farther away a candidate lives from the company’s building, the less likely they are to consider a job in that building a viable option.
While some candidates can be persuaded to move for a new job, encouraging them to do so represents an additional cost for an employer. The remote workforce, however, can open up vast new fields of talent for insurance companies who need skilled workers, writes marketing consultant Amar Hussain. Companies that offer remote work also tend to experience less employee turnover than those who don’t, he adds.
Focus on Customers
Customer demands have been a major source of disruption in insurance. Their desire for faster, more personalized service has driven a number of changes in how insurance companies work, as well as in the tech tools they use to reach various goals.
Remote work can help address these customer-based disruptions by allowing teams to improve their customer service. When workers have effective collaboration tools and the flexibility to work outside the office, they’re often more engaged and responsive to the customers for whom they are responsible, says Swati Kungwani, project manager at cloud-based service provider iTouchVision. Remote work thus offers one option for meeting changing customer demands.
Remote workers are often happier, healthier and more productive than their in-office counterparts. To realize these goals and drive business, however, insurance companies need to embrace the tech tools necessary to maximize collaboration and connectivity among a remote workforce.
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