Customer Service Focus
By Donna Loughran
THE FUTURE INSURANCE WORKPLACE IS NOW: WORKING REMOTELY
The advantages of implementing a remote-work policy
The chance to work at home is regarded as a benefit by many employees, but how much of a benefit depends on the employee’s personality and working style. As communication technology has evolved, many industries have embraced telecommuting. This lets employers be more flexible with employees and support them in their pursuit of a healthy work/life balance. Employers also reap the benefits of allowing employees to work remotely. Many insurance agencies and companies are following this trend toward job flexibility.
In The National Alliance Research Academy’s The Pulse of Customer Service—A Profile of Insurance Industry Customer Service Personnel, it is noted that CSRs who participated in the 2017 Outstanding CSR of the Year competition voiced a desire for more work flexibility. The most often mentioned work benefit was flex time. Flex time allows account managers/CSRs to vary their scheduled work period. The second most often mentioned benefit was the ability to work from home, at least occasionally. Sixty percent of account managers/CSRs who submitted essays cited these two factors. Additionally, finding an agency that supported these two benefits, flex time and working remotely, was the third most mentioned preference in looking for an employer.
The remote-work policy requires a footnote. If the employer sees that an employee is struggling as a remote worker, the employee might have to return to the office on a part- or full-time basis.
Less than 10% of those surveyed indicated that they worked remotely at least some of the time. Less than 25% indicated that their agencies offered flex time. This points to the conclusion that offering flex time or the ability to work remotely could be a competitive advantage for agencies to attract and retain quality service personnel.
But what is in it for an agency or company? What advantages can a business gain from implementing a remote-work policy?
Reduce overhead. With fewer employees in the office every day, the agency can decrease office space, internet bandwidth, and other resources, like utilities, required to support in-office employees. Cost savings can be put toward other business goals, such as improving the customer experience and enhancing marketing.
Find talent locally and beyond. If an employer has difficulty finding good candidates locally, it should consider the benefits of widening the search for candidates to adjacent cities, the entire state or beyond. If the job can be done remotely, why not look for talent farther afield? Tools like Skype and Microsoft Teams can keep remote employees in the loop. Local employees who work remotely can periodically check in at the physical office when necessary. Finding quality employees is key, and with workers happy in their remote locations, turnover is lessened and productivity can soar.
Hold on to your best employees. What if an employee must leave a position for personal reasons? For instance, what if the employee’s family must relocate because the spouse has received a better job opportunity? Why not let the valued employee work remotely from the new location? You do not want to lose a great employee just because of a change in location.
Boost employee satisfaction, improve work quality, and lessen turnover. If an employee commutes more than an hour, that employee can arrive at work late, tired, and frustrated. Commuting is not easy in large metropolitan areas. Allowing employees to work from home even occasionally can increase their job satisfaction level and reduce stress. They also will save in gasoline costs, which is good for the individual, and consumption, which is good for the planet. For an employer, the goal is always to be growing a culture of satisfied employees. This reduces turnover and decreases the cost and time spent hiring and training.
Grow productivity. Employees who work remotely have shown that they can concentrate better. Compared with working in a cubicle in the office, with lots of motion and noise, employees say that working at home provides the silence and lack of distraction that allow them to successfully perform their jobs. Even with noise-cancelling headphones, the close quarters of a cubicle bank, with its associated extraneous movement and commotion, can challenge focus and concentration. Remote workers feel trusted and more focused and on-task in their surroundings.
Reduce your agency’s footprint. Fewer square feet and fewer resources used in the office can significantly reduce your agency’s impact on the environment. Eliminating or cutting back on the daily commute for workers reduces automobile emissions. If your agency would like to claim an eco-friendly profile, allowing employees to work remotely is a great way to support this claim. It is also an excellent advertisement for your agency, especially when it comes to attracting younger workers.
Employee awareness. How do you know if working remotely is right for you as an employee? If your job requires strong concentration and focus, full-time remote work may be for you. Of course, you must be a self-starter and be able to structure your time appropriately. If family members are at home, establish clear boundaries so that your work time is respected.
Also consider whether working as a full-time or part-time remote employee is a better fit. Working remotely can be lonely at times. Take advantage of phone, email, and Skype tools. Going into the office (if local) for meetings is a good way to be seen and to see others so that you can keep in touch.
Design the best policy for your agency. Having a remote worker policy doesn’t mean employees will never be in the office. You can design a policy to fit each employee’s job function and tasks. Perhaps eligible employees can work from home three to five days a week. Maybe two employees staff the reception desk and direct customers while managing files. Rotate these employees so one is in the office while the other works remotely updating computer files or fielding calls. Or consider the producer who travels extensively. He or she could work from home one or two days a week to compile reports and make phone calls.
Maybe employees can work remotely only after they have worked for the agency for at least one year. An employer needs to know that the employee is trustworthy and will work just as diligently at home as at work. Some employees have trouble staying on task while working remotely. In contrast, many employees concentrate better when they can create their ideal work environment at home.
The remote work policy requires a footnote. If the employer sees that an employee is struggling as a remote worker, the employee might have to return to the office on a part- or full- time. But don’t let this fear of failure keep you as an employer from trying out a remote work policy. The benefits can be overwhelmingly positive on many levels for both you and your employees.
Donna Loughran is a staff writer for The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research. The Pulse of Customer Service—A Profile of Insurance Industry Customer Service Personnel can be ordered from nationalalliancebooks.com.