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The Rough Notes Company Inc.



November 30
09:24 2020

Beyond Insurance

By Matt O’Neill, CRA, CBWA, ACRA, TRA


Leaders must reflect on how to act financially and operationally in 2021 while consistently maintaining their culture

Earlier this year, in what felt like an overnight transition, organizations, executives, and employees were forced to function in remote work environments as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. While many independent agencies had services in place to help their organizations quickly transition to a remote-first environment, others had to invest in solutions to help drive high sales performance, morale, and client satisfaction.

For agencies this meant:

  • Total or partial office shutdowns
  • Investments in technology for staff members to work remotely
  • Proactive client management while insureds grappled with a new office and operating environment
  • Maintaining the same workplace culture while employees worked remotely
  • Setting expectations for remote working, including defining which tools and platforms to use and how to use them, and setting clear priorities and expectations for employees
  • Keeping lines of communication open for all employees
  • Ensuring that new business development remained active
  • Motivating staff so they did not get bored and grow less productive

While work became remote, most agencies continued to operate without a hitch. The transition from a stable office environment to one made up of off-site employees, however, left some organizations struggling to address the next immediate COVID need for the independent agency: corporate culture, or essentially what the agency says and does, and how it is guided by purpose and values. Bain & Company found that organizations with a winning culture of collaboration, agility, integrity, people-centricity, innovation, accountability, and ambition are 3.7 times more likely to be performance leaders in their respective industries.

Culture always matters, but it’s even more essential during a crisis.

As we approach year’s end, business leaders may be trying to transform holiday parties into creative lively moments that are in line with a softened lockdown and social distancing environment. They should also reflect on how to act financially and operationally in 2021 while consistently maintaining their culture. This will help them navigate this new normal so they can leverage the strengths of their culture to develop new ways to win in the marketplace.

It can be easy for employees to miss the daily informal interactions and parties they would traditionally enjoy with colleagues around the office. Without knowing when agencies will return to a more traditional sense of normality, it is critical that organizations assess and improve its operating procedures to maintain the status quo.

Here are five suggested tactics to engage employees throughout the holiday season and into the new year.

Streamline your technology solutions

Josh Bersin, a global industry analyst who covers human resources, leadership, and HR technology, published a 2019 white paper stating that our lives are now more complex than ever, yet our productivity has not increased at the same rate as the changes that drive the complexity. This means that, collectively, we are producing the same amount of output in a more chaotic work environment. Bersin concluded that, on average, an organization could provide employees 11 different tools for office communication, data management, HR-related programs, and client services. If your agency can streamline your technology solutions for both clients and employees, it will positively affect your staff’s productivity and time management.

For starters, remote work took away physical human interaction and if not carefully addressed could be thwarting all emotional connection with team members. If employees do not feel engaged with co-workers and managers, your culture could drive them to feel isolated and alone.

The best way to prevent your team from feeling isolated is to set up a video conferencing or instant messaging platform like Slack. Such platforms make communication easy, effective, and fun across the organization.

Video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Blue Jeans, FaceTime, and Microsoft Teams can also help co-workers have face-to-face interactions from the comfort of their homes. Regardless of the size of your firm or your budget, you will be able to find a video conferencing tool that fits your needs.

With platforms like these, employees and managers can hold virtual meetings, exchange information, display worksheets, and even take part in remote happy hour sessions with their smartphones, tablets, or desktop computers. It is easy to feel connected to team members when co-workers can see each other to discuss daily projects, work-related problems, and activities.

A word of caution, however: on a recent “Beyond Insurance … Voice of the Risk Revolution” podcast, Jeff Teschke, founder and chief executive officer of Forge3, the creators of an insurance agency website platform called ActiveAgency, shared his perspective about creating a compelling culture when employees work remotely: “At a very high level,” he advised, “you need the right people. You need people who can embrace the different tools and technologies that support a remote environment. You also need the right processes. Without a process, everything falls apart. You cannot just install programs like Slack and consider your company to be remote first.”

Teschke explained that new processes should dictate how employees should engage with one another, how their performance is benchmarked, and even how often employees should get together for team-building activities.

Encourage watercooler moments

Need a 15-minute break to stretch your mind and legs? Why not hop on a quick Zoom call with a team member to ask about their weekend, hobbies, or interests?

Team bonding can have a major impact on your agency’s level of productivity. A research group at MIT examined the impact of workplace socializing and employee output and, while it may seem counterintuitive, found that by encouraging breaks, you could increase productivity by 10% to 15%. They call this the “watercooler effect.” The lesson is that if your employees love the environment they work in and do not find it toxic, they will go the extra mile on behalf of your agency.

Consider team-bonding activities like monthly themed workdays or a day for a costume contest. Imagine joining your next team video call and seeing everyone dressed up while attempting to win a contest! That’s just one easy way to boost employee morale and get everyone excited about coming to work. To celebrate the holidays during social distancing, this idea can give life to a virtual party, such as an ugly holiday sweater contest.

Highlight the moments that matter

While many sales-driven organizations celebrate positive customer experiences from a new business and retention perspective, it can be just as valuable for employee morale to celebrate the moments that matter throughout your employee experience program. “Moments that matter” are those that affect an employee’s organizational experience most significantly through their day, year, and career—or the moments when agency principals can think about what’s most important to employees and take positive action.

During the ReimagineHR Conference 2019, research firm Gartner announced that the “moments that matter” approach elicits a strong emotional response from employees and has a lasting effect on their opinions of the organization.

Consider an internal newsletter, social media feed, or channel within your intranet where all team members can commemorate personal employee occasions like birthdays, work anniversaries, or noteworthy personal and professional developmental updates.

Reinvest in your employees

Employees like to know that you have their personal and professional interests at heart. This could be a perfect opportunity to give staff members the opportunity to complete online professional training courses to build skills and enhance performance.

Once you identify gaps in performance, you can address those needs to boost employee productivity and satisfaction. Training might include sales, service, or technical courses. Available e-learning service providers include Teachable, Udemy, LinkedIn Learning, and the Beyond Insurance Sales Accelerators.

Reexamine your work/life balance practices

Don’t expect that employees who are working from home will feel better or worse than if they were working in an office. Review your current work/life practices and consider how they can be updated in accordance with this new normal. Approach these new practices with enthusiasm as you might learn that an updated, flexible working environment will have major impacts on productivity and workplace culture, and might even attract the next superstar candidate to your agency.

Effective communication is paramount when facing challenges like a pandemic. Culture always matters, but it’s even more important during a crisis. Agency leaders need to approach the future with an open mind while promoting a fun work culture for employees. At this time of year when you may have been getting ready to host your holiday party, consider replacing it with incentives to recognize your exceptional staff for the hard work they’ve done during one of the strangest years in modern history.

By working together, we can support everyone in getting through these uncertain times with a bit more fun and lots more human interaction.

The author

Matt O’Neill is chief experience officer for Beyond Insurance. He strategizes with organizations on the implementation of tools and resources and serves as a master coach and speaker on differentiation, social media, the customer experience journey, and developing a competitive advantage.

Beyond Insurance is a consulting firm that offers leadership training, cultural transformation, and talent and tactical development for enlightened professionals who are looking to take their organization to the next level.  Since 2007 the proven and repeatable processes of Beyond Insurance have transformed organizations as measured by enhanced organic growth, productivity, profitability, and value in the marketplace.

To learn more about Beyond Insurance, contact Scott Addis at

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