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The Rough Notes Company Inc.



June 25
08:19 2020


When it comes to hiring remote workers, is your agency ready?

By Sharon Emek, Ph.D., CIC

For a number of years now, the insurance industry has been inching toward remote work, but with plenty of trepidation. Not knowing where to start or how to manage a remote workforce has held plenty of agencies and brokers back.

Prior to the pandemic, a study conducted by The Jacobson Group and Aon showed that, while there were improvements in recruiting results, the struggle to hire persisted, fueled by low unemployment, high numbers of retirements, and an expanding industry. Millennials looking for careers showed little interest in insurance—just 4% of Millennials would consider a career in the insurance industry, says The Millennial Survey conducted by The Hartford. The industry was beginning to embrace remote work, albeit reluctantly, in an effort to attract talent.

However, the pandemic has forced businesses into remote operations at a rapid pace. A survey conducted by law firm Seyfarth shows that, in mid-March 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, 67% of employers surveyed were taking steps to get employees working from home, with 36% actively encouraging all employees to work from home.

For agents and brokers who are able to adapt to the new normal and revise operations to accommodate the shifting landscape, the reward is organizational flexibility that responds to the needs of an ever-changing workforce. And those rewards can pay off well into the future.

That seismic shift from in-house operations to remote work could be the silver lining that agents and brokers are looking for. As the unemployment rate in the United States skyrockets, talent is suddenly available. Plus, with most business being conducted remotely, agents and brokers are now in a position to attract more talent with that one benefit that the majority of today’s workforce is asking for—remote work. In fact, an IBM study released in May 2020 reveals that 54% of U.S. workers surveyed want remote work to continue beyond lockdowns.

Is your agency ready to make the switch from your standard hiring process to one that takes into account your virtual operations? A standard process can net your agency good talent, but possibly talent that isn’t suited to work remotely.

Additional skills needed

That’s because with remote workers, you’re hiring beyond the job description. The ability to perform the job well isn’t enough—your remote employee should also have the right mindset for remote work. When hiring for a remote position, you need to consider candidates based on the following soft skills:

  • Adept at problem-solving
  • Able to work independently
  • Good time management
  • Collaborative/communicative approach
  • Good fit with company culture

Because your ability to manage people directly has shifted, you need to be hiring people who can work well without supervision and who can team with existing employees successfully. Also, your next remote employee should be comfortable with remote communication tools and methods.

The remote interview

When it comes to the actual interview, a video interview is best. Phone interviews don’t capture a candidate’s body language. And since your candidate will be expected to communicate via video regularly, you’ll be able to assess their comfort level with the medium.

That goes for other remote tools and technologies as well. Because the work will require remote communication and remote sharing of projects and documents, your interview should include an assessment of what technologies your candidate is familiar with and what their level of competency is on the tools your team currently uses.

You can also assess the candidate’s ability to connect easily via these tools. As many companies have discovered recently, not all locations have ideal connectivity. Spotty internet or dead zones could hamper your entire team’s ability to collaborate and complete work on time.

The appropriateness of the worker’s available workspace can also cause difficulties. Does the candidate have high-speed internet access? Are they able to work without interruptions? Do they have a dedicated workspace that’s distraction free? If not, are the conditions temporary, such as a child whose daycare is currently closed, and is your company willing to overlook it in the short term?

Technological savvy

One thing you shouldn’t overlook is your candidate’s ability to use your company’s technology. Ideally, your worker should be able to use the following types of applications competently:

  • Chat applications
  • Email
  • Project-management tools
  • File-sharing methods
  • Conference-call services/capabilities

With any new hire, there’s the potential that training will be needed. Still, candidates should at least understand the basic functions of the applications you require them to use.

Also, explain your company’s training process and requirements. The right questions will help you determine if the candidate will be able to train on your systems independently:

  • How do you best learn?
  • Have you taken self-directed learning in the past?
  • What are your biggest challenges with technology?
  • How much assistance do you think you’ll need to get up to speed on some of the systems you’re least familiar with?

Because knowing how to use technology is a large part of a remote position, understanding how much training they need can help you make the right hiring decision. It can help your candidate understand what types of technology skills are expected.

Post-hire expectations

Candidates should understand, too, what to expect should they be hired. The remote interview is a great time to outline how you will measure their progress and performance.

It’s also one of the biggest shifts your company should consider making. Too often, the hours worked are given equal priority with other factors, such as benchmarks met, project outcomes, and extra effort. Instead, try measuring performance based on progress and results. Are deadlines being met and are you seeing good results?

Those hours worked should also be something your company considers amending. Especially in an environment in which everyone is at home and physical locations are closed, your employees’ most productive hours could be outside of normal business hours. How flexible can you be about when employees are able to work?

Hiring confidently

As the global community works toward solutions to the pandemic, your business can continue to grow and thrive. By creating a strong remote hiring process, your agency can continue that growth and can regain solid footing in an unsteady climate.

For agents and brokers who are able to adapt to the new normal and revise operations to accommodate the shifting landscape, the reward is organizational flexibility that responds to the needs of an ever-changing workforce. And those rewards can pay off well into the future.

The author

Sharon Emek, Ph.D., CIC, is founder and CEO of Work At Home Vintage Experts (WAHVE). WAHVE ( is an innovative contract talent solution that matches retiring, experienced insurance, accounting and human resource career professionals with a company’s talent needs. WAHVE bridges the gap between an employer’s need for highly skilled professional talent and seasoned professionals desiring to extending their career working from home. From screening to placement, WAHVE is a comprehensive solution to qualifying, hiring, and managing experienced remote talent.

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