Over recent years, the number of companies utilizing a remote or distributed workforce has ballooned to an all-time high, largely due to the advent of technology. In fact, a recent Forbes study estimated that one in five Americans are now regularly working from home, and this trend is increasing at a rapid rate.
When it comes to loss control, having a remote workforce is simply the nature of the beast. Because loss control field consultants spend the majority of their time visiting with insureds at their premises, it is necessary for a loss control team to cover a geographic footprint that cannot practically be serviced by numerous company offices. As most loss control executives can attest to, working with a remote team is not easy, and presents unique challenges when it comes to leadership and management.
Based on discussions with clients who have been successfully working this way for many years, we have summarized some loss control best practices for managing a remote team:
1. There is no such thing as over-communication
Since the old ‘management by walking around’ approach is not exactly feasible in a distributed environment, it is important that loss control team leaders actually schedule time to communicate with team members. Communication is an easy thing to brush off when the team isn’t physically nearby, so putting the time in your calendar and ensuring you spend the time checking in with team members is a great way to hold yourself accountable.
Although you might be tempted to default to email or chat tools in the name of efficiency, a phone call or a video chat should be the chosen approach whenever practical. After all, it’s much easier to interpret someone’s mood or stress level through one of these more personal approaches.
Another tactic used by many effective remote teams is to have a chat room constantly open within the company’s messaging system – think of it as a virtual water cooler to quickly and seamlessly exchange ideas and help everyone stay in the loop.
If your team includes visual thinkers (like me) online screen-sharing tools are also super-effective when it comes to training or other interactions where a picture could save you a thousand words. If your company doesn’t have an enterprise tool like Webex or Skype for Business, there are many inexpensive (and even free) tools out there like Join.me or GoToMeeting.
2. Focus on results and have clear goals
One of the benefits of having a distributed workforce for a manager is that it removes the possibility of defaulting to a micro-management crutch as a day-to-day technique. Try as you may, attempting to monitor the minutiae of a team member’s daily activities will not only be extremely ineffective, it will drive you completely insane.
The most effective way to ‘rally the troops’ in a distributed environment is to establish clear goals for the team and distill these down to specific (and ideally measurable) results for each individual. As an example, if your team has an overarching goal of increasing engagement with insureds of a certain high risk profile based on poor historical account performance, this can be linked to measurable service standards such as:
- Number of on-site interactions in a given period
- Number of value-added interactions in a given period (e.g. training, consultations, customer service)
- Account recommendation compliance (or responses of any kind)
- Insured engagement with your online resources
- Customer satisfaction metrics
Alternatively, if your team is focused on enhancing service levels to internal customers such as underwriters or other stakeholders, then these metrics can be centered around a different set of variables.
Having a proper loss control management system in place is the most effective and accurate way to capture and monitor these metrics. When companies rely on self-reporting, it can lead to inaccurate information and even some potential ‘gaming’ of the system (and frankly a lot of wasted time and frustration for the consultants).
3. Meet in person as often as possible
Many of our the most successful loss control leaders we work with make a point to hit the road a few times per year to visit with as many team members as possible. This approach allows them to capture an individual pulse on each team member by working with them on a one-on-one basis. These sessions often take the form of a ‘ride-along’ which will also allow the leader to observe the consultant in their natural habitat and help evaluate their strengths or areas for improvement in real time.
It is also quite common to have at least one annual get together including all members of the loss control team – not only does this serve as a great relationship-building activity, it is also an ideal forum for delivering ongoing training and education. A number of our customers host these annual meetups in conjunction with major industry events or conferences, offering another educational and networking opportunity for the team.
4. All aboard!
Onboarding a remote employee can be a major challenge, due to the isolation that is inherent in the role. Since a new remote loss control team member does not have the opportunity to ‘watch over the shoulders’ of other team members, it is absolutely critical to implement a formal onboarding process. Some of our clients have put a job shadowing process in place which allows the new consultant to learn alongside an experienced ‘model team member’ for one to two weeks to learn the ropes. Other clients heavily rely on a formalized training program incorporating documentation, exercises and videos to help accelerate the new consultant’s learning curve.
The approach may also vary depending on the experience level of the consultant as well. To combat the aging demographics in the loss control space currently, many of our customers are incorporating help, training and best practices directly into their loss control management systems to help less experienced users with practical, situational training.
5. Out of sight, not out of mind
Your remote team members may rarely (or ever!) set foot inside the four walls of the office, so it is important to use any means necessary to make them feel part of the team. Insist on mandatory virtual attendance in ‘all hands’ meetings and major company announcements, send them company swag and go out of your way to ensure they are kept in the loop about broader company initiatives and objectives.
Another seemingly small but powerful tip to help your distributed teams foster a more personal relationship with one another is making sure everyone uploads a headshot which can be seen when using company communication tools. Being able to put a face to the person behind an email, chat message or phone call helps to personalize these sometimes impersonal communications mechanisms.