Remote working is now an accepted practice for both agencies and insurers, whether due to the pandemic or a growing preference of the workforce to work from home. Despite the benefits of remote working like flexible working hours, greater autonomy, and fewer office disruptions, what is lost in team building, collaboration, and common purpose? How do the challenges of separate collaboration affect productivity between agencies and insurers? In particular, are there steps agents can take to better adjust to this new normal? Unfortunately, the remote work certificate remains incomplete, but clues are everywhere.

“It’s too early to form final opinions on the pros and cons of working remotely after COVID,” said Mike Becker, CEO, National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA). “At the same time, however, the pace of change has accelerated so much that it is clear that we need to find the right balance between virtual and personal interactions.”

On the agency side, a Vertafore survey last March found that almost two thirds of agency employees prefer a mixture of home and office work. Only 15% of respondents said they were going back to the office full-time. Going forward, remote working will be an ongoing employee benefit to retain valued employees and to attract the best and brightest of the next generation.

“You have to meet people where they want to be met,” says Becker. “That certainly applies to the agent / client relationship, but also to the agency employees.”

Agencies have used many techniques to maintain team spirit by switching employees who work from home and hold regular virtual meetings. Becker adds that “Remote working and the digital tools that go with it are just that – tools that expand your skills and efficiency, but shouldn’t completely replace personal experience.”

The challenge for insurers to build teamwork and optimal service for agencies is more difficult given their larger size, many office locations and teams working from home. Two new Generation Z (under 25) insurers shared their thoughts on how to better understand and build coherent teams remotely. Markel underwriting support specialist Ben Lopez said he was hired in April 2020 just before the lockdown and worked almost entirely from home.

“There’s no question that individual training would have helped,” says Lopez. “I had hiccups my first year under pressure and it was a tough transition.”

Nevertheless, there was mentoring and continues to this day. While Lopez worked with 18 underwriters on his team, he only met two in person. Building relationships in these circumstances can be challenging. “But our managers have shown a lot of patience and we have stayed in constant contact, including virtual happy hours,” he said. “Patience goes a long way, no matter what role you are in.”

Sam Gohn, underwriter for Distinguished Programs, was also hired last year and began to train once a week in the office for a short time before working exclusively from home.

“Our team came up with out-of-hours activities to stay connected,” says Gohn.

Both men were fortunate to have family members and friends in the industry. That helped. “A support system was an important part of my development,” says Lopez.

“There is a risk that the team culture will be undermined if you abolish the in-office entirely,” says Becker from PIA. “Personal collaboration is hard to beat in front of the camera and it is important to avoid the development of two cultures: in the office and remotely.”

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