So, Your Agency Has Mastered Working From Home…Now What?

Remote learning or work. Video conference concept.

Like everyone else, we here at KiteTech have experienced swift and unprecedented changes in our lives. In mid-March we emptied our offices and headed home as a reasonable precaution against the spreading pandemic.

Unlike everyone else, our workload immediately surged. At the same time that our employees moved back home, we responded to well over 1000 requests to set up agency employees to do the same. Our employees rose to the challenge and agency clients were thrilled with our efforts. It was hugely fulfilling to help clients in their time of need get set up to work from home.  Our teammates took great pride in serving clients during a crisis, knowing that the precise skills they possessed were in great demand.

Our success didn’t happen by accident. It was the result of preparation. We already had tools and processes in place to work from home. The phone systems, email, and critical applications were just as easily accessible from home as they are from the office. And we already used collaboration tools such as SharePoint and Teams extensively. We needed these to connect staff that work closely together, but live in different parts of the country. We were holding team meetings by video conference well before Zoom became a household name.

In a strange way, this pandemic has leveled the playing field. It’s no longer a competitive advantage to be able to function from home. EVERYBODY knows how to do it now, because it has been a matter of survival to conduct business, educate our children, and gather with our friends.

As a leader, my thoughts have shifted to what comes next. What are the long-term implications of this new reality to our company? How should we respond to mitigate the downside risks and take advantage of the opportunities presented? Here are three broad lines of inquiry our leadership is exploring. If you haven’t already done so, I suggest your agency leadership start considering the same.

1. What is the long-term impact to our culture, and our performance, if our staff continue working from home?

In the short run, we have demonstrated that we can operate just fine from home. But the long-term impact is an open question. Will our culture suffer? What can we do to mitigate that? How will employee attitudes shift in regard to working from an office versus working from home? What will be the impact on performance (and performance management) if employees continue to work from home? How is it going to affect hiring, compensation, and employee retention if we (and our competitors) can hire those who are across the country as easily as we can hire those who are across the street?

As an agency leader, I recommend starting the conversation with employees to understand their attitudes toward these changes. I would also continue the conversation with peers and seek input from experts to understand how all this might shake out. It may be too early to reach definitive conclusions about some of these questions, but it’s not too early to start considering the implications.

2. How is our business model affected by changing attitudes and behaviors of customers and prospects?

Our company has essentially two target markets: independent insurance agencies across the country and various small and mid-sized businesses in the Mid-Atlantic region. For our local/regional practice, we are concerned that increased customer willingness to do business “virtually” rather than face-to-face may introduce more competitors from other geographies. Conversely, this same phenomenon creates greater opportunities to work with insurance agencies throughout the country who may now be more open to working with a provider that is not local.

As an agency, whether you target a specific geography or specific industries, this phenomenon will affect you differently. Are you prepared for the impact? Are you shifting your focus to take advantage of the opportunities?

3. What have we learned about the limitations of our technology that prevent or complicate our ability to serve our customers?

These last few months have given us time to reflect on technical assets on which we depend that are housed in our main office. Fortunately, the list is short and has minimal impact on our operation. But the local infrastructure still must be maintained and poses security and reliability risks that must be mitigated. Eliminating ALL local infrastructure eliminates the maintenance costs and reduces the security threat landscape.

Now is a great time for you to consider this question for your agency.  More than ever, after surviving three months with your staff likely working from home, you know precisely what constraints are keeping you tethered to your office.  Do you have a premise-based phone system? Are you dependent on operating processes that are still not yet “paperless”? Do your producers lack the tools to present quotes and close new business remotely? If any of these are true, there are technology solutions that can help you prepare for the new reality that is being hastily thrust upon you. This is one area where we can help you make wise decisions.

It’s chaotic times like now, when leadership is most necessary. Lead well.