Here are a few tips for Property and Casualty insurance carriers who want to improve their virtual teams right now and be well-positioned for the future.
Current events have magnified the importance of effectively working on a team that consists of individuals spread out across multiple locations (distributed teams). Whether you call it distributed or remote work, insurance carriers who have embraced work outside of traditional office models have an advantage that will continue into the future.
Eventually, lockdowns will cease, and the world will gravitate toward a different standard of normalcy, but it will never be like it was before. For those who have not yet embraced the model, some will see value in distributed work environments, and others will see only challenges and double down on their reliance on in-person interactions.
If you are like most insurance carriers, you’d like to come out of this with stronger remote and collaborative capabilities. In our two previous blogs, we discussed the future of digital collaboration, and continuous improvement and the importance of a business-driven mindset. Now, we’ll expand on those concepts and address how to establish a high-functioning and distributed working environment.
Every insurance company has their own unique goals or constraints, such as budget, skills, availability, schedule, and more. These criteria drive the type of distributed team best suited for your organization.
It may be a mix of on-site, near-site and offshore team members to allow for support when and where it’s needed. At Centric, we call this our “Right Site” model and offer a flexible, scalable approach.
Regardless of the distance between employees, you will likely face challenges and learn how to adjust to this new way of working. They will build the capability and improve it by adapting to their situation.
How do you turn these learnings into permanent capabilities, and what are the key components to doing it effectively?
The Three Key Components to Building a Long-Term Distributed Team
Whether you are in transformation mode, looking to maximize continuous improvement or building up capabilities for the first time, keep these key considerations in mind when evolving your distributed work environment. And if you are still in the exploration phase, each of these best practices will also improve the effectiveness of an in-person team.
Let’s consider the scenario of an underwriting team processing new business opportunities. In many organizations, you have a team of Customer Service Reps (CSR’s), underwriters of varying skill levels, marketing and the agents themselves all working in tandem to achieve that elusive, bound policy.
On top of that, you have leadership involvement and risk control. You may even include other people or organizations in evaluating risk and appetite.
Even when you have collocated teams, underwriting a policy can be pretty complicated. There is often an implicit process that everyone follows to get the submission quoted.
We would all like to bind a greater percentage of quotes and have them be well within appetite. Even a slow day feels chaotic. So, how can one even begin to consider going through submission, indication, evaluating, quoting, post-quote adjustments and, hopefully, binding in a new and distributed world?
Here are a few tips to consider as you go virtual that will pay off when you return to a new normal.
1. Build a Virtual Rallying Point
One of the biggest challenges uncovered when a team moves from being centralized to remote is the lack of a tangible focal point. When we are all together, we can imply the focal point, or it gets distributed in fragmented email chains that circulate around the team, leaving gaps that have to be filled through in-person interactions.
Many systems that support an underwriting process only go so far when it comes to driving a process. If you’re like most organizations, you have a bunch of emails, one-off conversations, phone calls, or even texts that all help to advance a submission. You have implied priorities.
One way to put some organization behind your process is to create a virtual rallying point– a tangible, remotely accessible location team members can rally around. It provides team members the ability to have a place to (virtually) interact with each other on a particular topic. It’s a topic-specific water cooler.
Collaboration software such as Microsoft Teams serves this purpose. It provides many ways to achieve a virtual focal point, and you can focus on a specific quote or the collective work of a team. Best of all, it’s fluid.
In the scenario of a new submission, it would be simple enough to operate within the context of a team, or to establish the quote or document itself as a focal point. In essence, it does not need to be overly complicated or expensive.
For example, an underwriter could create a simple chat within a team for a quote, and then pull in anyone who may need to be involved or informed. That chat is now the focal point, rather than the underwriter.
Anyone involved can rally around it, and even individual conversations can spin off and return with ease. Documents and artifacts become temporarily centralized, and it’s a simple matter to package everything up after completion and move it to a system or folder.
There are many ways to achieve a virtual focal point. The more you can gravitate toward moving the focus of the task on the work item itself instead of the person doing some part of the work, the easier it is to distribute the team that will execute on it.
Similarly, you may need to create some focal points for socialization as well. Encourage a wide variety of interactions and mechanisms to establish focus, when needed.
2. Take Advantage of Multi-Tasking
Another exposure point for inefficiency is the dreaded meeting. A virtual meeting is a challenging thing to do well. So is an in-person meeting, for that matter.
Performing meetings virtually can be quite useful, and there are quite a few resources available to help you do this. However, before you go down that path, ask yourself the question – for starters, why do you need to have the meeting?
If you have a good virtual focal point, you may be able to achieve many of your goals by rallying around that focal point you created. Choosing the right medium for your interactions is vital in a distributed and virtual team.
Consider this dynamic. You can have many threads at once and easily include everyone you need in a semi-real-time conversation.
If you fear participation from everyone or distractions, then try to avoid situations where everyone sits on a large call so they can get tidbits of information. Take advantage of the fluid and bite-size nature of distributed working.
I think you’ll find many of us operate this way already, and it feels a little more natural when you embrace it.
It can be incredibly empowering when your team realizes they can drive several quotes to completion, working with several different teammates simultaneously. But, if you do need to have a live voice conversation, go for it.
You’ll find there is less inertia than scheduling a meeting for that afternoon or the next day and then spending the first 10 minutes bringing everyone back up to speed. Finally, you will have more productive meetings because they will fit the purpose better than before.
3. Become More Outcome-Focused
One common concern a leader may have with a remote and distributed team is the possibility that productivity will suffer, and you will lose the ability to direct.
According to a report by Gartner, “Managing remote teams can present different challenges than can managing a traditional, in-person team. Although managers may at first struggle with their lack of visibility into employee’s day to day activities, remote teams can perform just as highly as other teams — 79% of employees report increased productivity and better focus when working remote.”
We believe the logical response to that concern is to focus more on the outcome when you approach your team. But, that is easier said than done in any scenario, let alone a virtual one.
While we would all like to be fully outcome-focused already, there are all sorts of obstacles that prevent us from actually doing it. Not every quote requires the same amount of work, and you can’t resolve every agent query or request in the same way.
One advantage to a virtual work environment is now we have to be pragmatic about outcomes, yet outcomes are all we have available to measure performance. The measures you need are a little more evident when you can’t rely on immersion and proximity to your team.
Assuming you created a virtual focal point, why not use this as an opportunity to measure the progress of your enhancement backlog with IT? Obstacles, such as not everyone using the backlog as a focal point, may not be there anymore.
Go ahead and measure throughput in the backlog. Get everyone focused on it. Similarly, incidents and workflows are now virtual, making them easier to measure. Gravitating toward these best practices will set you up for continued success once everyone comes back to physical work locations.
You can use creating these best practices as an opportunity to set goals for your underwriters, and then talk through the outcomes as a way to understand challenges. You may gain insight into why it was hard to close or quote all the submissions.
You will likely expose many bottlenecks. The objective is to use the metrics to drive the conversations that will lead to improvement and not to have an unbending set of metrics that stress the underwriters out. Use this time as an opportunity to push the envelope and become more aware of issues. It will lead to improved outcomes and take the focus away from controlling the team at a detailed task level.
Being forced into a situation prematurely is never ideal. The degree to which most teams need to work in a remote and distributed fashion is far beyond regular preparation for most of us.
With that said, most teams will surpass expectations with their ability to adapt during a crisis. If you harness that ability in a deliberate way, the team can position itself to excel both virtually and in-person when you shift to the “new normal,” whatever that is.
By building a virtual rallying point, taking advantage of multi-tasking and becoming more outcome-focused, you will find your team embraces innovation and change and is well-positioned for the future.
Be sure to check out this blog and learn how to maintain a productive, connected culture when transitioning to remote work.
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