The introduction of working from home for insurance advisors presents an incredible opportunity for companies. Properly using the technology they already have, in conjunction with effective productivity tools, will enable them to move from observation-based to data-driven management.
The fact that so much work has continued relatively unabated is a true testament to the amazing age in which we currently live.
Not only has technology sustained productivity outside the office, but in many cases it has improved it. It’s safe to say that most companies are considering not whether WFH (working from home) will continue post-pandemic, but rather how it will continue. While there are certainly areas in which technology can fill the gaps created by a distributed work environment, there are others in which it cannot.
Let’s examine the advantages and limitations of technology as they relate specifically to productivity and communication.
Web-based customer relationship management systems, telephony systems and sales productivity tools can enable sales and service teams to become even more productive than they were in the office. But this has nothing to do with the supposed benefits of a WFH environment.
Most companies already had CRM and telephony software; they just hadn’t been using it. However, since the pandemic forced managers to move from subjective observation-based management to objective, data-driven management, many companies are realizing that they do not possess adequate productivity tools to properly track, analyze and incentivize performance.
Where Technology Helps
Define work. Quite simply, what should an employee be doing every day? Technology does not operate on impressions or superficial observations; it needs facts. WFH requires managers to define objective measures of work (key performance indicators) that can be tracked, measured and evaluated. This deliberate process elevates facts over face time and information over intuition. While much of the data for these KPIs can be collected by the same CRM and telephony systems already in place, it is essential to have robust productivity tools to set goals, tracks performance against those goals and display actionable data that will influence behavior.
Visibility. WFH hindered the ability of people to see the work of others and have their work be seen. However, once work has been defined and has been captured by a CRM or telephone system, a productivity tool can display the data and restore that visibility. But once again, casual and superficial observations of work are replaced with meaningful KPIs that not only reflect real work but also influence behavior, which leads us to ...
Motivation. Data drives decisions, and decisions lead to actions. Productivity tools that display real-time KPI data are far more likely to motivate actions. People aren’t motivated by data that they can’t see.
Flow. There are some tasks that require “flow,” that uninterrupted state of being in the zone. By blocking time on a calendar and switching phones to “unavailable,” workers can get more done while free from the constant interruptions at the office.
Where Technology Doesn’t Help
Creativity. For complex problems that require a creative solution from a diverse group of individuals, there is no technology that can replace a face-to-face meeting. Virtual meetings result in awkward verbal exchanges, digital distortions and uncertain conversation flows that hamper a team’s ability to really brainstorm innovative ideas and capitalize upon the combined intellectual capacity of the team.
Introverts. It’s difficult enough in person for an introvert to insert their ideas into a conversation dominated by constantly talking extroverts. The added disconnect created by a virtual environment may remove them (and therefore their contribution) entirely from the team.
Subjective deliverables. Technology deals in objective facts. Many types of creative work do not necessarily lend themselves to objective numerical measurement. Increased communication is more effective, whether in a WFH environment or a traditional office setting, than trying to force a technological solution.
Communication. Taking office workers out of the office created an instant communication paradigm shift. While existing technologies (phones, internet, video conferencing, email, etc.) ensured that communication could continue relatively uninterrupted, the challenge is in understanding when you should use them.
Where Technology Helps
Virtual collaboration. Video conferencing applications can make many meetings far more productive than they would be in a typical conference room. The ability to share screens, have access to any document or website, record the meetings and instantly share files is far more efficient than having people sitting in a room and taking notes.
Intentionality. WFH has forced companies to be more intentional about how and when they communicate with one another. When properly executed, the byproduct of this additional structure is that communication becomes more regular, more targeted and better documented. “Fly-by” meetings that exclude key participants become rarer, since most communication is planned instead of spontaneous.
Where Technology Doesn’t
Culture. A company’s culture is shaped by in-person events and interactions that are difficult to replicate through technology. Happy hours, lunches and impromptu discussions are part of the social lubrication that enables people to work together. Scheduling “no business” conference calls to encourage purely social interactions can help. Applications such as Houseparty or Google Hangouts offer ways of creating after-hours social events that employees can drop in or out of at will.
Channel overload. As companies have embraced new communication channels, they rarely eliminate the old ones. Workers can now communicate through calls, video conferences, Slack, RocketChat, text, Messenger, email, Teams and internal systems.
In many instances, employees must interact with a dizzying array of video conferencing apps, including Zoom, Teams, Skype, Webex, BlueJeans, GoToMeeting and countless others. This can lead to channel overload and completely undermine the intentionality of communication that I previously described, because it distributes communication across so many channels that it becomes unmanageable.
Strength is often born of struggle. The pandemic has certainly been a struggle, but companies that learn how to overcome this struggle will emerge stronger as a result. The incredible adoption of many technology tools in such a short period of time is testament to the power of those technologies. Best practices of these technologies will certainly evolve over time.
Working From Home: The Good And The Not-So-Good
- A Taste Of Autonomy. The ability to be self-directed about how you do your work. Liberation from “over-the-shoulder” management.
- Greater Productivity. Working from home makes it easier to get into a state of flow.
- Better Work Environment. Freedom from daily commute; ability to control your schedule and your quality of life during the workday.
NOT SO GOOD
- Poor Visibility. “Work blindness” causes anxiety for managers who want to know their employees are working, as well as for the employees who want their manager, and the rest of their team, to know that they are contributing.
- Creativity Killer. Some tasks are better completed by groups working together in person.
- Human Element. By removing the ability to read nonverbal communication, we create opportunities for misunderstanding.
- It Might Be “Classist.” Some people may have an adequate WFH setup, while others may be working from their bedroom floor.