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Featured Article in Canadian Underwriter Magazine: Working Remotely – Future workplaces

May 4, 2022

Many brokers turned working from home into a success. What lessons can we take with us when we return to the office?

When not in lockdown to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus, many brokerage offices have re-opened, with brokers settling back into the routine of working in an office building. But we can’t forget about how we adapted to a life of working from home. We pivoted quickly, adopted new technology, brought in new processes, and more. Those gains can’t be lost going forward. Not only do our businesses benefit, but so do our clients.

After COVID-19 was declared to be a global pandemic back in March, many brokers in Canada were catapulted into a remote work arrangement almost overnight, whether they were ready for it or not.

And we were successful. We proved we can change, despite our reputation. We just needed a catalyst to overcome the initial inertia around the status quo.

This is an opportunity to re-imagine how — and where — a broker does their job. Let’s not go back to the old way of doing things.

Brokers have invested heavily in technology infrastructure to update the way they work with each other and with clients. Brokers are seeing massive efficiency gains from simply replacing in-person meetings with video conferencing software. A broker that used to see four or five clients a day in-person can now see 10 or more online in the same amount of time thanks to reduced travel time.

Don’t forget, clients may still be leery of you visiting them, regardless of whether or not your staff has returned to the office (to say nothing of employees’ health concerns about being back in the office).

While the pandemic stays with us, video meetings should be at the top of your list as a way to meet clients. However, even after the pandemic is over, you should still use video to communicate because of the efficiency it brings.

How will that impact the broker-client relationship? Don’t you lose something by not seeing each other in person? Absolutely. But that’s where the broker needs to create more touchpoints for the client. A few extra virtual connections can help overcome the lack of physical connection as we maintain our distance. By automating a few processes and personalizing communications (no more generic messages), the digital connection can become stronger. We’re already communicating more digitally; the quality just needs to be better.

To be successful long term, we’ll need to set ourselves up for success. The transition to working from home wasn’t easy for a variety of reasons. Bored children and lack of a proper workspace were common issues. So if brokers are going to work from home more often and achieve high productivity, they must create a degree of separation between work and home life. A dedicated workspace where you can close the door and achieve that mental focus is essential.

Make sure your home setup is not hindering you. If you’ve put off fixing that loose internet connection because you figured the arrangement was temporary, maybe it’s time to get that done. You’ll be relying more heavily on technology, so make sure what you have works properly.

Use working from home to your advantage. Since there are no physical events to attend for networking purposes, engage more with your neighbours. Get to know those who live around you. Who’s a small business owner? Who makes decisions for their company?

You’d be surprised how far these simple conversations can get you. A simple wave in the morning while taking out the garbage can lead to an in-depth conversation about the economy and what businesses are doing to recoup losses.

Brokerage leaders should support their staff in two key ways: communication and coordination.

When communicating, use the right medium for the right ideas. Complex ideas are best communicated over video where facial expressions and other social cues can be picked up. Small, non-urgent requests are best made over email or some other messaging system like Slack. Also, communicating frequently with colleagues helps to prevent roadblocks and build trust.

It can be hard to keep everyone synchronized while working remotely. Formal processes are important, such as setting clear performance metrics, keeping documents up to date, and scheduling team lunches. One-on-one video calls at least once a week with a different person in the organization can be helpful, too. These types of meetings will help build teamwork and solidify the company’s culture.

Never let a good crisis go to waste, as the saying goes. Continuing to use tools that have made brokers stronger and more efficient can’t be forgotten.