Culture has always been extremely important in our agency.

Our team is constantly doing fun things together in and outside of work – monthly team meetings, potlucks, happy hours, barbecues, basketball games, Christmas parties, birthday celebrations. We volunteer together at least four times a year and support various nonprofits in our area. Once a month, we have a nutrition and fitness coach come in to talk to everyone for our corporate wellness program.

When we received the stay at home order in March, I was concerned about how we would maintain our company culture and keep our team engaged with everyone working remotely. My husband and I (who co-owns our agency) hadn’t been big proponents of working remotely in the past. We weren’t sure how it would turn out.

We’ve been pleasantly surprised. Our team interactions and office culture look different than they did before, but we have been able to stay connected with our staff.

We found that there are three crucial components to caring for our team while they’re working from home:

Make sure team members have the technology tools they need

The pandemic forced us to pick up the pace of our technology adoption and make some changes that we had been thinking about but hadn’t gotten around to implementing.

At the beginning of this year, we had a regular phone system and hadn’t yet implemented a voice over IP (VoIP) system. This made it complicated to serve customers from home. Our employees were stuck using their personal cell phones and encouraging customers to email first.

We had to pivot pretty quickly. About three weeks into remote work, we got a new VoIP system installed so everyone can use our agency phone system from home. We went with a company called TPx Communications. Their app, called UCx, also includes a messaging system which allows our team to chat with each other throughout the day.

That’s just one example of how we’ve used this situation as a springboard to invest in our technology, our team and our products. When the pandemic crisis ends, we plan on coming out ahead of the game.

Allow for frequent check-ins with managers and co-workers

One of the challenges of working from home is that people can start to feel like they are alone on an island. We’ve interviewed a few people who are coming from larger agencies and said they’ve been unhappy working from home because they feel like they have no support and no one to talk to.

We don’t want any of our team members to feel that way. So, with state restrictions making in-person gatherings impossible, we shifted our monthly team meetings and wellness coaching to Zoom. We also started doing virtual happy hours periodically on Fridays and holding 15-minute virtual meetups during the workday a couple times a week. This gives our team a chance to check in on each other and casually chat like they would in the office. My husband has also been reaching out to each team member a few times a week to check in and make sure they have everything they need.

In addition to that, we’ve begun “small group meetings” with different groups of people in our office to allow for collaboration, training, team building and bonding.  People need to feel connected, so it’s important to provide those opportunities for people to engage with their managers and co-workers, especially when people are physically separated.

Moving forward, even if we continue having some people working remotely long-term, we want to make sure to provide opportunities for team building at least once a month, whether it’s a happy hour, a team barbecue or a volunteer opportunity. Those kinds of things help keep people engaged, and when people are more engaged, they feel more satisfied with their job.

Train your team in digital networking tools

Our team is usually very active in the community, but this year, we had fewer opportunities to be out at events. While we’re remote, we’ve encouraged our team members to reach out to their contacts – whether via phone, email or LinkedIn. We want to stay connected with our clients even when we can’t meet face-to-face.

We’re using this time to get set up so we can reach our clients in a high-quality manner that feels seamless – not just through phone calls and emails. Our focus is on training our agents to sell in the environment we’re in right now.

Video was important before COVID hit, but now it’s even more important for clients to get to see their agent’s face, so we’re training our sales team on using video. We invested in a video platform called Cincopa that will make it easy to send videos back and forth with prospects and clients. Our agents are excited about the tool because they can share their screen and explain quotes or walk new clients through the system for employee benefits.

Jenna, our community relations manager, has also been talking with our sales team about how to use the tools on LinkedIn and other social media platforms to connect with prospects.

Overall, we’ve been proud of how our team has handled the challenges and opportunities of working from home. We found that when we gave our staff the tools, training and support they needed, they were able to thrive.

From now on, I think our agency will always be somewhat of a hybrid of in-person and remote work. We’re never going back to the same model we had before, where everyone was in the office. That’s actually a good thing– having more flexibility will give us the opportunity to grow and expand outside of the confines of our office space.