By the nature of what we do, Rein4ce has always operated across countries and time zones, reflecting the geographies and needs of the reinsurance, insurance, ILS and Insurtech sectors. And because of this, flexible and remote working is in our DNA – we could literally operate from a boat in the middle of the Atlantic with a mobile phone, laptop and internet.
As many organisations are having to move over to remote working for staff, Rein4ce’s CEO Mairi Mallon shares some tips and advice that she’s found invaluable to making the most of working with very different people in multiple locations.
Today I got my first invite for a ‘virtual coffee’ from a City of London insurance person who is both a work colleague and a friend… She suggested we take our laptops to a sofa or kitchen table and have a good gossip over Skype. She also suggested next week we could try a ‘virtual’ boozy lunch on a Friday, which really made me laugh.
In our industry, a lot of measure is put on relationships, trust and face-to-face meetings. But with Covid 19, we are all now working from home, forbidden by policies and restrictions from flying and our catch ups will now have to be online – so working well and efficiently is vital. At Rein4ce we are really good at virtual working – we are all teched up and can work from almost anywhere. But there are a few things that might help you out…
Planning is essential – and be nice to HR and IT
Flexible/remote working is actually a bit of a misnomer. To achieve flexible working nirvana, you need rigour, discipline and structure. So many people think it’s just pootling around at home, using Skype to conference call and sharing documents when needed. With this ad-hoc approach, you may manage to muddle through, but in the long-run you’ll find productivity – and morale – down.
You really need to ensure that HR, IT and Business Continuity teams are your friends, letting you know what options are available to you and your team, what best practice looks like and what is absolutely forbidden.
Even simple things like ensuring a VPN, having enough licences for remote working, that your IT team have access to your computer for updates, or that you have a safe working environment are necessary from a business perspective.
Additionally, internal communication teams have to ensure the right messaging is there, that this is reinforced by senior management and that workers, used to a busy office and feedback are not demoralized.
The reinsurance and insurance markets are global by nature and used to working across time zones and regions, so most companies should have the right policies and technology in place.
Our tools for remote PR and communications work
Flexible working is all about working
Make sure people understand that they are working from home. It’s not the same as casually checking emails on the couch with a glass of wine, or having kids in the background watching Peppa Pig.
This means you need to have a secure and defined working space.
By secure I mean that it’s an area you can work – for example if you can’t have a home office, then a designated space in the kitchen or bedroom. This needs to be free of children or elderly relatives coming to disturb you (unless it’s an emergency).
It’s working from home with the emphasis on working.
That may seem harsh, but the truth is that you can’t concentrate on calls if someone is constantly running in to you or you are being shouted on. it can give a poor impression of the company and to co-workers.
The best known of these has to be this dad on the BBC – with the mum in the background desperately trying to save the day. It is one of my favourites.
You may think that you can work remotely from a café or your bedroom, but always consider the image that it portrays of you and your company while also being considerate to what other people can see or hear in the background.
Also, let people know where you will be. A simple: ‘I can join the call, but be warned, I’ll be in the airport lounge/with my kids’ manages expectations and shows you are going the extra mile rather than taking the mickey.
Why conference calls need to have the video turned on
Make sure everyone is on a video-enabled call. There are lot of options out there including Zoom, Skype and Teams. Audio-only conference calls can be a phenomenal a waste of time because you can’t tell if people are really paying any attention.
How many times have you wondered what people are actually doing when they are on mute? Emails, painting nails, chatting to their kids? Video calls are far better because you can see people paying attention and you can read each other’s’ facial expressions.
And please dress appropriately. If you wouldn’t wear it to the office, don’t wear it on a conference call.
Also, remember to check your background to ensure that it is appropriate for all audiences and also secure (as in, no post-it notes with password details).
The two things you need for a successful conference call (apart from wifi and a camera)
Once you get to the call, always make sure you have two things – a chairperson and an agenda.
If you don’t have an agenda, it is very easy to drift off topic and waste time. You need a good chairperson not only to ensure a meeting stays on course but also that everyone – not just the most senior people – are heard throughout the meeting. That’s especially important if you are dealing with cultures or people who aren’t used to the rough and ready of the way some people operate.
Additionally, work out what sort of call works for you and the others. Calls aren’t for downloading information. They are for decision making. For example, some organisations have rules that meetings with more than five people shouldn’t run for more than 15 minutes and everyone leaves with to-do points.
Regular calls are also good. We have a ‘daily huddle’ – a video call – first thing in the morning. It lasts five minutes where everyone shares what they are working on. It lets everyone keep in touch, see what their colleague are working on, and ensures our priorities are right.
Remember to keep company culture going
Outside of meetings, you have to work hard to ensure everyone in the team still feels part of the company. If you have people in the office who are talking to each other, they need to remember that there are other important team members outside the walls and work hard to keep them in the loop. This is essential in order to prevent people feeling disenfranchised. Everyone has a role to play in making sure the team still feels like a unit. You need to work hard at preventing any feeling of ‘us and them’ for office-based and non-office-based workers.
One document to rule them all
You need to make sure you have a process for tracked changes or a system that allows for multiple people to input into a document all at once.
If you’re going with tracked changes, the most efficient way for many can be to have one person as the editor-in-chief. That’s the person that sends the master document out. Person A does their changes, it goes back to the editor-in-chief. He or she approves, then it gets sent to Person B and so on. You can’t send it to 20 people at once – though some companies using Google documents have different policies on this – so if a company doesn’t have policy, now is the time to create one.
If your system doesn’t already have shared drives online – regardless of being through Google, Microsoft or elsewhere – you need to ensure a good online storage system like Dropbox.
Stick to one communications channel
And talking of systems, consistency is a strong thing to bear in mind. WhatsApp can be a nightmare for some work situations – particularly for those who only use it as a social tool – as people can talk across each other on multiple topics and it can be confusing. Stick to tools that allow you to either break up topics by area – Slack, for example. Find out a preferred channel for communication and stick to it. You don’t want people sending emails, texts, WhatsApp messages and calling you all to answer the same thing.
And finally… evaluate
Another thing to bear in mind is that everyone can learn during periods what team sharing tips work best. Additionally, look at data usage, time usage and other information so that when the current crisis passes, you can work out what worked and what didn’t, improving your processes for the next time…
If this seems a lot, we’re happy to help
If you’ve got a good remote/flexible working tip, then why not share it with us or you need advice on how to do communications well when your staff are in multiple locations, don’t hesitate to get in touch.