Embrace Change and Rethink Your Strategy

Many of us in this industry have always typically worked from home. Although we usually go out several times a week to meet with insureds, employees, field reps, clients, etc., the balance of our time is spent writing up reports, scheduling appointments, sending letters, returning voice mails and emails and just getting the general administrative part of the job done. As a field person, seven months of no contact has worn on my nerves a bit.  For those who are used to being in an office full time, the work from home shift must be monumental.

Yes, after seven long months, WFH is still a thing.  While social distancing is the new normal, professionals around the world are still stuck at home.  Work must go on, though and one benefit of the WFH environment is more free time; we are no longer required to sit in front of the computer waiting for the email bell to ding. The added flexibility keeps work focused on results, not on time spent.  We are relatively free to talk a walk, swim in the pool and play with the dog, as long as the work gets done on time.

According to research conducted by the Academy of Management, human communication naturally involves periods of high activity (called bursts), followed by periods of little to no activity. These silent periods are when team members often form and develop individual ideas. Bursts, on the other hand, help the entire team focus energy, achieve closure and move on to the next challenge. The key to this work strategy is to find times when team members can get together and focus on a task together.[1] 

Coordination can be complicated but bursting will help soften the jagged edges of Covid-induced WFH constraints. To encourage bursty creativity, keep your calendar up to date with time away for appointments and important errands, so colleagues know how and when to reach you (and when not to).  Set boundaries and enforce them; respect your coworkers boundaries as well. Use your calendar or task manager to remind you to do things like, “ask Dave about that thing later” because you and Dave may not be online at the same time.

As the pandemic rolls on, work-life balance has too. Health, routines, peace of mind, professional output and personal life have all changed in ways no one could have predicted. In order to maintain productivity we cannot undervalue the importance of maintaining balance between work time and personal life. Working too much will eventually lead to burnout if (it hasn’t already). Even if you don’t get that far, productivity and creativity will surely suffer.  Although work has invaded our home space, we cannot allow it to take over our entire life.

Try new things to make this extended quarantine-like life more bearable:

  • Choose a remote work buddy and check in on each other several times a week to keep personal contact.
  • Schedule a Zoom lunch, coffee break or happy hour to catch up with friends and co-workers like you normally would during a typical work week.
  • Take this time to learn something new:
    • Try a new hobby
    • Become a virtual tutor
    • Plant an herb garden
    • Further your education through CE or earn a new degree
    • Learn to play an instrument
    • Learn a new language, or brush up on one
    • Teach your pet some new tricks
    • Start a novel

Afterward, get connected on a platform such as Microsoft Teams, Skype or Zoom to showcase your new talents.

Despite this time of uncertainty be assured we are still a strong, unified community.

This (pandemic) too shall pass.


[1] Academy of Management Discoveries Vol. 3, No. 4, Teams vs. Crowds, Christoph Riedl and Anita Williams Woolley, Published Online:8 Dec 2016https://doi.org/10.5465/amd.2015.0097

Don’t Forget Pants!

It’s a rare office that allows employees to work on the floor or perched on a windowsill, but the home office? That’s a whole other ball game. Laptops on the bed, the sofa or stretched out belly-down on the carpet is hard to resist. Office attire policies no longer apply in this new virtual world. I should buy stock in Under Armour since I literally live in my favorite shorts now. On the rare occasion that I am giving a presentation, I just throw a scarf over my favorite T-shirt. I’ve taken online shopping to the next level as well, who knew flip flops came in so many awesome colors? When was the last time I wore real shoes? My feet cannot remember.

Some of us have experienced perplexing WFH habits like haphazard shower schedules, sporadic makeup application and wearing the same clothes for days. All of these behaviors are especially baffling to a spouse who is not home bound. They arise on schedule, perform all the ordinary functions, then mask up, glove up, drive to work in traffic and weather. They have the additional stressor of worrying they may be exposed to the virus and bring it home. I am sure my husband wonders how is it that I’ve been home all day yet can’t be bothered to comb my hair. Isn’t that what a ponytail is for? (But I made dinner!)

As a society, we’ve become increasingly more dependent on social media, both for entertainment and motivation. Departure from our normal routines, and being stuck at home all day, while coping with added stress of COVID-19 have caused sleep disruption, missing meals, or the opposite: snacking all day, and not exercising. Do you remember the simple act of taking a lunch break? For many of us now working exclusively from home, our lives have lost significant structure, blurring lines between personal and work time. Who says happy hour can’t happen at any time of the day? (Just kidding)

Humans are not the only ones affected by the pandemic. I know my dogs are very happy that every day is now an office day. They spend most of the day underneath my desk snoring, occasionally popping into the frame during a meeting. As we look ahead to a gradual return to some aspect of regular life, we cannot forget that our choices may have psychological effects on our pets. Will they end up with separation anxiety? How will they transition out of a routine where their owner is home 24/7 and into one where they may be alone for long stretches of the day?

When we finally step out of this Twilight Zone of a world with coronavirus, there will likely be a lengthy transition period that may include fear and anxiety. I cannot be entirely sure I will be able to leave any of my bizarre quarantine habits in the past, but i know it will take some serious adjustments over time. The key to any plan is to make one. Then communicate, so everyone knows what their new role will be. I am pretty sure my plan will involve tossing off the flip flops and putting on real pants and shoes.

Your Mental Health and Well-being

Working Remotely During COVID-19

Summary

The coronavirus(COVID-19) is presenting new and unique challenges. We are navigating unchartered waters with this virus, making it important to find new ways to work and interact while also taking care of our mental health and well-being.

Many are teleworking full-time for the first time, isolated from co-workers, friends and family. Our daily living routines are disrupted causing added anxiety, stress and strain—physically, mentally, and financially. It is completely natural for this disruption and uncertainty to lead to anxiety and stress.

Now more than ever, we all must take care of our mental health and well-being. As we protect ourselves against potential exposure to the coronavirus, keep in mind that social distancing does not mean social isolation. This resource provides practical tips on taking care of our mental health and well-being.

http://workplacementalhealth.org/Employer-Resources/Working-Remotely-During-COVID-19

Additional Resources

https://weworkremotely.com/how-to-keep-your-mental-health-in-check-when-you-work-from-home

https://www.healthline.com/health/working-from-home-depression

Recharge and Recover

As humans we expect success after hard work. At the end of the day we are exhausted, yet we still have a long list of uncompleted tasks. Why does this happen? Continuous, cognitive stimulation.  We must stop, recharge and recover, in order to begin to be productive again. Just because the work clock stops each day at 5:00 pm, doesn’t mean we are recharging. How often do you spend the evening grappling with solutions to work problems? Talking about work over dinner? Falling asleep thinking about tomorrow’s to-do list? Lie in bed for hours, unable to fall asleep because your brain is thinking about work?

Co-founder and editor in chief of The Huffington Post Arianna Huffington shows how our cultural dismissal of sleep as time wasted compromises our health and our decision-making and undermines our work lives, our personal lives.  In her book The Sleep Revolution, Arianna explores all the latest science on what exactly is going on while we sleep and dream. She also offers a range of recommendations and tips from leading scientists on how we can get better and more restorative sleep, and harness its incredible power. 

She writes “We sacrifice sleep in the name of productivity, but ironically our loss of sleep, despite the extra hours we spend at work, adds up to 11 days of lost productivity per year per worker, or about $2,280.”  She explores the history of sleep, the role of dreams, the consequences of sleep deprivation and the vital role sleep plays in every aspect of our health from weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s. [1]

But rest and recovery are not the same thing. As authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz have written, if you spend too much time in the performance zone, you need more time in the recovery zone, otherwise you risk burnout. The value of a recovery period rises in proportion to the amount of work required of us.  We live in a digital time, our pace is usually rushed, we face crushing workloads and we try to cram as much as possible into each and every day. [2]

In order to recover, we need to be willing to turn off our brain. Spend some time away from your phone, eat lunch away from your desk, and actually use your vacation time. Does your home office have a door? Shut it at 5:00 pm and keep it shut during off hours.  Schedule short breaks throughout the workday to shift your attention to something else; walk the dog, sit by the pool, meditate. Download an app such as Breath, Calm, Mindfulness or Simply Being to help you get started on the path to recharge and recover.


[1] The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, by Arianna Huffington, ISBN 978-1-101-90400-8.

[2] The Power of Full Engagement, by Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz, ISBN 978-0-7432-2675-2. Jim Loehr is chairman, CEO, and co-founder of the Human Performance Institute, a training company that has successfully utilized energy management technology to improve the productivity and engagement levels of elite performers from the world of business, sport, medicine, and law enforcement for over 30 years.  Tony Schwartz is President and CEO of The Energy Project, which helps individuals and organizations perform at their best.

WFH: Love or Hate?

In our industry, we are natural telecommuters, but telecommuting has been taken to a whole new level under restrictions imposed under COVID-19 by federal, state and local governments as well as safety precautions and corporate policies instituted by the companies we work for.  In this new work from home (WFH) environment, COVID-19 has impacted nearly every aspect of our daily lives.  Parents have morphed into teachers, juggling child care, workplace issues, Skype, Zoom and MS Teams meetings, struggling to meet productivity goals.

Despite all the positive press about remote work, some studies suggest that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. Social isolation, employment uncertainty, burnout, performance anxiety and (of course) the virus itself, have packed enough of a punch to threaten the health and well-being of workers.[1]

According to a study of over 1,000 remote employees by Twingate, remote employment is causing workers to lose a sense of work/life balance during the pandemic. Their findings include:

  • 45% of employees reported attending more virtual meetings during the pandemic
  • 40% of employees have experienced mental exhaustion from video calls
  • 59% of employees felt more cyber secure working in-office compared to at home
  • Over 1 in 10 employees had their video calls hacked while working remotely.

https://www.twingate.com/research/cybersecurity-in-the-age-of-coronavirus/

On the flip side, many employees are staying productive during the pandemic, while others are by picking up a new skill, taking online courses in higher education or specialized skills. A survey conducted by reflektive.com found that 91% of employees felt supported by their managers during the shift.  The importance of employers staying in tune with employee sentiment is the key to boosting morale and maintaining performance during this unprecedented time. 

According to wallethub.com, what employees miss most about working in an office are:

  • 32%      Co-workers
  • 27%      Nothing
  • 21%      Getting out of the house
  • 12%      Routine
  •  5%       Less Distraction (primarily in households with small children)
  •  3%       Food (HaHaHaHaHaHa)

https://wallethub.com/blog/coronavirus-and-working-from-home-survey/75534

Americans have differing views on working from home and how prominent that will be in the future. Almost 60% of Americans think that COVID-19 has changed the way we work for the better. Do you have any advice for the 50% of parents who say they are less productive working from home?


[1] In a global study conducted by SAP, Qualtrics, and Mind Share Partners, researchers surveyed more than 2,000 employees in March and April of this year in Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK and the United States. They found that the pandemic is impacting mental health around the world. Over 40% of people said their mental health has declined since the COVID-19 outbreak. In that same time period, the number of people who describe the state of their mental health as a 3 or less on a 10-point scale has doubled. Workers report more anxiety and stress.

Pay On-Demand

2020’s Newest Payroll Trend

Covid-19 has brought about change in every sector of the economy and virtually every aspect of our personal lives. Many workers, regardless of income level, employment type, race, gender, age or geography struggle financially between pay periods.

The majority of employers pay employees in arrears, holding earned wages two weeks or more. Those who struggle financially may resort to using high interest credit cards and payday loans to get by in between pay dates.

On demand payroll is based on the premise that net pay is continuously updated when a time, benefit, or HR record is changed. Most payroll services already automate these functions and payroll administrators can set limits in accordance with specific business rules.

Our industry typically has a high ratio of “gig workers”, independent contractors or contract firm workers, who regularly provide services to clients, but who are paid by the job rather then a salary or regular hourly wage.

With on-demand payroll, employees and contractors can choose a digital wallet, debit card or a combination. Actual wages can be available to workers in real time, even daily, from a mobile application.

These services already have on-demand solutions available:

  • Ceridian’s Dayforce Wallet
  • Paychex Worx
  • Paylocity
  • PayActiv

(Author notes this article is for informational purposes only and IAASE is not endorsing any of the above vendors)

How to Manage an Employee Who’s Struggling to Perform Remotely

By: Ron Carucci

With many unfamiliar variables introduced by Covid-19, getting to the bottom of sudden poor performance is more complicated than it used to be — especially when you’re dealing with an employee who was successful back in the office. If your employee has just recently started to underperform, begin by identifying new variables that could be interfering with their work. Have there been recent organizational shifts? Difficulties in their personal life? Sometimes you may not know until you have the conversation, but it’s important to consider all the factors before a confrontation.

Have the conversation on a video call so you can read each other’s expressions, and start it by asking about their well-being. Then, clarify that your goal is to help them resolve the problem at hand. Use probing questions like, “Why do you feel this is happening?” and listen carefully to how they describe the situation. Once you’ve identified what the issue is, ask, “What would you change if you could?” to open the person’s imagination and signal that you trust their ability to improve. Resist telling them what to do. You want to engage the underperformer in problem solving and let them know you are OK with missteps as long they are corrected and learned from.

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