How to Avoid Work-From-Home Productivity Slumps

Frank Phillips is the Practice Leader of ReSource Pro’s IX Center, which provides award-winning customer service to insurance organizations.

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When the coronavirus first surged in the U.S. in March, few businesses were truly prepared for the work-from-home journey that would soon follow. The initial transition happened quickly, activating a can-do mentality among teams. But now, more than eight months into the shift to remote work, new challenges are emerging that may threaten service levels in insurance.

For many seasoned insurance professionals, it’s second nature to work out of your home office. But for customer service providers, leaving the office environment has impacted operations in ways that are only now becoming apparent.

Across industries, customer service resolution times have increased by 40% since the beginning of the year, according to data from Zendesk. And for insurance, where digital communication and self-service capabilities are still lacking, as many as 41% of customers say they are prepared to switch carriers, based on a June PwC report.

What’s causing the gap, and more importantly, what can we do to fix it?

1. Technology Troubles

Problem: In a Fluxon survey of employees who transitioned to work from home this year, the most reported challenge was technology, outranking more than a dozen others, including communication, loneliness, and lack of social interaction.

Between faulty internet connections, local power outages, and other IT problems, what can companies do to overcome household technology issues?

Solution: We highly recommend that companies double down on tracking, reporting, and analyzing system issues. What we see in many cases is that teams will only report major issues, which lets smaller or more isolated ones pile up.

It’s risky to assume that employees will know how to tackle basic IT issues on their own. Creating a detailed FAQ and procedures that can help employees troubleshoot can save time and eliminate minor issues from your IT team’s backlog.

You will also want to ensure that supervisors have the availability to listen to and report IT issues in a timely manner.

2. New Injury Risks

Problem: According to a Chubb survey of remote workers published in July, as many as 43% have taken no action to enhance the comfort or efficiency of their workspace, such as purchasing dual monitors, adjusting lighting and furniture, and increasing overall ergonomics. Meanwhile, 41% reported new or increased bodily pains since working from home.

What can companies do to help remote workers reduce their risk of injury?

Solution: At the onset of the pandemic, we saw this great surge in companies’ willingness to make home office setups work. As time went on, that enthusiasm disappeared. Now, we’re seeing evidence that those early initiatives may not have been enough. Even if your company was one of those that went above and beyond during the initial work-from-home transition, it’s a good idea to check in with your employees again. Remain vigilant about underequipping employees and keep an eye out for new technologies that can enhance the remote working environment.

3. Transparency in a Virtual Setting

Problem: Working from home has created a much more closed-door environment, a particular challenge for customer service managers, who often rely on the ability to survey a room and check-in with employees face-to-face. A survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review in April found that as many as 40% of managers are not confident in their ability to manage remotely. Equally worrying, 34% of remote workers believe their managers do not trust their work abilities.

How can companies help employees at all levels better communicate and develop additional trust?

Solution: First, make sure that you have established clear production metrics that help employees understand what is expected of them and where they stand compared to other members of the team. Second, it helps to consider that there may be a trickle-down effect in play. Supervisors who feel pressured by upper management are more likely to pressure their employees. Try to avoid second guessing your teams, as this could a negative impact on their work.

Equally important as establishing trust is improving communication and transparency. As we’ve learned since the beginning of the pandemic, many people simply aren’t comfortable with certain lines of communication, and it may be necessary to spend some time figuring out the appropriate channels for a specific employee or situation, whether it be text, Zoom meetings, or Microsoft Teams.

Finally, all communications need to provide clear instruction that reduce questions from employees. For instance, when drafting an email, include answers to any questions employee might have after reading it. If a project needs to be complete by a certain date, set a deadline for employees a few days before the actual deadline. Whether or not you use these methods, keep in mind that the number one goal is to create more predictable outcomes.

4. Accumulated stress

Problem: Stress continues to permeate the lives of Americans, with 75% of individuals reporting a moderate or high level of distress due to the pandemic, according to a McKinsey survey. Bearing in mind the above issues, that number isn’t surprising.

What can you do to minimize the harm of stress on employees?

Solution: Consider a strategy that incorporates ergonomics, safety guidelines for working from home, team chatter to foster camaraderie, and upgraded collaboration tools that provide better insight over teams. Short of investing in the local ISP, which some companies have actually done in 2020, consider investing in the internet infrastructure of each employee.

Also, take time to recognize some of the things you won’t be able to control, such as employees with young children or those who are caring for an older parent. If these employees struggle to meet the level of focus that they are able to achieve in the office, seek out solutions that will help you manage them with empathy.

Remote work won’t disappear once the pandemic subsides. While many companies plan to return to their offices, it is possible your business may not be as office-bound as it once was. No matter your course, make the best of the situation by taking the appropriate steps.

Read more about award-winning customer service that the IX Center provides in times of need.