Remote Workers - The Expanding Frontier Practical Tips for the At-home Employee and Manager

The insurance industry has been transitioning in-office employees, such as adjusters, to remote work employees, over the past 20 years. COVID has created a significant uptick in that transition and has also led many other industries to utilize the work from home/flex employee option. Not only has this been a necessity for employers to stay open, profitable, and productive during COVID, it has become desired by many employees.

While there are countless discussions to be had with pros and cons on both sides; the employer’s perspective as well as that of the employee, those cannot all be addressed in the limited scope of this one article but can be discussed in future articles to come. The scope of this article is to provide some practical tips for managing productivity and health in a work-from-home environment for employees and for managers, both roles which I have balanced myself for the past five years.

Practical tip #1: Keep a Schedule/Routine

I tend to be someone who by nature is organized, but whether you’re naturally this way or not, a good way to ensure self-discipline is to keep to your daily work routine. First and foremost, you will need to organize your schedule around the needs of your clients. I have several work-from-home insurance adjuster clients, who are often starting their workday at 7 AM, while others will work until 6 PM or into the dinner time hour. While my schedule tends to start early, the fact I am still home wrapping up my workday in the early evening, I am accessible to those clients who may work after 5 PM because I have a home office and am not commuting during the dinner hour. Whatever the typical range of time that your clients are working and need to reach you is the time you should allocate for your own work from home schedule.

In addition to accessibility to clients, it is important to prioritize your own physical and mental health and incorporate it into your routine workday. To maintain accessibility by your clients, it is helpful to schedule exercise and break time at the same times your clients would typically be taking theirs. For example, I often try to exercise very early in the morning before I start my day, but if weather doesn’t permit a walk or a swim, I may do my exercise at lunchtime (schedule permitting) since my clients are typically taking a break for lunch as well. It is especially important when you are working from home (and do not have the in-person socialization of others), that you take a 10-to-15-minute break in the mid-morning and late afternoon to engage in nonwork activity, which could be anything from stretching, yoga, reading a book, practicing piano (one of my favorites), or just starting a load of laundry or dinner in the crock pot. Whatever your break of choice is, you should be disciplined about taking them since they will make you a more productive and happier employee.

Practical tip #2: Dedicated Home Office Space

While we don’t all have the luxury of a separate room for a home office, it is important to set aside a space appropriate for your home office set up. While I now have a dedicated room for my at-home office, there were many years I worked as an adjuster and as an attorney simply out of a very large armoire (that I could close while not working) which was set aside from my family’s living space. If possible, try to keep your workspace separate from your bedroom or main parts of the home, where other family members may frequent, and you have some privacy. I find that adding some personal touches to your dedicated workspace add some inspiration to maximize a long workday (such as a candle, flowers, or a birdfeeder near a window). In addition to these niceties, it is also crucial that you have the appropriate equipment to be safe and productive throughout your workday. This not only includes your computer, and ergonomic chair, keyboard etc., it includes proper security measures such as a VPN to protect your employer’s information.

Practical Tip #3: Interpersonal Communication

This practical tip is not only necessary for your own mental health (to avoid a habit of talking only to yourself) but also to build and maintain work relationships with your co-workers and in some cases, managing your team(s). One of the “benefits” of the COVID adjustment was the acceleration of business platform software and use of video chat for business meetings. Not only are they user-friendly, but they also provide a necessary face-to-face interaction with your other team members. Be deliberate in scheduling video meetings with your team and clients rather than just conferencing by phone. It allows you to interact with them on a more personal level. Although you should always be professional, you don’t have to make the same level of fuss about your hair, makeup, and business attire, for a video meeting like you would in stepping into the main office. The video meetings allow you to be interpersonal, and productive. I strongly suggest however, in addition to regular communications with your teams via telephone, chat, email, and video meetings, that you schedule regular and consistent in-person office time together, when possible.

Practical Tip #4: Management/Supervision

Managing and supervising employees/teams has always been a challenge but managing at-home employees or being an at-home manager requires another level of flexible management skills. While there will always be managers and employers who refuse to entertain the idea of flex time or at home employees, it is our current reality, and is likely to become the “norm” in our future due to technology development and employee satisfaction and longevity. Practical ways to manage your employees at home or from home (or both), requires clear and realistic expectations of your team, that are written and communicated often. This will include tracking their progress and productivity on tasks and assignments. This tracking can be transparent between you and the employees individually and amongst teams as well, for healthy competition and accountability. For at-home employees to be productive and meet set goals, you have to give them the tools they need to succeed and entrust them with their responsibility as a vital member of your team.

While working from home may not be for everyone, it should be strongly considered by both employers and employees, as we move into a new future where technology allows for work flexibility like never before. This flexibility lends itself to increased productivity, as well as employee health, loyalty, and longevity.