The majority of the insurance workforce is now hybrid — if not fully remote — with just 4 percent of companies requiring employees to come into the office every day. Today’s managers must be able to engage and motivate their employees across various locations; yet it’s likely many have had no formal training specific to virtual management.
As you consider your team members’ overall development plans, think not only about their ability to do their jobs well but also their capacity for management in a remote world. Where may they need additional training and guidance? What skills do they need to further develop to effectively lead and coach others?
Gartner found 60 percent of hybrid employees consider their manager to be their main link to company culture. Strong virtual managers impact your organization’s overall productivity, culture and retention rates. Whether you are growing virtual management skills within your team or brushing up on your own capabilities, here are a few areas of focus.
Set clear expectations and goals for your team’s managers and encourage them to do the same for their direct reports. While some individuals may prefer to work autonomously with periodic check-ins, others may be more comfortable with frequent communication throughout their workdays. Regardless of individual management and communication styles, ensure all employees understand their personal goals, as well as larger team goals, and are held accountable for progress. Confirm everyone understands how their performance will be measured, while also aligning on how often updates should be shared.
Hybrid Meeting Facilitation
Most professionals are now well-versed in the concept of video conferencing on platforms such as Zoom and Teams; however, effectively facilitating these meetings requires thought and intentionality. Your team’s approach to meetings is also a reflection on your culture, from whether video is regularly turned on, to the frequency of casual relationship-building conversations, to the ability to achieve desired outcomes or move projects forward.
Ask managers to also pay attention to how their employees show up. If talkative individuals are unusually quiet during a team call, it may be valuable to check in and see how they’re doing. If some team members tend to monopolize airtime, intentionally provide the space for more reserved team members to share their thoughts. This is even more critical during meetings where some individuals are in person and others are remote. Ensure those who aren’t physically in the room are included and have a chance to contribute as much as in-person participants.
Effective Communication Methods
Every manager will have their own style and every employee will have their own management preferences. Encourage all team members to be transparent in sharing what works best for them, while also being aware and respectful of others’ needs. Make multiple tools available to accommodate a variety of communication styles and urge managers to leverage those that are most effective for their specific circumstances. For instance, some meetings — such as daily stand-ups — may be just as effective in the form of a group chat. At the same time, help others achieve self-awareness of how their communication style may come across virtually versus in person. Often, tone and meaning can be misconstrued in written communication, causing unnecessary concern, confusion or misalignment. Messaging and delivery may need to be tailored to best resonate depending on the situation, topic and employee.
While impromptu opportunities to connect are not as readily available in the virtual world as they were in a physical office environment, ongoing and open communication remains essential. According to a Gallup survey, 80 percent of employees who received meaningful feedback from their manager in the previous week were considered fully engaged. Commit to consistent and thoughtful touchpoints with all employees. Ask managers to schedule weekly or bi-weekly one-on-one meetings with their direct reports and set specific agendas to make sure time is well spent. This may include asking about where employees feel they’re excelling, challenges they are facing, and their thoughts on their workload and job in general.
Along with building employee/employer relationships, ensure managers are aware of their employees’ networks within the larger organization. Talk to your managers about their plans for connecting individuals who may not naturally interact on projects and in meetings. How are they getting exposure to other individuals and departments within the organization? In what ways are they ensuring ongoing collaboration? Especially for individuals in more independent or siloed roles, increased team and company interaction may be necessary for them to feel adequately connected and engaged.
A Harris Poll found nearly 70 percent of managers are uncomfortable communicating with employees — let alone giving feedback. Interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence are essential for managers to build strong employee-employer relationships and foster a sense of trust, regardless of location. Find ways to incorporate emotional intelligence training into employees’ professional development plans at all stages of their careers, with an even greater focus as they ascend into management ranks. Having a better understanding of others’ emotions provides the opportunity to leverage skills such as empathy, coaching and problem solving to overcome hurdles, provide feedback and achieve better outcomes.
Provide current managers with support, tools and information to help them do their jobs to the best of their ability. Identify stretch projects, pair them with mentors and give them visibility to other leaders in the organization even if it is through a computer screen. At the same time, consider how your team and/or organization is investing in developing high-potential individuals into future managers. Make sure you’re rethinking how to grow individuals in a virtual environment, understanding their career aspirations, and being intentional in providing opportunities to expand their skillsets.
The formula for a great manager has evolved in today’s hybrid world and organizations are working to adjust their approach to better prepare and support these individuals. By providing both current and future managers with the skills, goals and knowledge to engage their employees, you’ll be setting them — as well as your organization — up for long-term success.
*This article was originally published by Insurance Journal, CM’s sister publication