When the pandemic-related lockdowns came into force, John Roche shifted gears like legions of other workers globally and started working from home.
Roche, president and CEO of Massachusetts-based The Hanover Insurance Group, said that the switch has required a regular willingness to adapt even more than usual.
“Our business ordinarily is a dynamic one that requires organizations and professionals to adapt to the changes around us every day. This is more the case today, than ever. We’re making lots of adjustments to processes and creating new, and often better processes along the way, and helping our agents to do the same,” Roche said.
Carrier Management Editor Mark Hollmer submitted a number of questions to Roche about what it is like for the CEO to work from home, and how the situation is working so far. Below are highlights of his responses.
Q: Can you describe where and how you’re working at home?
Roche: My wife and I “were” empty nesters up until this pandemic came upon us and brought two of our children back home from college. In preparation for this new stage in our life, we converted one of our rooms into an office. It’s turned out to be a great place to work over the past several weeks, and allowed everyone to spread out to keep their sanity.
Q: Do you have any distractions at home to deal with, such as pets, kids, etc? If so, how are you managing that?
Roche: Like everyone, I have distractions at home, and frankly, distractions in the office. Most of us aren’t able to fully compartmentalize our lives and we have to find ways to focus on our top priorities. I’m working hard to remain productive, while achieving a balance that enables me to be successful in both my professional and personal lives. As an aside, our family dog passed away a few months back and I think he would have been more excited than us about the “work remotely” environment.
Q: Have you typically worked at home before?
Roche: I’ve worked from home occasionally in the past, mostly dictated by my travel schedule. For the most part, though, I’m in the office, or in the field visiting with agents, out meeting with investors and analysts, or in the community representing our company. While I work effectively at home, my preference is to be in the office, or on the road, working alongside my colleagues, agents and others. I’m energized by my interactions with others. More than 30 years into my career, I find I continue to learn and get better every day when I’m talking with, listening to, and being challenged by others. I find that to be invigorating and fulfilling, and I’ve simply had to be more creative about how I get that interaction in these challenging times.
Q: How have you adjusted to working with your executive team? What online tools do you use?
Roche: I work with a great group of people and continue to be impressed by their ability to lead and adapt no matter the circumstances. The adjustment for our leadership team, and our employees across the company, honestly, has been remarkable. I think this is a testament to the collaborative, agile culture we’ve built, and the dedication of our employees. We’re an essential business and it’s critical that we are able to continue to be here for our agents, customers and employees during this challenging time.
Again, I miss being in the office and I miss the personal interaction. I hear the same from others all the time. But, I feel like we haven’t missed a beat. In fact, each of us is building new skills, under pressure to work in new and different ways. It has forced some important learning that ultimately I believe will make us stronger as individuals and as a company.
We continue to have the same meetings we would normally have if we were in the office, relying much more of course on video conferencing, conference calls, Outlook, texting and other tools to facilitate effective communications. It’s been an interesting experience. I feel really good about the openness people across our organization have shown. All indications are that we’ve maintained great engagement and productivity. We’ve been able to continue to be responsive to our agents, helping to support them with different resources as they navigate this new landscape. They also have been helpful to us in staying in touch with all of the local market changes.
Q: Can a CEO still lead and communicate adequately while working from home?
Roche: Absolutely. The experience of the past several weeks has proven that leaders – whether we’re talking about a CEO, a frontline supervisor or a corporate manager – can effectively lead while working from any location. Leaders have responsibilities to their respective companies and to their teams to find ways to motivate, challenge, and support team members, regardless of the prevailing circumstances.
In times like these, communication and empathy are especially critical, so individuals, teams, and ultimately, their organizations, are engaged, productive, and successful. Each of us has approached our work differently through this pandemic. I believe most of us are communicating more than ever and working even harder to lead our teams in an inclusive way. Challenges like the current public health crisis present opportunities for leaders to step forward, rally the troops and find new ways to deliver for our key stakeholders. I see evidence of this every day. Ultimately, I think this will change many of the ways we work together going forward, and for the better.
Q: How many Hanover employees are there, and how many are at home?
Roche: Almost all of us are working remotely. Some people, including myself, have had to go back into the office a couple of times, but for the most part we are working at home. We do have a staff of about 200 essential employees in our offices every day, making sure we are able to deliver for those who depend on us – our partners, customers, shareholders, the communities where we live and work. These essential employees, like so many others around the country, are playing an invaluable role.
Q: How are you handling any work-from-home stresses?
Roche: We’re all working hard, as always, and the pandemic has definitely created new stress for most of us. Whether it’s trying to learn to work differently, with children, partners and pets around, adjusting to the new normal, or caring for family members who are sick or compromised – we’re all under some stress. I’m managing stress in the same ways I always do, balancing work with family time, exercising, eating well, and getting the sleep I need to stay healthy.
Q: Do you have any concerns about cybersecurity working from home?
Roche: It’s no secret to anyone working in our industry that every business has … or should have … cybersecurity concerns. Cybercrime is a reality for all of us and the exposures continue to grow. Remote work presents new and even more exposure. Having said that, we take cybersecurity very seriously and I am very comfortable with the work we have done to safeguard our systems and the information our partners and customers entrust to us.
Q: Will this pandemic lead to any changes in how The Hanover operates among its executives and staff?
Roche: Our personal and professional lives will be forever altered by this experience. This crisis already has had a devastating impact on many people and many businesses … [and] has really highlighted the importance of empathetic leadership and the role of effective communication, especially when we’re so far apart. That has really been evident to me – our employees and leaders have done a great job of continuing to deliver for our customers and agents despite challenges. We’ll be stronger individually and collectively because of it.
Q: What has been the best/worst part of this work-at-home experience?
Roche: The worst part of this experience is the toll it has taken. It’s so sad to see the sickness and loss of life, the suffering that goes along with that, and the profound adverse impact this has had on so many people. The best part is seeing so many people come together in support of one another, in so many different ways. We see evidence of this every day with healthcare workers, first responders, grocery store workers and so many others making great personal sacrifices and taking on significant risks. As a business leader, I’m humbled by the efforts employees across our organization are making every day to deliver on the promises we’ve made and to be there when we’re needed most.