Organizations across multiple industries are turning to virtual teams to meet their changing business needs, and insurance companies are no different. Although the insurance industry faces some unique labor challenges given its aging workforce, the flexibility afforded by virtual teams will make it possible for companies to offer better services to meet the changing needs of its customers.
Before insurance companies can properly implement successful virtual teams,, they need to consider the challenges they will encounter. These obstacles are by no means insurmountable, and by addressing them from the onset, organizations will stand a better chance of building virtual teams that add value to their business. Here are a few notable virtual team challenges and solutions insurance companies should keep in mind:
Implementing Collaborative Tools
The days of relying on email to handle virtual team workloads are well behind today’s organizations. Collaborative software platforms are essential for managing remote employees effectively. Teams need to be able to communicate quickly and effectively, especially in a virtual environment where members could be separated by significant time zone differences. Chat programs and video conferencing programs help to ensure that teams remain in close contact regardless of how they’re geographically dispersed.
Implementing project management software across an organization makes it possible for multiple departments and teams to carry out tasks in an orderly fashion, ensuring that everyone remains accountable for specific assignments and that deliverables are produced at the designated time. Cloud-based productivity tools like Google Suite and Microsoft Office 365 are crucial for collaborative efforts, allowing multiple team members to work on projects simultaneously while always having access to the most up-to-date files.
These software solutions also make it possible for companies to have the visibility necessary to evaluate team productivity and efficiency. While the investment may cause some organizations to question whether they’re ready to implement virtual teams, the benefits of doing remote work the right way are well worth the cost.
Picking the Right Remote Employees
Deciding how to build virtual teams in the insurance industry can be a deceptively complicated question. Although half of the industry’s workforce is expected to retire within the next 15 years, that doesn’t necessarily mean that remote team members should be drawn from a pool of newly hired employees. Some of the best candidates for remote work may be the very employees planning to retire soon. In addition to retiring later, many people are choosing to work beyond their retirement. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that workers over the age of 55 will make up 25 percent of the US labor market by 2024, up 13 percent from the year 2000.
Virtual teams could make it possible for insurance companies to keep some of their most knowledgeable employees involved beyond their official retirement age. Whether they’re working on a part-time basis or shifting to a different full-time arrangement, these employees can continue to deliver value by working remotely. By integrating these employees into virtual teams with less experienced members, their knowledge can be retained and passed on through the organization even as the industry undergoes a major demographic shift.
Technology Training and Time Management
Depending upon the composition of virtual teams, some additional training may be necessary to ensure peak efficiency. While every remote employee should get some training on the software tools being implemented to facilitate virtual work, the learning curve will be higher for some people. Even if an employee is quite comfortable using certain technology platforms, remote teams may require them to use them differently or in concert with other, newer software. Understanding the differences between working on an individual workstation and a cloud server, for instance, can be critically important when it comes to storing and working with client data.
Similarly, everyone working as part of a virtual team should understand what will be expected of them in terms of time management. While flexibility is one of the key benefits of remote teams, it doesn’t come without some restrictions. Everyone should know when other team members can be reached and through which communication channels. They should also know when mandatory meetings will take place, how to prioritize tasks, and what deadlines need to be met and when.
One of the challenges of virtual teams in the insurance industry involves the protection of confidential customer data. Insurance companies collect and manage a great deal of valuable data in the form of personal health and financial information. A data breach that compromises that information could result in damaging regulatory fines and class-action lawsuits. To ensure that this data remains safe and secure, virtual employees need to understand how mishandling confidential information could put their customers at risk.
Accessing insurance records through an unsecured public WiFi connection at the local coffee shop, for instance, could leave the company open to a cyberattack. Even plugging a personal flash drive to a work-issued laptop might unknowingly introduce harmful malware into the company’s network. Considering the risks involved, remote employees in the insurance industry need to be well-educated regarding security best practices to ensure that they are doing everything possible to protect customer data.
While implementing remote work throughout the insurance industry is a major undertaking, the potential benefits of virtual teams are significant. Through remote work, companies can better leverage their existing resources and gain the flexibility needed to better service their customers. Virtual teams may even offer solutions to the ongoing demographic challenges the industry faces as its most experienced (and numerous) employees transition into retirement. By accounting for some of the major challenges of virtual teams, insurance companies can set themselves up to minimize risks and capitalize on the advantages of remote work.