This is a tough question in our ever changing COVID-19 environment. It takes a lot of discussion and research to figure out what will work best for your office. As I started anticipating North Carolina lifting the Stay at Home order and Charlotte, NC moving into Phase 1 I found myself questing everything. My approach was to spend every free minute researching what it would take to keep my team safe if we were to return to the office. Along the way I really questioned why it was necessary at every turn. If my team working remote kept them healthy do they need to return? After doing all the leg work, I thought it was important to share what I found with other insurance agents to help them make decisions about their agency offices and Insurance Agency Solutions for COVID-19 webinar series was born.
Essential businesses can return to the workplace at anytime but should we?
Essential businesses can return to the workplace at any time but should we? In the state of North Carolina thanks to our NC DOI and our Independent Insurance Agents of NC (IIANC), insurance was deemed an essential business. Just because we can return to the insurance office doesn’t mean we should. In NC the Phase Plan can be found here https://files.nc.gov/governor/documents/files/NC-3-PHASE-PLAN.pdf. You will find a section regarding Phase 1 and notice it says telecommuting is encouraged.
At this point I turned my attention to does my staff need to return to the office? I firmly believe the answer is unique to every insurance agency in NC. There are a few things you will need to assess to come to the best conclusion for your agency. Start thinking about how comfortable you are with your teams’ remote capabilities? My agency had remote capabilities in place prior to this and it was near seamless to flip the switch and send my team home. That is not the case for everyone. If your remote capabilities and electronic servicing abilities are not seamless this is a pain point and you may be more comfortable with your team at the office. Your team may be more comfortable at the office. Next thing to consider is do you serve clients who do not have access to electronic means or you need to take payments? If you service clientele that need to come to your office you probably had not closed the office completely anyway. If you did send every home now would be a good time to asses if you team likes working at home and if they are efficient and effective? This answer will be unique to your agency and the staff you. It would be helpful for you to assess this but even more importantly talk to each team member and get their input as well. The answers may surprise you like they did me.
Physical Space Layout Office Configuration
If you have determined (or already had) staff that needs to work from the office you need to put some a lot of thought into the physical space and layout of your office. What does your physical space look like? If you still have your original layout paperwork it is helpful to pull it out. Ours has dimensions on it that helped in this assessment. If you don’t you can draw it on graph paper. Most important you need ensure your teams desk spaces are 6 feet apart. Open office concepts might make this challenging and you will have to get creative. You can physical move the desks 6 feet apart or you may need to create physical barriers from cardboard or plywood. We are fortunate to have offices with walls and doors. Our admin does sit in a common space so we moved her to a free office that has walls and doors. She is responsible for greeting guests but it also puts her in a vulnerable place with no physical barrier. Since we have chosen to remain closed to the public this was an easy decision.
Will all your office staff return at the same date?
At this point you will need to start thinking about if all your office staff will return at the same date? There are so many factors that will go into this decision and it will be very unique for each agency. Consider how many team members you have and your physical space are going to play a big part in this decision. You can also think about implementing a swing schedule so not all your staff is in the office at the same time. If you have more than 10 team members this would be very important. Given the current homeschooling environment and lack of childcare you may need to be flexible for some of your team members to accommodate them. This is a delicate balance and it is essential you treat all your team members the same in this situation.
How do you make sure your office is clean and safe environment for your team and your clients?
The last thing you really have to analyze is how will you make sure your office is a clean and safe environment for your team and your clients? is a debate about how long COVID-19 lives on surfaces and the answer is different depending on the surface. (4 hours on copper, 24 hours on cardboard and 2-3 days on plastic or stainless steel) The bad news is it lives on surfaces in your office environment. The takeaway from this is it lives on surfaces much longer than you think and you have to implement different cleaning protocol. If you have a contract with a commercial cleaning company consult with them on what they are offering. Beyond that you will need daily and even hourly if you are open to the public cleaning on high touch surfaces. Common areas like the front doorknobs, tables, handrails, desks you need to have 1 staff person designated to clean these surfaces at regular intervals depending on your level of traffic. What about all the common appliances for your team members use? You will have to create rules for them or temporarily remove them. In our office we implemented using a disinfectant wipe to clean the item you use after each use. If you have common computer equipment the best idea is to limit use of these things to just one team member. Do not allow team members to share desk spaces, keyboards, postage machine and sprinter/scanner.
After you get through all this you have to create new staff processes and procedures while in the office. Your process and procedures need to address things like how you want your team to handle meetings in the office. In our office we said no team meetings in person. If it is vital then you must remain 6 feet apart otherwise use our video chat capabilities even when in the office.
If you are open to the public, you will need to have another process and procedure put in place for anyone visiting the office from clients to carrier partner and vendors. Some suggestions are to have guests only appointment only to avoid multiple people in your lobby. Create a sanitary station clients need to access when they enter your place of business. This would include things like making sure they wear a mask (and providing them if they do not have one). Insisting on a guest washing his/her hands upon arrival and before meeting with anyone. You will also need to designate a team member who will enforce these practices who is kind yet tough enough to make sure every person follows through. After all this is for the health of your team and the guest. Some other ideas are to give the client a pen to use and take with them. This will prevent sharing of pens and as an added bonus you can get all those branded pens in your closet to your clients.
New staff processes and procedures while in the office
Here are some of the things on our Process & Procedure for Team Members in the office:
- No handshaking/hugging/physical greetings of any kind
- Hanging hand washing guides in restroom
- Avoid touching your face and cover your face with a tissue for coughs and sneezes
- If you are sick stay home
- Stay home if you have a family member sick
- Family Medical Leave Act – have you read this and do you understand the implications for your office
Supplies you need
Here is a list of some supplies you will need and these have not been easy to come by. I would start shopping now:
- Every desk must haves
- Video camera
- Tissues for every desk
- Hand sanitizer for every desk (60% alcohol or more) – do not share the bottle
- Masks – have to be washed daily in hot water. Consider providing several for your staff.
- Desktop scanners
- Clorox wipes
- Toilet Paper
- Paper towels for restroom – disposable
- No touch trash cans
- Extra Hand soap
During this time, it is critically important to the vitality of your business that everyone is cross-trained. If you have a team member who becomes ill, you will need to pivot and the team member may be out of work for 14 days or longer. Your operation has to be able to run smoothly. You will also need to exercise a great deal of flexibility during this crisis. In the last 8 weeks I found leading in a crisis is challenging and the most important thing I will leave you with is our team members need us to lead them. Knee jerk reactions will not help them manage this crisis. Deep thought and careful consideration will be key in leading our team during this or any crisis.
If you want to continue this discussion I would love to talk. Whether you are just getting started with your agency and are looking for advice or you are a seasoned agency owner and want to talk shop, I would love to connect.Let's Talk