How to Train Remote Workers as Teams

With COVID-19 disrupting business, most employees in the insurance and insurtech industries have been forced to work from home. We are on week 12 of having most of our employees working remotely.

Working from home has its challenges on the best of days. Now throw in your partner working beside you and perhaps add some children into the mix. Or maybe you’re living alone and talking to your house plants.

Longtime physical distance can lead to emotional isolation and stress, especially during a pandemic, with all the health worries about children, parents and grandparents. It behooves employers to make a human connection to their people when they most need it.

We emphasize team-building and connection as a key component of our corporate culture. Implementing tools and activities that keep employees connected, interested and feeling heard is critical to long-term success, now more than ever. Teams large and small worldwide have had to dramatically shift operations and quickly adapt to how they work.

Remote work culture is here to stay, with many technology organizations expressing long-term interest in work-from-home options for their staff. Some of the team-building activities recommended in our first blog may not be feasible with social distancing. But there are several ways companies can leverage digital tools to check in on employees and promote active participation and keep them engaged and still feeling part of the team.

Fortunately, we’ve always had staff working remotely using web-based tools. We had tested all of our teams remotely before the outbreak. So we were ready, and the process was almost seamless.

Here are a few activities and tools that you too can use to maintain a sense of team connection while we work apart.

Check in with your employees 

With everyone at home, you aren’t organically interacting with your team throughout the day. Infrequent email correspondence removes a layer of connection and can also increase miscommunication.

Instead, make sure employees are kept up to date with consistent communication that works for your business, such as daily video touchpoints and weekly emails. This is a turbulent time for many, affecting everyone in different ways. Make a point to check in with individual team members to see how they are doing and ensure they are properly supported.

Make virtual meetings fun

Virtual teams don’t get to enjoy coffee-break talk, foosball or quick chatter between meetings. Maintaining fun social interactions between team members is crucial.

Use video calls, meetings and touchpoints with teams to have a little fun and foster connection among your team.

As well as continuing video meetings with our clients, we hold internal companywide video calls on Tuesdays and Fridays to touch base with everyone and provide internal updates. On Fridays, we set aside about 15 to 20 minutes to have a little fun. Some of the activities we’ve built into our meetings that any team could easily incorporate include:

  • Costume contests, dress-up formal Fridays, holiday themes, ‘80s, etc.
  • Games such as trivia, truth or lie, sharing bucket lists, etc.
  • Group stretching
  • Contests to see who can come up with the best Zoom background
  • Fundraising for the local hospital and food bank

Encourage your team to take breaks

Not having a designated office to separate work from one’s personal life and responsibilities is a significant adjustment. Encourage your team to take breaks and give them the flexibility they need to manage their schedule and make their days productive. Clearly communicate expectations to demonstrate trust in your team’s ability to be accountable for their work and deadlines without having to prove they’re online all the time.

Take bonding activities online

Creative team-building games and events are key elements of fostering a startup culture. Fun activities help employees feel challenged and valued. While we may not be playing golf or having an office party for a while, let your team bond over a virtual activity on Zoom or Skype.

There are a slew of options popping up, from virtual escape rooms to livestream classes. So far, we’ve held a few optional virtual events to bring our team closer together, including a fundraiser, an Easter contest, a recipe exchange (recipe book coming soon) and a jam session put on by our resident musicians.

These activities can be short and simple–just something genuine that makes your team feel valued and gives them a little break.

We may be physically isolated, but, thanks to technology, we need not be alone.

3 Big Challenges on the Way to Nirvana

We hear almost daily how insurtech is disrupting the once-staid insurance industry. The main ingredients are big data, artificial intelligence, social media, chatbots, the Internet of Things and wearables. The industry is responding to changing markets, technology, legislation and new insurance regulation.

I believe insurtech is more collaborative than disruptive. There are many ways insurance technology can streamline and improve current processes with digital transformation. Cognitive computing, a technology that is designed to mimic human intelligence, will have an immense impact. The 2016 IBM Institute for Business Value survey revealed that 90% of outperforming insurers say they believe cognitive technologies will have a big effect on their revenue models.

The ability of cognitive technologies, including artificial intelligence, to handle structured and unstructured data in meaningful ways will create entirely new business processes and operations. Already, chatbots like Alegeus’s “Emma,” a virtual assistant that can answer questions about FSAs, HSAs and HRAs, and USAA’s “Nina” are at work helping policyholders. These technologies aim to promote not hamper progress, but strategies for assimilating these new “employees” into operations will be essential to their success.
Managing the flood of data is another major challenge. Using all sorts of data in new, creative ways underlies insurtech. Big data is enormous and growing in bulk every day. Wearables, for instance, are providing health insurers with valuable data. Insurers will need to adopt best practices to use data for quoting individual and group policies, setting premiums, reducing fraud and targeting key markets.

Innovative ways to use data are already transforming the way carriers are doing business. One example is how blocks of group insurance businesses are rated. Normally, census data for each employee group must be imported by the insurer to rate and quote, but that’s changing. Now, groups of clients can be blocked together based on shared business factors and then rated and quoted by the experience of the group for a more accurate and flexible rating.

Cognitive computing can also make big data manageable. Ensuring IT goals link back to business strategy will help keep projects focused. But simply getting started is probably the most important thing.

With cognitive computing, systems require time to build their capacity to handle scenarios and situations. In essence, systems will have to evolve through learning to a level of intelligence that will support more complex business functions.

Establishing effective data exchange standards also remains a big challenge. Data exchange standards should encompass data aggregation, format and translation and frequency of delivery.
Without standards, chaos can develop, and costs can ratchet up. Although there has been traction in the property and casualty industry with ACORD standards, data-exchange standards for group insurance have not become universal.

The future is bright for insurers that place value on innovating with digital technologies and define best practices around their use. It’s no longer a matter of when insurance carriers will begin to use cognitive computing, big data and data standards, but how.

Fostering an Insurtech Startup Culture

Incorporating team building as part of your corporate culture may seem like an obvious step in strengthening your business overall, but it is often neglected. In fast-paced, high-energy environments such as the insurance and insurtech industries, investing in your employees through professional development and team-building activities can go a long way in promoting success.

In a competitive market, attracting the right people for your team can be a challenge, as can maintaining a motivated team. Startup tech businesses have become known for their successful ability to attract and maintain talented employees through a culture that prioritizes open communication, collaboration team building and individual growth. This “startup culture” focuses on nurturing a strong team through tools and activities that allow employees to bond, feel heard and continue learning within their role.

When it comes to attracting talent, “startup culture” is the expectation these days. Prospective employees, especially recent graduates and millennials, place a great deal of importance on a fun, inclusive, and social work environment. They seek companies with a “startup culture” – modern vibrant offices, open-plan workspaces, flexible schedules, and most importantly, a collaborative environment.

Organizations of any size can borrow elements of “startup culture” to strengthen their own team. Here are some benefits of creative team building and a startup atmosphere:

Boosting Employee Morale

Creative team building breaks the monotony of spending the day at the office working on insurance claims or underwriting files. Regular team-building activities provide an opportunity to get out, have fun and relax, while also encouraging collaboration and team bonding. They help eliminate employee burnout, improve productivity and increase retention.

Team-building activities usually revolve around the completion of tasks and problem-solving. (Read on for some creative examples.) Completing these tasks boosts employees’ confidence and trust in their unique abilities. Confidence is a major source of motivation that is transferred to the workplace. Creative team building, therefore, contributes to a positive corporate culture that boosts employee morale.

Improving Productivity

Poor performance is often seen as being linked to employees’ incompetence or lack of care, but it could instead be a result of poor communication and lack of confidence. Creative team-building activities present the opportunity to overcome communication barriers and foster interaction and collaboration among staff. Improved communication enhances productivity as it encourages employees to seek second opinions and ask for help.

Employee Retention and Happiness

All employees want to feel valued and contribute to meaningful work. They also want enjoyable workspaces where they are heard, not spaces they can’t wait to get away from.

One-third of our lives are spent at work. Many people are surrounded by their colleagues more often than their friends and family. A strong corporate culture and positive team dynamic is key to creating a favorable working environment employees want to stay in.

Creative team building can help in retaining top talent, reducing employee turnover, and promoting employee happiness.

Creative Team-Building Ideas

There are a number of different team-building activities to choose from, depending on budget, team size and team dynamics. Here are a few activity ideas that my team loved at Global IQX:

  • Escape rooms: employees in teams collaborate on cracking codes and solving mysteries. This is an excellent way to boost communication, encourage problem-solving, and create comradery.
  • Seasonal office parties and personal celebrations: what better way to create a sense of family and bring employees and management together? Fun activities provide a lot of needed laughs. For example, we had a foosball tournament in the office. Bosses and workers alike can don goofy hats and have a good time.
  • Recreational sports and tournaments: friendly competition and teamwork are a great way to create friendships and lasting bonds among teams. For instance, we had a zip line adventure at a nearby camp.

At the end of the day, employees want to feel valued, challenged and respected. While catered meals and an open office are appealing, it’s open communication, growth potential and strong team dynamics that keep good employees. Fostering a team-oriented environment through regular team-building exercises and activities is one step any organization can take to improving company morale.

How to Improve Productivity with Fun!

4 Tips to Drive Corporate Culture

It’s about 1:00pm on Friday as I step back into the office to the sound of foosballs. Laughter is coming from the lunch room. Instructions to the latest board game are being explained and friendly competitions are re-ignited. In the quest for success, as in life, it is important to stop and enjoy the moments along the way.

We spend a lot of our lives at work. When we bring play into our day, it can energize us and encourage us to give more of ourselves to tasks. Having fun doesn’t just have to be designated for after hours; why not bring it into the work place, too?

A study by Bright Horizons revealed that 89% of employees with high levels of well-being reported high job satisfaction. Nearly two thirds of those employees identified consistently putting in extra effort at work.

This isn’t surprising. What is surprising is that more leadership is not capitalizing on the economic value of fun.

Two years ago we lost a key employee due to cancer. She was a wonderful person. Not only good at her job but did much around the office for our staff, our culture and morale. She grew vegetables for us, surprised us with catered lunches, took tea towels home to be washed. She was always there for us. It was shortly after our corporate culture came off the tracks and sank.

It has taken a while to get our mojo back. Leadership listened to our staff for input and engagement. We have made some changes and adapted and tried to ensure that all employees are not only good at their job but are a good cultural fit for our team. We want collaborative and innovative colleagues that reflect our values and we wanted to bring back the fun to increase productivity.

Here are a few ways on how you can bring more fun (and productivity) into the office:

1. Have lunch together

Nothing bonds people like sharing a meal, no matter the circumstances. A 20 year old design firm in Berlin called Studio 7.5 has a rule that all its employees must have a meal together every single work day. The meal is shared on a communal table. This is proven to bond even the greatest of strangers who will always open up and relax over a meal or drink. If staff here aren’t playing a game, they’re often having lunch or stepping out for a walk. This goes a long way to balancing work and play as well as building relationships.

2. Decorate your office

Whether you are a startup entrepreneur or a big technology firm, find ways to decorate your office space to promote a positive, collaborative corporate culture. Use colours that represent your brand and design meeting rooms that support creative ideas and brainstorming. White board walls, digital media and comfortable lounge chairs will facilitate people coming together to share and create.

If there is a holiday or event, get your team together and make decorating an activity. Take photos and share them on social media so that your team can celebrate the experiences they are making together outside of the daily grind. Baby and wedding showers, Christmas, Easter and even Valentine’s day are opportunities to brighten up the office with decorations that everyone can enjoy. We have staff from all over the world and welcome celebrating their holidays too !

3. Hold staff events

Having a unique culture that makes your office stand out will promote staff members feeling like they are part of something bigger than themselves. Plan team-building events such as escape room games, rock climbing or a cooking class where teams can rely on each other to reach success and have fun doing it – we do!

Lunch-and-learns are another great way to have fun and advance knowledge of employees in areas they may not otherwise have access to. This shows employees you’re invested in their success, which can pay dividends in terms of employee loyalty.

4. Prioritize fun

With tight deadlines and tasks competing for attention, it’s not always easy to prioritize fun. Get events on the schedule and build excitement with emails and at staff meetings. Have veteran staff speak up about how much fun everyone will have at office events. Invest in an air hockey table, lounge space or a weekly game lunch. Getting everyone to relax and enjoy a little down time during the day will be team builders in themselves.

So get out, have fun and make memories together. It will be the glue that bonds you together during challenging times and make you more likely to become successful as a company, and a team.

A Good Team Creates the Right Culture

If you had to define your company’s corporate culture, could you look in training manuals or business documents and find it? Probably not.

Read more

Four Ways to Foster a Team Atmosphere Among Remote Workers

Very few entrepreneurs can go from idea to success without a team of people supporting their projects. Besides hiring people in-house for human resources, marketing, production and service jobs, they may need to hire virtual employees and contractors to fill these positions. Either way, it is critical to build and foster a team-based environment to ensure there is a feeling of accountability and responsibility within the shared goal of success.

Creating a team atmosphere can be very difficult with virtual staff, whether employees or contractors. It’s a growing issue because technology opens up so many options for people to work from locations around the world. According to Gallup, as many as 37 percent of workers were telecommuting as of 2015.

The importance of having a strong team is rarely felt more than when you don’t have one. Being in business means you are constantly overcoming obstacles – as well as with celebrating success. It takes perseverance and usually a good dose of luck to beat out the competition in the best of scenarios. A lack of cohesion and collaboration within your team can be detrimental to projects and goals because in order to win everyone needs to be rowing in the same direction and giving 100%.

But there’s more to teamwork than simply working together on the same project. True teamwork involves a sense of camaraderie, support, respect and even cohesiveness that can’t always be manufactured simply by the process of a shared project.

Fostering Teamwork in a Remote-Working World

Remote teams are not at a disadvantage in terms of overall performance. In a study conducted by MIT, it was found that teams of dispersed, remote workers often outperformed teams comprised of workers within the same location. In part, this is due to the increased productivity that employees and contractors enjoy while working on their own, within their own ideal environment.

To truly harness that productivity, entrepreneurs with dispersed teams must learn to effectively manage those teams and create a sense of teamwork within them. This can be done by:

  1. Having a face-to-face or screen-to-screen meeting at least once a week. Virtual face-to-face communication through sites like Skype can help build relationships and foster trust within the team. People like human contact. Using tools like Skype or WebEx ensures everyone is on the same page and aware of issues as they arise.
  2. Encouraging collaboration. There is a difference between true collaboration and simply working together. Collaboration allows the team to get excited over a shared goal and inspiration, rather than simply doing their part to achieve an end to a project. Schedule occasional brainstorming chats or conference calls in order to foster a collaborative environment. We use BBM group across various devises as well as WebEx and Skype in-house. There are many other real-time communication tools available to keep both teams in the loop.
  3. Being clear about expectations, guidelines and standards. One of the best ways to undermine a team is to give every member a different set of rules to play by. Assume that your team members are going to talk and share information outside of scheduled meetings. Keep all their expectations, guidelines and standards uniform so there is no jealousy, competitiveness or implied favoritism.
  4. Giving the team a place to collectively debrief. Create a “virtual water cooler” so that remote employees and contractors can talk, exchange ideas, and have an informal place to bond outside of meetings, Harvard Business Review suggests. You can do this by setting up a private group on a social networking platform or by using an application, such as Slack for example, that facilitates group chats and forums.

In a world where more and more employees are working remotely, it is important to take extra steps like these to create a team environment. The result can be a sense of community and loyalty that cannot be quantified. Feeling like you’re part of the team leads to lower employee turnover, greater job satisfaction and higher productivity and creativity.

So why not schedule that weekly Skype, Webex or BBM meeting? And allow the same technology that enables us to work apart to bring us together.

Climbing to the Top of the Industry with Teamwork

Mountain climbing is a passion for many, but for one elite group of climbers, only the 14 highest peaks in the world will do. This means they attempt to scale mountains like Everest, Annapurna, Kilimanjaro and the most challenging of them all—K2.

Although Everest is taller, K2 has the second highest mortality rate of all the so-called eight-thousanders, a group of 14 peaks that reach or exceed 8,000 meters above sea level. While more than 4,000 climbers have scaled the summit of Everest, less than 400 have reached the summit of K2 and those who have, haven’t done it alone. The climbing of this jagged-peaked mountain dotted with glaciers involves many technical challenges that far exceed the capabilities of most climbers. Without a team to help carry equipment, guide climbers and cook meals, reaching the summit would likely be impossible.

Teamwork is an important aspect in our desire to advance both at work and in our hobbies. In a Harvard Business Review article titled: Harnessing the Power of Teamwork, the author revealed that seasoned business leaders, “…look for people who are able to move beyond an understanding of how to be personally powerful, and embrace the ability to support others. The key to embodying this quality on the job isn’t just thinking about how to motivate or advance others. It’s about experiencing situations with them that foster a spirit of trust.”

While working at one’s job usually isn’t exactly as physically taxing as climbing K2, these activities do have one thing in common: they all require the work of a team to ensure success.  This is something we’re often taught during team building activities and something I was reminded of recently.

After attending a Blue Cross Blue Shield conference in San Diego, 32 of us attended a Navy Seal boot camp on Coronado Island. We were paired into two teams of 16. Teams were then broken up into 4 boat crews of similar heights. Overall, this “light” boot camp was a great experience, giving us a small insight into what our servicemen and women go through during initiation.

There was the usual physical training (PT) during which we were told we were too hot (cool off and get into ocean) and then too clean (roll in the sand), and then too dirty (get back into the ocean). There were team obstacle races, memory games, log drills, runs, cold ocean work and more—all starting at 5:30 a.m. So why was I not in my comfortable hotel bed at that early hour? Because it was fun and once I started, I didn’t want to let my team or myself down.

Finishing the boot camp was something I couldn’t have done on my own, but having teammates didn’t give me an automatic pass. I still had to learn to work with those teammates in the same way K2 climbers must work with theirs and you must work with yours. Here are some lessons I learned while at the boot camp.

Help, encourage and trust your teammates. 

It was a lot easier to reach a consensus and align our goals with our smaller boat crew first. While racing and carrying a log overhead, the first thing we did was to try and assess how we could best help each other carry the weight. We knew we needed to step in time so we would not trip on each other. Walter, an ex-Marine would call out the steps from the rear. During the race, another teammate’s shoulder became very sore due to a recent operation. I moved forward to take his weight. We stayed positive, encouraged each other and we ended up beating the young guys.

Communicate, establish a shared vision. 

It was a little hard at first to communicate, as none of us knew each other, but we knew that the sooner we could communicate the sooner we’d have an advantage. Together we decided what the core mission was and everyone’s role, so the team could succeed. This might seem obvious, but it’s easy to lose sight of goals when faced with challenges or obstacles.  Whether your objective is supporting your team by linking arms and sitting in the ocean while being pounded by waves or implementing software or obtaining market share, a shared vision will keep the team focused and on track.

Be flexible, keep it fun and stay warm.

You might have a plan but be ready to make adjustments at any time. Just when we thought we understood a drill, our instructors would make it a little more interesting. Todd, the teammate with the sore shoulder, got our boat crew singing during our runs. I encouraged our crew to hug to stay warm when many began to shiver from the cold-water drills. Together as a team we finished the boot camp. There were some that gave up or got hurt. They grabbed a doughnut and a coffee and left. But we hung in there breaking the boot camp activities down into one task at a time—and we got through each of those “one tasks” together.

All of us will inevitably have our own mountains to climb and oceans to cross. Yet regardless of the landscape, we will likely require the help of others to reach our destination. Through the power of positive teamwork we can harness skills beyond our own and achieve success we might not otherwise see.

What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned while working with a team?

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Polo…also known as ‘hockey on horseback’

Polo Did you know that the sport of polo is alive and active in Canada and the US?  Polo, the game of Kings, is one of the oldest, fastest, roughest and more dangerous team sports played today. First played by nomadic warriors 2,500 years ago in Persia, Polo made the jump from Asia to the West in the 1800s.

Also known as  “hockey on horseback”, Polo had jumped the pond to the United States and Canada. Polo was known to have a connection to the wealthy and the royal, but then interest in the sport quickly spread from New York to Texas and North to Canada (Alberta). British military and railway men brought the sport to Argentina where it quickly spread throughout South America. By the 1930s Meadow Brook Polo Club of Long Island, NY had crowds in excess of 30,000 spectators.

Horses thundering down a field, riders bumping and checking while striking a small ball with the precision of a Tiger Woods is a spectacle everyone should experience! At half time there is a divot stomp a la “Pretty Woman” starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts … but watch what you step in!

Today, polo is played in dozens of countries by  ranchers; farmers; students and horse lovers alike.  I personally started playing in 2000.  After a few too many falls, I decided it was time take lessons. A couple clinics in Canada (Ottawa & Montreal) and the US (Skaneateles and Saratoga, NY) paid off, I was not falling off quite as much. Halfway through my first season my teammates were tiring of lending me their ponies, so I acquired my first polo pony, “JJ”.  After JJ, more polo ponies followed.

This wonderful sport has taken me to places I likely wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Including, Argentina, the U.K and all over North America. If you have a love for horses and speed, Polo might be the sport for you.  Sports and business have much in common, teamwork being one that I value.  Participating in a team orientated sport, like Polo, reminds me of the importance for all employees to interact with each other to achieve common goals and success.

What do you do on your weekends? Share your comment on LinkedIn.