Despite massive shifts in the insurance industry triggered by healthcare reform and emerging technology trends, the US independent agency continues to thrive. In fact, the 2012 Agency Universe Study from the Big “I” suggests 60% of agencies experience an annual increase in revenue.
However, there is always room for improvement and 25-year industry veteran Sharon Emek thinks she has an answer: allowing employees the change to work remotely.
“Today, you can work from anywhere. Certain industries lend themselves to remote work, and insurance is one of them,” said Emek, who serves as CEO and president of Work at Home Vintage Employees (WAHVE). “In an agency office, there is a lot of process work so outsourcing some of that, or having people work remotely, is actually more advantageous.”
At WAHVE, Emek has worked with more than 100 independent agencies to find solutions that cut costs while maintaining top talent and productivity through work-at-home programs.
The overwhelming response from WAHVE clients is that the model works, helping to decrease overhead and free up resources for training, client acquisition and other emerging needs.
“If you can have people work remotely, you don’t need as much office space,” Emek said. “You can save money on utilities, you can save money on rent, and you can even save money on payroll as remote workers are usually willing to take lower salaries in order to have better work/life balance.”
Employing remote workers also allows agencies to expand their search for talented agents, who may not be immediately available. After all, “you can’t always find talent in your backyard and you can’t just move your business to follow that talent,” Emek noted.
And remote work doesn’t require any additional software or technological tools. Most agency systems are in the cloud, allowing agents to log in with their VTN and work from home.
The virtual insurance agency model will only grow in the future as younger employees grow to expect a certain level of flexibility in their work, Emek believes. Unfortunately, some agency owners are still averse to the practice—something fueled by the fact that the average independent agency owner is now in his or her 50s.
“The disconnect is that owners believe they can do it, but they haven’t accepted the fact that their employees can,” Emek said. “The philosophy that you know someone is being productive because they’re sitting in your office is, to me, a misconception. The only way you know how productive people are is by the outcome and the results of their work.”
Because remote workers are not distracted by office interruptions like stress, politics or commute time, Emek says their productivity actually increases.
Of course, at-home work doesn’t have to be a full-time offering. Merely allowing employees the chance to work remotely when the weather is bad or their children are ill is enough.
“That way, you know you won’t lose productivity and you’re creating a culture within the agency of flexibility,” Emek said.
According to WAHVE, the best employees for at-home work are those who have been in the industry for 15 years or longer and have demonstrated their productivity in the past.