Brokerage Ops

New Remote Workplace Demands New Skills

Q&A with Dawn Brost, Senior Vice President, E&S Brokerage Excess Casualty, Nationwide
Sponsored by Nationwide Posted on May 21, 2024

In this Q&A, Dawn Brost, senior vice president, E&S Brokerage Excess Casualty at Nationwide, discusses how working virtually has redefined how we communicate and about the new skills employees—and employers—should hone to better navigate the remote workplace.

How has the landscape changed for employee-employer and employee-employee interactions in the workplace?

We’re settling into what the new normal may look like. Some unique challenges, such as when and how often should in-person interactions occur, come to mind—there are teams in existence where employees have not met each other and have not met their leaders in person at all. Is there a risk of collaboration loss and is culture strained as a result of that lack of in-person interaction?

The way we measure performance has been impacted. Here at Nationwide, we focus on frequent quality touchpoints, communicating through a variety of platforms, and enhancing the way we look at key performance indicators of our employees to assess how we are doing. We implemented Nationwide’s hybrid workplace model SuccessFlex™, ensuring associates have tools for success no matter where they work.

Finally, I think communication methods have become quite varied with that lack of in-person interaction. Whether it’s by phone call, text, email, video, in person, or a mix of all of those things, we as leaders and also employees need to really think about how we use any or each of those methods with the goal of optimizing the outcome of those interactions.

You touched on culture strain, but have you seen any other downstream impacts from these challenges?

There is absolutely a culture strain that’s emanating from a couple of areas: employee engagement and morale. Leaders need to work even harder in a remote environment to address these areas, and it’s one reason why I do encourage the use of video with employee interactions. The visual connection for video at least is somewhat helpful to try to pick up on how people are doing and to assess the level of engagement.

But when you’re not communicating fully in-person, even with video, you’re losing true eye contact. You’re losing other nonverbal cues; depending on how many folks are involved you may not be able to always read everyone’s facial expressions. You’re losing body language. So I think it’s important to try to figure out ways to have fly-ins so that people can interact in person and stop that erosion in culture, morale, and engagement.

I know these things seem like small details, but when we’re overly focused on the verbal communication in a remote environment because we’re losing the nonverbal cues, I think the way we use words is very important.
You mentioned that communication styles have changed significantly. Does this require managers and employees to develop new skills?

Emotional intelligence skills come naturally to some, are learned by others, and frankly, are just dismissed by some folks altogether. We should take these soft skills very seriously. They are closely tied in with communication. For example, with remote work there’s much more overlap of business and personal, and that increases the need to have a more high-end emotional intelligence skillset about how we are feeling and making others feel.

New skills could include personal branding and presence, for instance—as I mentioned, there is more of a blend with business and personal. At Nationwide we offer associates courses for cultivating authentic presence on and off the screen. Empathy is also a powerful skill, but if you’re overly empathetic you can get a little bit mired in others’ emotions if you’re not careful, and that could be a strain on yourself as a leader or as a fellow employee. Honing these skills can help achieve the right balance.

Lastly, could you talk a little bit about how “words matter” in this context?

In the area of self-awareness and empathy, words matter. We have to work even harder in this remote environment to maintain self-awareness as well as awareness of our audience. It can be easier to miss small cues. The tendency is to respond quickly and vocally in video calls, but I would suggest slowing down a little bit and being more thoughtful about word usage, phrasing, or other communication tactics like humor.

Likewise, words matter when fostering certain desired behaviors in a remote environment. A great example is encouraging use of camera—you could use words like, “I like for all employees to be on camera for this discussion to support our interaction.” That lands a bit better than “You have to use your camera” or “Why aren’t you on camera?”

I know these things seem like small details, but when we’re overly focused on the verbal communication in a remote environment because we’re losing the nonverbal cues, I think the way we use words is very important.

More in Brokerage Ops

The Journey to Reduced Errors and Omissions in Benefits
Brokerage Ops The Journey to Reduced Errors and Omissions in Benefits
Comprehensive digital integration of agency platforms is a boon for insurers and...
Brokerage Ops Craft over Cramming
Improving sales and renewal processes can increase profits and reduce stress for...
Better Accounting Means Better Business
Brokerage Ops Better Accounting Means Better Business
Q&A with Jordan Katz, CEO & Co-Founder of Comulate
Sponsored By Comulate
Before You Flip the Switch
Brokerage Ops Before You Flip the Switch
Here are five best practices for a smooth software conversion.
Sponsored By Vertafore
Command the Room
Brokerage Ops Command the Room
Executive presence is crucial to increasing your influence a...
Doing the Work for DEI
Brokerage Ops Doing the Work for DEI
Real engagement on diversity, equity, and inclusion requires...