By Jeff Strohschein, SVP, Global CIO, Argo Group International Holdings
Work as we know it has changed forever. In the course of a weekend, we at Argo, like many other companies across the country, moved our entire workforce remote. At the time, I was humbled by the work of my IT team, the employees that embraced the change, and the partners that helped us seamlessly integrate into this new normal. Now, looking back, I realize there were a few key factors that helped us move towards a totally new remote digital workforce. These factors were understanding the tools we had and could deploy quickly, the skills of my team and our partners, finding the best ways to use those resources and empowering our employees to collaborate despite being remote. I hope sharing these factors will help other organizations to work better together, remotely.
Take Inventory of Your Top Tools and Skills
While we weren’t expecting a global pandemic, Argo has been silently building tools and resources to withstand changes in the business. We had started to get controls in place for disaster recovery, and had been looking for innovative digital solutions for our business lines to bring on new business and for ways to manage staff and collaborate effectively across the globe for some time before Covid19 hit. Being in insurance, we are well aware of the risks posed to our clients, as well as our own business, and we worked to mitigate risks before there was a problem. Looking back now, I realize that the tools, partners and processes that we implemented prior to working from home were key to the success of our transition.
Utilizing our Tools and Partners
My advice to other companies as remote work continues to be the new normal, how can we use what we already have? For us, our network, infrastructure and software tools have always been important but since going remote, they’ve been monumental in changing how we work. Look to build on what you already have to make existing tools work better and more efficiently for you. For example, we began using Office 365’s Teams function to run secure video conference calls without opening our network to the vulnerabilities of more public apps like Google Hangouts or Zoom. What tools do you already have on hand that can make your employee’s lives easier? Try to scale those tools or expand those platforms to utilize the collaboration capabilities inherent in the product. Talk to your partners to learn what tools they have that you can leverage and get advice from your key vendors. For instance, our managed services infrastructure partner, NTT, had a good VPN solution that we could just turn on. We didn’t have to go through a purchasing or contracting process as we leveraged what they already had.
These tools are now making our teams more efficient, so I’d advise other companies to work on training and development that shows staff how to best use the digital tools they have. Showing more users how to group chat and share files means we’re able to save several people extra meetings. We’ve always used Yammer, an internal Facebook-like tool to share success stories, but now as we are working from home, the tool has developed into so much more. We all look forward to reading more about what’s going on around the world. It preserves the centralized office culture, even while we are all working away from one another. We ran dozens of training sessions that focused on key collaboration topics like using Teams in Citrix, leveraging OneDrive to share files and setting up group calendars.
Employee Support: Balancing Tech with a Human Touch
At the end of the day, every company is full of people that make the business run. Tech should support teams and help people stay productive. It is so important for the human touch to remain in all of this. For example, we’ve made new habits: introducing our kids and pets to each other, sharing our favorite books and TV shows, to keep the human side alive in the workplace.
Use an Employee First Mentality
Employees make or break the company, and their well-being is the first item to consider as we all think about reopening. Finding opportunities for employee feedback is integral to work better remotely. Use an “employee first” mentality to decide your opening plans. As this pandemic continues to extend, strongly encourage your teams to do things to separate the office from the home. Take vacations, have a separate place to work, walk away at the end of the day. Without conscious action people will shift from a feeling of working from home to a feeling of living in the office.
As they say, ‘there is no ‘I’ in team, and we, as a team, need to work together to create a safe and productive environment for everyone. At Argo, our employee flexibility has driven our business, and our innovation as a company is a result of the work we’ve done collectively. In the end, it’s our culture of employee importance, recognition and support that drives our business. Over the last four years, I’ve watched our digital culture change into the collaborative and diverse ecosystem we have now and this culture will be key as we face the months and years ahead.
About Jeff Strohschein
Jeff Strohschein is SVP, Group CIO of Argo Group, which is an international underwriter of specialty insurance and reinsurance products in the property and casualty market headquartered in Bermuda with major offices in San Antonio, London, New York and Chicago. He has over 30 years of IT experience with a focus on IT Strategy and Transformation, Data and Analytics and business digitization. Jeff has worked across many different industries before moving to insurance, including manufacturing, retail, financial services and pharmaceuticals.