Managing a Team Working from Home

Working from home is the new normal. And will be for some time. Yes, most states are re-opening after strict lock downs in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. But your staff may be worried about returning to the office full time. And the experts may be right: a second wave of the virus in the Fall could send us all back home.Besides, working from home can make your team more productive. Even when you don’t have to, you may want to have your team work remotely, at least part-time.

Managing remote workers can be a challenge. There are best practices, however. The folks at Staples, through Staples Connect, have gathered a number of helpful articles on remote work. One is aptly titled, Lessons Learned in Remote Team ManagementThe key takeaways include:

  • Keep your team aligned.
  • Show the work.
  • Maintain the sense of team.
  • Make quick decisions with clear directions.
  • Look after your employees.
  • Celebrate wins.

The full article is well worth your time.

One thing the article does not mention, but I would be remiss to ignore, is to provide your team with the right tools they need. For insurance agencies, that means the right software. You know, software like, NextAgency. NextAgency is an agency management system for life and health agents. We help you and your team stay aligned and organized. We also provide CRM, marketing and commission management tools.

Implementing best practices and using NextAgency can help your agency thrive no matter what the future holds.

Your Agency and the Coronavirus

Your Agency and the Coronavirus

The Coronavirus is going to change the way we do business, at least in the near term. That is simply a reality.

Our prior post, Thinking About Having Staff Work From Home?, was based on an email we sent out last week. It described how NextAgency can support your staff working remotely. Our message was that providing staff with flexibility could be good for your business. And that NextAgency was an important part of making remote work effective.

That email went out before health organizations and local governments began recommending that businesses let employees work from home. What a difference seven days can make.

That post also promoted many of you to ask a couple questions: Do my employees need to work from home? And how do I help my staff work from home?

As for the first question ….

Do My Employees Need to Work from Home?

In some parts of the country (sorry Seattle and New York), absolutely. Elsewhere, maybe not. At least not yet. However, the odds are you eventually will. The virus is spreading exponentially. Which means if it’s not in your neck of the woods yet, it is probably arriving soon.

Our previous post noted how enabling staff to work remotely can increase productivity and morale. The Coronavirus epidemic provides another reason to consider this step: employees working from home makes it harder for the virus to spread.

To be clear, working from home will not prevent you or your colleagues from getting the disease. That is always a possibility. But it could delay you getting it. And that means more time for health professionals to understand the disease and develop treatments.

There’s another reality. In certain Coronavirus hotspots you may not have a choice. We may soon see local governments requiring companies to permit telecommuting. In New York, the Governor today created a containment area that closes locations where large groups of people gather. This may include office buildings.

Whether voluntary or not, your office may need to close. Which leads to the second question.

How Can You Help Your Staff Work from Home?

Enabling your staff to work from home takes some thought and planning. You can’t just send folks home and ask them to “get to work.”

Fortunately, remote work has become relatively common in 2020. That means there are best practices available. Finding them is just an online search away. To get you started, here is a Fast Company magazine article with some worthwhile ideas.

Enabling your staff to work from home just requires some common sense. And remembering you are an insurance agency.

  • HIPAA still applies. Your employees will need to secure personal health information they have at home. They need to make sure screen savers are enabled.
  • Computers are mandatory. It’s hard to work from home without a computer. And you probably don’t want to have people using their home computer to store files. Of course, if they’re using cloud-based platforms like NextAgency, that’s not an issue. The key is to avoid having business (and PHI) stored on home computers.
  • Keep connections secure. Make sure your team uses a reputable VPN. These can be used to enable colleagues to access your office servers. But even if you’re entirely in the cloud, a VPN can assure that communications are more provide. NordVPN is a good option, but there are others.
  • Keep in touch. You may be working in different places, but you’re still a team. You need to continue to act like one. Agree on a video conference tool you’ll all use (e.g., Zoom or Skype, both of which are easy to use and have free versions). Hold regular web staff meetings to stay connected. And use these tools to reach out whenever you’d otherwise drop by their office.
  • Enable secure access to information. This is where a modern, cloud-based agency management system like NextAgency comes in. NextAgency keeps all your data and forms handy. They enable you to assign and monitor tasks and client activity. You can upload your commissions, run reports to analyze your business, and even launch marketing campaigns. All from your home.

Make Your Office Safer, Too

Maybe thinking about remote work is premature for your situation. That doesn’t mean you should ignore what’s happening. You’re probably washing your hands more often than you have before. Pay attention to workplace hygiene, too. The Centers for Disease Control provides advice on keeping your office safe.

In addition, be sure to regularly clean shared surfaces. This includes copy machines, scanners, fax machines, and even the microwave in your breakroom.

This Wired magazine article describes how to clean your cell phone. It covers how to safely clean your computer, too. These methods apply to other office machines as well.

Don’t Panic

Keep up to date on the Coronavirus. Don’t, however, succumb to despair or panic. The Coronavirus epidemic is not a hoax. It is also not the apocalypse. There are simple, common sense steps you can take to protect yourself, your colleagues and your family. Take them.

You will hear a lot of nonsense, but there are resources that can help you separate facts from myths, too. For example, this information from the World Health Organization.

As insurance agencies we’re used to thinking about risk. This, however, is usually in the context of risks faced by our clients. Now is the time to prepare against the risks your business faces as well.

Thinking About Having Staff Work From Home?

Thinking About Having Staff Work From Home?

Here’s an interesting trend. Businesses large and small are encouraging employees to work from home. Reports show remote workers are as or more productive than those who working every day in an office. And their morale improves, as well. And these results happen whether employees work remotely all the time or just a day or two a week.

Enabling your team to work from home requires the right technology. Video conference tools like Zoom or Skype are critical. As important: a powerful, modern agency management system like NextAgency.

With NextAgency your office is wherever you have an internet connection. Need to see the latest notes about a client? It’s there. Same for carrier information and forms. Want to track a colleagues progress on an important task? It’s right there.

With NextAgency you can launch a newsletter, reach out to renewing groups, analyze sales and manage commissions wherever you are.

Learn more about how NextAgency can help your life or health agency at one of our weekly webinars. During the demonstrations you’ll see how NextAgency can save you time, money and clients.

You’ll discover how to sign-up for our no-risk 14-day free trial and receive a code to save 25% on our already affordable license fees.*

NextAgency helps you more effectively and efficiently run your business. We can also enable you increase staff productivity and morale by giving them the flexibility to work wherever they are.

*25% savings promotion in effect at time this email was sent. It is a limited time offer, subject to change.

This email was originally sent on 3/2/20

Powerful PowerPoint Presentations (Part II)

Powerful PowerPoint Presentations (Part II)

Last month my California Broker column  (and blog post) offered advice on how to make better PowerPoint slides. That column focused on what to say; in the March issue I addressed design issues. This version of the article has been changed slightly from what was published in the magazine. Please let me know if you find these articles helpful.


Like last month’s article, this is for those of you who use slides when giving presentations. Good slides can enhance your talk. Bad ones can undermine it. For the sake of your audience, strive to have good ones. Enough said? Nope…

February’s article focused on the content of your slides. This month is about design. Because you can have slides with the perfect message, but if your audience can’t easily read that message, then little will be communicated.

As confessed last month. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this subject. I simply have a lot of experience using and viewing slides and I’ve done some studying about them.

One of the most reassuring things I’ve learned is that you don’t need to be a professional designer to create good looking slides. There are simple rules to making effective slides. A very thorough and useful resource on basic slide design is The Non-Designer’s Presentation Book by Robin Williams (no, not that Robin Williams).

Here’s some simple ways to make your slides look good that I’ve gleaned from Dr. Williams and others.

  • Fonts. Your audience should be able to read your slides without squinting. Even from the back of the room. Sounds obvious, but this rule is the most frequently broken. By using fewer words per slide (see last month’s article) you’ll have the space to use a larger-sized font. I’ve found fonts of between 28 and 32 to be the most effective. Larger is good, too; smaller, not so much.

Which font you use also matters. Use something basic and easy to read at a distance. I recommend sans serif fonts. These are the ones without the doohickeys on each letter. Arial and Calibri are examples of sans serif fonts. Times Roman is a serif font. Not all fonts are created equal, however. Comic Sans is an example of a sans serif font that is tough to read and looks a bit silly. Avoid cursive and stick to something straightforward.

  • Contrast.  Your audience is there to learn something. Or be entertained or motivated. They’re not there to play Where’s Waldo. Using text that blends into the background is unkind. Make sure your message stands out. Literally.

Using contrast is much easier if you avoid busy backgrounds. Pretty flowers or abstract art has their places, just not on your slides. Stick to solid backgrounds. If you need to get fancy, add a subtle gradient.

  • Dark or Light? Contrast is important because it reduces the strain your audience has when reading your slides.  Whether you use a dark or light background can make a big difference.

If you’re printing out your slides, a light background is best. When your slides are projected on a screen, however, studies show a dark background with a light font is easier on the eyes. You can test this yourself. Create two identical slides. One with black letters on a white background; the other with white letters on a black background. Switch back and forth. You’ll probably find it is easier to read the slide with the dark background.

Don’t feel locked into black-and-white, however. Using color can add personality to your slides. Just remember to use a background dark enough to make the font color you choose pop. It’s all about the contrast.

  • Avoid Clutter. Your audience should be able to glance at your slide and immediately see your message. Don’t make them hunt for it. As noted below, this may mean using more slides. It also means eliminating unnecessary elements. Like your logo.

Your audience heard your introduction. They know who you work for. They don’t need to see your logo on every slide. If they do, they’ll begin to ignore it when they’re not irritated by it.

Instead, limit your logo to the title and the end slide. Your audience sees the title slide while you’re being introduced. They’ll see the end slide (as discussed last month) while you’re answering questions and leaving the stage.

Another way to avoid clutter: eliminate slide titles. Your audience is listening to you. They can hear what you’re talking about. Like a ubiquitous logo, the title on a slide can get in the way.

I confess I rarely follow this rule. I recognize it’s worth, though. Slides without titles look “cleaner.” But habits, including bad ones, die hard. I do deemphasize the slide title, however, by using a smaller font with less contrast than the font I use for the body of the slide text.

  • Slides are Free. It’s better to use too many slides than too few. If you have a long list, break them out across multiple slides. I once saw a slide with 27 bullet points. No one could read them (few wanted to). I’ve found three-to-five points per slide is about right. This enables you to keep the font at the right size so it’s legible in the back of the room. And it’s easier for the audience to grasp a list of three than of, say, 27. And did I mention slides are free?
  • Alignment: If you have multiple images or text boxes on one slide, align them. All this means is that visual elements (including boxes of text) line-up in some way. For example, if you have a picture and alongside it some text, don’t center the text alongside the picture. Instead, pretend there’s a line extending from the bottom of the picture and have the text rest there. Or if you have two pictures, hang them along a shared imaginary line. (Dr. Williams’ book does an especially good job of showing how to align slide elements).

Alignment gives your slide a clean, strong look. This makes them easier to quickly read or understand. It also subtly demonstrates that you’ve paid attention to how your slides look. That’s because you have. And if you care about how your slides look, your audience will, too.

  • It’s About You

Remember, no one attends a meeting or webinar to read or to applaud your design skills. They come to hear you and your message. Make sure the focus stays on you. That means using slides that support your message and avoiding those that get in its way.

I’ve offered some guidelines for doing that. None are hard and fast rules (except for not reading your slides verbatim as you present). Use the tips as you like.

I hope I conveyed that it’s just as easy to create good slides as bad ones. It’s just kinder to your audience – and more effective for you – to make good ones.

Alan Katz is a co-founder of NextAgency, an agency management system with CRM, marketing and commission tools for life and health agencies.  Alan is a past president of NAHU and CAHU. He is a nationally known speaker on sales, marketing, business planning, and health care reform. Alan is the author of Trailblazed: Proven Paths to Sales Success, available through Amazon. Follow Alan on Twitter (@AlanSKatz), connect on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/alankatz44) and contact him at AlanKatz@NextAgency.com.

Easily Launch Email Campaigns with NextAgency

Easily Launch Email Campaigns with NextAgency

This email was sent on February 9, 2020:

Want to send newsletters to your clients? Contact hundreds of prospects at once? Is expensive email campaign software overkill for what you need?

Good news. We’re rolling out NextAgency 3.0. And email marketing a part of the package.

NextAgency is agency management software for life and health insurance agencies with CRM and commission management tools. And now we’ve added the ability to blast emails and newsletters. Our agency management system makes it easy to understand your prospects and clients. Then launch email campaigns and newsletters with the right message to the right person. It’s fast. It’s easy.

Learn more about email campaigns and what else is new with NextAgency 3.0 at one of our weekly webinars. This week’s webinar is Tuesday, February 11th. Space is limited, however, so please RSVP now. During the demonstration you’ll see all the ways NextAgency saves you time, money and clients. And you’ll learn about our no-risk 14-day free trial and receive a code to save 25%.*

*25% savings promotion in effect at time email was sent. It is a limited time offer, subject to change.