How to Lead a Remote Workforce: Insights from WSRB CEO Karl Newman

Mar 21, 2023 / by AAIS

AAIS recently spoke with Karl Newman, President & CEO of WSRB and its wholly owned subsidiary, BuildingMetrix, Inc. We asked him for tips on leading a remote workforce. He also gave insight into maintaining company culture and organizational effectiveness in a virtual environment.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a lot of companies to try things they were uncomfortable with – like remote work. Newman admitted that he never would have considered going fully virtual until the pandemic. WSRB and BuildingMetrix provide data and information to property insurance companies. As data companies, they immediately found that they could continue to meet customer expectations remotely with no disruption in service. Over the last few years, WSRB discovered that, done well, virtual work really works.

The key, Newman said, is creating, building, and maintaining a healthy culture, both before, during, and after COVID. "Virtual work doesn't create a bad culture, it reveals it," said Newman. "Virtual work is all about who you are as an organization. Where you work is not your culture - it's who you work with, why you work, and how you work."

Many leaders are concerned about how to motivate remote workers. Newman explained that motivating a remote workforce is about the people you hire. “Hire motivated people,” he simply stated. “You can’t motivate the unmotivated, but you definitely can find the motivated.”

Newman recommends the book, Hiring for Attitude by Mark Murphy, as a resource for which questions to ask candidates during the hiring process. The book outlines a simple, straightforward way to identify motivated candidates who will fit well in your culture, including a sure-fire way to find out if a candidate is a "problem-solver" or a "problem-bringer."

When asked how to maintain and sustain company culture in a virtual environment, Newman said that it is not much different from an in-person office. He, again, stressed that it is all about the people. “Normal can be defined as your shared values, vision, and mission as well as your relationships,” said Newman. "And that's portable to virtual , hybrid, and in-office work." He also shared that sustaining company culture stems from who you are as a company. “…Culture is to a company what character is to an individual,” said Newman. “Reputation is who you think someone is but character is who they are when no one is looking. Who are the people and what kind of work do they do when their manager is not there or not looking over their shoulder? Who they are in that environment is your culture.”

When it comes to culture, many leaders think there is a trade-off to achieving organizational effectiveness – either you focus on the people and accept lower results or you focus on the results and are harder on the people. Newman does not believe this to be true. “You can treat people well and get results,” he affirmed. “Clearly you can't have a party every day, but you do need to create an environment where work is enjoyable and where people want to come together. The best kind of culture is creating a place where you want to work and people want to come to work with you.”

So, how is corporate culture created? “Culture is in many ways defined by the behaviors you encourage, reward, and tolerate,” Newman shared. “In many organizations, the top performer, such as a sales leader, may be allowed to be abusive to other employees because they can’t afford to lose that revenue.” Newman believes in order to have a healthy organization there needs to be a set of shared values that everyone, from the newest employee to the CEO, is required to live up to on a consistent basis.

To view the interview with Karl Newman, please click the video above.

Newman will also be sharing his remote workforce tips in a presentation, "Acquiring Talent & Leading a Team in a Virtual World" on May 4th, 2023. The webinar will feature our panel of experts as they discuss what it takes to acquire talent as well as manage them successfully within this new working environment. Click here to register.

Tags: Working in Insurance, Remote Work, WSRB

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