Listen as we speak with the President of Gibson & Associates about their transition to remote and their plans for the better normal.
Speaker 1: Welcome to the JMARK Business Innovation Technology Experience.
Speaker 2: Welcome everybody that is joining us today and later, that will be listening or watching this episode. We’re happy to have BJ Joplin from Gibson & Associates with us. BJ or Gibson & Associates is, help me if I say this wrong, a claims adjuster, is that the right terminology, that’s quite about right?
BJ Joplin: We’re technically called a third-party administrator, but essentially we’re [crosstalk 00:00:46].
Speaker 2: Third-party administrator? Okay. Perfect. Well, as we go into this discussion, the world has been thrust into change. People are calling it the new normal. We’ve kind of coined the term of the better normal, depends how you look at it and how people are adapting. But when the situation that we’re currently in happened, how did Gibson & Associates manage that transition? How did it work for you? What was successful? What wasn’t successful, how were you able to maintain operations? During this time?
BJ Joplin: We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had a number of remote workers for quite a while now. Our staff of 20.
We have 13 that live in the Springfield area. The remaining seven are scattered around the country. Those seven have been working remotely with complete success for a number of years. When things started to come to a head in early March, we put together our collective heads and we pulled out our disaster recovery business continuity plan and realized there really wasn’t a section in the plan that addressed complete remote work. We sat down with the administrative team to work through those issues. Our business handles insurance claims. That means we have to be available for our insurance virtually 24 seven, but definitely during business hours. We have to be able to take in new claims, process those new claims and begin handling those claims.
Many of those functions could go on remotely, but there were a few functions, we identified very quickly, that we couldn’t work remotely, with the team in place, we pulled out some old computer gear that had been sitting in a closet and we basically updated those devices and got them ready for everyone to work from home. We looked through our business functions and decided, how do we handle those functions that we couldn’t do remotely? There was quite a bit of activity in the second week of March, when we decided we’ve got to go remote. Fortunately, we had the backup devices available. We spent some time with the JMARK team, getting them up to speed, updated. Some of them were running Windows seven, we updated all those to Windows 10. I quickly got a hold of some extra memory and updated the devices so they can function smoothly. We sent those devices home with our team, so that those of us on our team who had workstations would have an extra option to work from home without having to drag their workstations back and forth.
One thing this will force us to do is, look very hard at our next IT investment and make sure that everybody has laptops so they can work seamlessly from home or office. But ultimately, we got people set up to work from home and we developed a staggered schedule so that we could take care of the basic office functions like opening mail, sending mail and processing payments, that couldn’t be done remotely. We developed a staggered schedule, so that only one person was in the office at a time and we were able to maintain those necessary functions. As an outcome of that issue, we have been working with our Claims System provider and our bank to develop ways to issue electronic payments, so that in the event we are forced to work remotely again, we can take care of our policyholders and claimants seamlessly by utilizing electronic payment.
Speaker 2: That’s great. One thing you said that’s pretty interesting is the laptop versus workstation issue. I think a lot of people don’t realize how transformational that can be in the outcome of a disaster. I remember when we had the flooding that occurred at JMARK many years ago, that was the decision made right after it, is we need to move the laptops, and we moved most of the staff to laptops. But even in this situation, we found ourselves with a few people that had workstations still and we needed to migrate them over to a laptop. I think that’s what you said is so important about a disaster recovery plan is, oftentimes we think about disasters that are common, maybe in some parts of the world that you see in the news, but we don’t think of something like a pandemic.
This is not something that comes up. That’s really important. I applaud you for your foresight at the beginning of everything because memory and computers and all that was hard to acquire. There were backlogs from China, backlogs from all over the place. That’s good that you had the foresight to take care of that. I wanted to switch the conversation a little bit, and you said you weren’t really set up to work in a fully remote environment. How has the culture of the organization adapted and thrived during that time?
BJ Joplin: Space bar didn’t want to play nice. As I mentioned, we already had a portion of our staff working remotely. Those of us that were in the office, I think first of all, we realized that there is a certain degree of isolation that comes from working remotely. We immediately sympathized with our team members that had been remotely that we had just been speaking with on the phone. We started using Teams, that was a software piece in our O365 system that we hadn’t previously utilized. Just this morning, I had a virtual meeting with my entire claims team. We do those on a regular basis. I meet with my managers on a regular basis using Teams and we’ve also found that it puts that personal touch back in the communications between our team members who might have an issue and instead of picking up the phone, they hit a video conference. It’s nice to see faces that you wouldn’t normally see on a regular basis.
Kristina: Did you have any pushback at all, on people not wanting to do a video?
BJ Joplin: Not really. If there was pushback, I was unaware of it. I think everyone recognizes the benefit of seeing people face to face. Although, video conference is nothing like being in the same room with someone, it can be a reasonable substitute.
Speaker 2: You mentioned that you had to start using Teams, so you weren’t using it before this moment?
BJ Joplin: No. We weren’t.
Speaker 2: Okay. How has the team had to adapt to new processes and new ways of working?
BJ Joplin: The primary change has been the addition of Teams to utilize the video conferencing in the chat. Some of our team members were already using the Chat function of Teams, unfortunately, this is a little bit of a digression, but just over a year ago, I updated all of our laptops and workstations with JMARK’s help. I made the unfortunate decision to go back with eight workstations instead of just giving everyone laptops. One of the reasons that it’s been a little different is, the workstations don’t have video cameras. As you were mentioning the shortages, pre pandemic, you could probably find a cheap USB Webcam on Amazon for 25 or $50.
At one point I was searching and some of them had jumped to above $1000, which is absolutely ridiculous, but reflect supply and demand and some price [inaudible] . When we made the transition last summer to new devices, we took all of our old laptops and brought them in the office and stuck them in the back room, sort of for backup IT needs. Fortunately, those laptops all had Webcams, so virtually everyone in the office that didn’t have a laptop, got issued laptops to take home. We were able to use video conferencing from home on those laptops.
As I’ve mentioned, I will be realigning with laptops for everyone. That will ease any concerns in the future.
Speaker 2: Absolutely. Did anything change with the interaction with your customers or with your vendors in how technology played a part in communicating with them?
BJ Joplin: Fortunately, our communication with our vendors and clients and customers is primarily through a telephone or email exchange. Back in 2018 or ’19, we embarked on a very comprehensive transition to cloud-based technology. With the help of JMARK we switched from a traditional VoIP system to RingCentral, which is fully cloud-based. That meant that those of us who were in the home office, could either take our smartphones or our desk phones home with us. As a result of that, we saw virtually no interruption in our phone services and I say virtually, we had no interruption or phone services, and because we’re using Office 365, our exchange is cloud-based, so it didn’t matter where our team members were working. They had full access to our technology. Additionally, our Claims System is an online system. That is fully cloud-based, it doesn’t matter where we are, so long as we have reliable internet and safe internet, we can do our work.
Speaker 2: Great. Question for you is, with all of the changes happening, there are changes in behavior and you see that in consumers of services, you see that in all of us. How do you think the things you’re doing now with Teams and cloud-based phone systems and other things, how has that changed your behavior for the future? I mean, is it going to be a situation where you’re going to go back to a different strategy, or do you anticipate keeping a lot of the strategies you’ve adapted to during this time moving forward?
BJ Joplin: I fully anticipate, we’ll keep the same strategies, in moving people remotely, even in Springfield, I found that they were just as happy to work from home and just as productive and ultimately, I think it will lead to reevaluating our office footprint, not something that realtors want to hear about, but we’ve had team members that have said, “We’d really like to continue working from home.” Based on their productivity, I’ve got no problem with that. We’ve always been a very flexible work environment. My primary concern is that we get our job done, and it doesn’t matter to me if you do some of it early morning, late at night, as long as it’s getting done. There is a certain component of our business that we have to be available to our insurance and to our clients and we will ensure that continues to be the case, but other aspects of work that can be done outside of traditional work hours. That’s fine.
Speaker 2: I’ve read the statistics that 80% of employees that have started working from home since the pandemic started want to remain working from home. A pretty amazing statistic and you’ve kind of verified that in your own organization, how have you noticed their happiness, their productivity, their focus increase? What does that look like?
BJ Joplin: I think the best way that I can explain it is that we have remained just as productive, if not more productive, although I can’t really judge happiness based on body language or interpersonal interactions. The feedback that I get is, “We appreciate the flexibility, we appreciate the opportunity and we’d like to continue.” So long as we remain productive, we’re going to continue in that manner.
Kristina: Have you always been this flexible when it comes to the work hours that you mentioned, for example, or did that kind of come along with this new flexibility of working from home?
BJ Joplin: Well, I say that it’s a bit qualified. We do have to have people in the office during business hours to answer phones and direct phone calls, to take down new claim information, to handle those types of functions. There’s probably a little less flexibility on the administrative side of things, simply because we have to be present during normal business hours. From the claims adjusting side of things, I’ve always taken a very flexible approach, so as long as you’re getting your work done, I don’t care if you need to go take a child to a doctor or go to a soccer game. Not that there are any soccer games going on right now. But I’ve always taken that approach. I try to be flexible, I started in a Law firm 20 years ago, and at that time it was a very traditional work environment. There were very high expectations about being in the office at certain times and when I made the transition to Gibson & Associates, I wanted to relax that as much as possible so that our team could be happy.
Speaker 2: You mentioned phone systems for a minute there and switching phone systems, with that change, just a minute ago, you mentioned someone had to be in the office to take those phone calls. Will that potentially change in the future though, as you use the Virtual Phone System more?
BJ Joplin: Absolutely. Even today, our Admin team are now working on a flexible arrangement where they’re staggering their days in the office. With the phone system, they can answer the phone queue just as easily from home as they can from the office. What I think I should’ve emphasized, somebody has to be available to answer phones, essentially from eight to five, our normal business hours, whether they’re answering them from home, from their car while they’re waiting on something outside, or the office, it doesn’t matter.
Speaker 2: You’re the first person we’ve talked to, that has mentioned that strategy of potentially going all remote in the future. I find that very compelling and I’m wondering, and you maybe haven’t thought this far ahead, but speaking ahead and thinking about how productivity has increased and focus in all that, what are some of the longterm strategy that would need to be employed with a full time, 100% remote workforce?
BJ Joplin: Let me clarify. I don’t think we’ll ever be fully 100% remote.
Speaker 2: Okay.
BJ Joplin: There will always need to be someone to get the mail, to sort it, to distributed through the office as necessary. There will likely always be a need for an office. It’s just a matter of what that office will look like, how big it will be, how many hot-desking locations or offices or workspaces we’ll have in our next physical iteration.
Speaker 2: Great. What would you say to other companies who are still trying to adapt during this change?
BJ Joplin: Be open to investing in technology that will allow you the flexibility to work remotely, that will allow you the ability to react more quickly without significant prep time. JMARK is our IT Service provider. I know just enough to be dangerous, but because JMARK was slammed back in mid March, I took it on myself, to get computers ready to go and get them hooked back up to the network. I did spend a lot of time with JMARK folks, but had I not been tech-savvy, that would have been a real headache for us. That’s why I would encourage anyone evaluating their IT needs, to think very proactively about investing in technologies that will allow you to do that. We’re very fortunate that we made the investment that we did, but we’ve learned from it. I had a sit down with Tom and Jeff Bender a couple of years ago, to talk about some IT strategies that could help us adapt, had no idea that some of the strategies that we discussed and implemented, would make such a change right now, but they have.
Kristina: Are there any companies in any industry that you’ve been exceptionally impressed with how they’ve adapted?
BJ Joplin: Unfortunately, Kristina, I live sort of in a shell. I focus on what we do. I know others have struggled. I know others in my industry have struggled. I don’t really know how best to answer that question.
Speaker 2: Going back to the phone system again, a lot of people don’t equate technology and telecommunications together very often, but those worlds have been blurred for the last 10 years getting closer and closer. I mean, we’ve seen many companies prospects that we’ve called into, during this time, who will get a voicemail and they said, “We can’t transfer calls. We can forward calls.” Because they had an Old Phone System that just couldn’t handle anything. When you originally changed over to the RingCentral platform, what was the deciding factor?
BJ Joplin: The cloud-based system.
Speaker 2: [inaudible 00:23:46].
BJ Joplin: Yeah. When I started with Gibson, we had an Old Nortel System that was run through a big box in the back, and we then switched to a VoIP System. I can’t even think of the brand of the system, but one of my biggest concerns about both of those systems was that they were dependent upon that box that’s in the back room of my office, the little server space, and if we lost power at the office, we lost that phone. That was simply a risk that I couldn’t bear and that was what was so appealing to the RingCentral.
With RingCentral, I can use my iPhone or an Android, we can install them on laptops or desktops as softphones. We truly don’t need the great big phone that’s sitting in the corner of my desk, but it gives us the flexibility to go to our employees and say, “Do you want a desk phone, or do you want a smartphone?” There is no upfront costs with the desk phones. Some people are just more comfortable with them, but because of the way they’re set up, all they have to do is unplug it from their desk at work and take it home. That’s a very appealing option.
Speaker 2: Absolutely. I mean, it truly brings into account flexibility and agility to change and adapt for just letting any situation. I mean, it’s a model where you’re essentially always available no matter where you’re at, because of the flexibility of the system.
BJ Joplin: Which is good and bad, depending on how you manage [crosstalk]
Speaker 2: Of course. Very true. As we get to the point of wrapping up, is there anything that, any other strategies that you think are going to [inaudible] as we make the change to transition back to the office or into the new normal, and how is JMARK helping you to kind of navigate through this time?
BJ Joplin: Well, your team has been very helpful in guiding me in directions that led me to position the company where it is now. The one thing that we’ve not discussed and as I look through JMARK’s Facebook page and even on the news, one of the biggest concerns is cybersecurity. We’re in the process of implementing JMARK Security Advanced. I think the team will be onsite this afternoon to install the new patch security device. I’m relying very heavily on JMARK to help us navigate the cybersecurity wall, because we’re handling insurance. We have protected health information.
We have sensitive information stored in our systems that I want to make sure are protected as best as we can. I’m very excited about the Security Advanced program and I’m using it as a selling point to my clients over in London, who are dealing with the general data protection regulations that have been imposed by the EU and by the United Kingdom. I just went through a Client Audit and I spent a significant amount of time talking about our technology and our security. I would encourage anybody who has any data, to think very seriously about how they’re protecting that data and what steps they are taking, what steps they should be taken.
Speaker 2: Thank you so much for bringing that up. When you’re going through these conversations, there’s so many different avenues you could go onto, and I was talking about this earlier with someone about how crazy the situation has gotten during COVID-19, the security situation. It has gone up 20 fold increases in risks and the hackers, I loved it for a time, they were saying, “Oh, we’re going to be kind and not hack anybody during COVID and are not hack certain organizations.” That was just a false reality. Again, great foresight because as you’re moving to a potentially hybrid model of some people working remote, somebody in the office, that data is everywhere and that security is paramount. Again, the GDPR, I’ve dealt a lot with that with JMARK and a lot of people think it’s just a European thing. But it’s a world thing at this point. Great job in all that you’re doing, great job in thriving during this time. I look forward to hearing more about your successes and everything you guys are doing. Take care.
BJ Joplin: Thanks for your time, guys. Thanks for inviting me.
Kristina: Thank you.
Speaker 1: Thank you for attending this podcast. We hope it has been informative and help convey that at JMARK, we are people first and technology second. To learn more and discover additional content relevant to your business. Please visit us online at jmark.com or LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You may also call us at 84444 JMARK. Thank you for your time. We look forward to seeing you again.