Employee Stories - Leadership

Everyday Leadership - and Stepping Up in a Time of Crisis

There’s nothing like a crisis to reveal strength in leadership.
When COVID-19 began its dramatic spread throughout the country, The Hartford’s top priority was the health and safety of the company’s employees and vendor partners. But the company had to get more than 19,000 employees set up at home with the necessary tools. And then, it had to keep that connection reliable for the following months. These were no small undertakings.
The company’s infrastructure management team quickly rose to the task. Within 48 hours, they accomplished moving 80% of the company to remote work. The rest of the transition was complete within two short weeks. And four months later, 97% of employees are still working remote with no disruption. Two leaders who guided this transition share what they learned, and how they continue to inspire excellence from their teams through encouragement, empathy and flexibility.
  • Julie Reed, Vice President of Infrastructure Management, leads 240 IT professionals who manage the technology, equipment and help desk support services used internally by The Hartford’s employees and vendor partners. Her entire team rallied to build and execute the company’s remote work plan over 14 consecutive days.
  • Jocelyn DeMaio, Director of Collaboration Services, who reports to Julie, directs the team responsible for the collaborative tools that are critical in the normal course of business and enabled remote work success without a glitch. This includes email, SharePoint, and Skype video technology for interactive meetings and webcasts.
Julie Reed
“The Hartford’s culture is highly inclusive and values diversity of thought and actions. Through this difficult time, I knew senior leaders would listen to my team’s suggestions and take action when appropriate, because that’s how it is every day, crisis or not.”
– Julie Reed, Vice President of Infrastructure Management
Your teams made a heroic effort to make remote work possible in a very short period of time. To what do you attribute your teams’ success?
Julie: Knowing our mission would make a significant difference to the company and its employees was incredibly motivating. Team members at all levels mobilized quickly and brought their initiative and creativity to new problems that needed to be solved and decisions that needed to be made. They courageously spoke up when they felt investments were needed to provide our home users with necessary equipment. It was a tremendous team effort.
Jocelyn: I think flexibility and creativity are key to solving most problems, especially when there’s the need to pivot quickly. These qualities are encouraged at The Hartford every day, and were vital in our COVID preparations.
Jocelyn DeMaio
“In times of crisis, it’s especially important to have a strong support network. I am confident that my team will do the right thing and they know I have their back.”
– Jocelyn DeMaio, Director of Collaboration Services
How did you and your team approach the new problems you needed to solve for?
Julie: Moving thousands of people remote so quickly meant making fast decisions that were not fully vetted, so we knew it was not a game of perfect and that we would refine along the way.
For instance, there were technical hitches we encountered with moving monitors home for employees. We wanted them to have their monitors for productivity and planned to move ones from in our offices, but this was easier said than done. We learned and adjusted our plan. Within a few days, we placed a priority order for an additional supply and ensured people would receive monitors with stands. The business areas understood the issues, supported the investment, and helped us ship the equipment.
Jocelyn: We made the early decision to shut off video for all meetings and learning modules. This was originally viewed as an inconvenience, but with entire families at home, we expected an additional load on employees’ home internet usage, and didn’t want to impair productivity by further straining internet quality.
This turned out to be a very smart decision. Many of our competitors who did not make a similar decision experienced issues.
After several weeks and continued testing to determine it wouldn’t impact internet quality, we turned video back on.
How does the company’s culture support your team’s efforts?
Julie: The Hartford’s culture is highly inclusive and values diversity of thought and actions. Through this difficult time, I knew senior leaders would listen to my team’s suggestions and take action when appropriate, because that’s how it is every day, crisis or not. For example, they approved a significant investment in additional monitors and added Webex licenses for enhanced town hall meeting capabilities during this time, because that’s what was right for the business.
Jocelyn: The fact that The Hartford’s immediate response to the pandemic was to send employees home demonstrates how the company values the well-being of all employees. Personally, I felt very proud that the company made this decision and even more proud of my team for supporting a successful transition.
Now, as businesses prepare for a return to the office, The Hartford is taking a cautious approach and ensuring employees continue to have the support they will need to do so safely.
How are you as a leader continuing to support your team through this unprecedented time?
Julie: I have been very focused on being visible to my team to bridge the gap of distance. We reward and recognize team members for the ways they make a difference every day. We have also encouraged our remote workforce to take deliberate steps to support work-life balance, such as taking a lunch break, going for walks, closing the office door to signify when work is done for the day and not worrying about the family pet barking or child stopping in during a meeting.
Jocelyn: Many of my employees have flexed their schedules to allow for at-home responsibilities, such as childcare. I am a huge advocate of this flexibility and am comfortable with the notion that as long as the job gets done in time, it doesn't matter from where it's done or what time of day or night. Technology enables flexibility and should be embraced. 
What lessons have you learned as a result of the pandemic?
Julie: I’ve learned the importance of staying connected, whether we’re working on- or off-site. Collaboration technology enables that.
None of us know what the world will look like three or six months from now, but I do know that technology can keep us connected and productive no matter where we are. We are fortunate to work in this age of technology and I am fortunate to work at a company that embraces that technology.
Jocelyn: Employees can be productive and engaged without needing to be physically seen. Most of my direct reports were full-time remote workers before COVID-19. Many live in different states and time zones. My team is extremely high-performing and I trust them to execute.
I do feel that remote work will become a greater part of The Hartford’s culture in the aftermath of the pandemic – and we have the tools to make remote collaboration possible. The Hartford is also in the process of enabling Microsoft Teams, a collaboration hub which allows for even greater remote teamwork.
What motivates and inspires you to be the type of leader you are?
Julie: I enjoy leading and working with my team to create vision and strategy, and to achieve outcomes that provide significant value to our business. The company makes this possible each year by making a significant investment in our strategic position. I am currently leading a large effort to introduce Microsoft 365 (of which Microsoft Teams is a part) throughout the company. It’s a costly investment, but will provide new-age technology that will be game-changing in how we communicate and collaborate.
Jocelyn: I am a highly collaborative leader and motivated by empowering others to be successful. Nothing excites me more than having someone under my leadership pursue the best technology solutions, navigate the challenges and ultimately prevail.
I love receiving voluntary emails from end users who praise my team members. Such emails are always inspiring to me and make me feel even more proud of my team. And seeing our end users leveraging and loving the technology is icing on the cake.
How has being a female enhanced your ability to lead during a crisis?
Julie: My mother, who was a single parent in the technology field and a coach and role model, offered advice that has guided me throughout my career: Always stay calm in times of crisis, and trust my intuition and my team. Empathy and compassion also go a long way.
I demonstrated empathy for our employees who needed to work remotely to realize work-life balance and safety. I encouraged my staff to stay focused through the long days of remote planning and execution, and let them know it would make an incredible difference that would not be forgotten by their company. They thanked me for my support, but really the thanks go to them for being such great team players and believing in themselves and what is possible.
Jocelyn: Being a female has not helped me to lead. Confidence and trust in my team has done so. In times of crisis, it’s especially important to have a strong support network. I am confident that my team will do the right thing and they know I have their back.
I’m a courageous leader and do the right thing for my team and my company. I don’t shy away from tough conversations, whether it’s providing constructive feedback to someone or playing devil’s advocate in a meeting, just to ensure all options are considered. I do the same for my team and I welcome it back from them. And trust me, they give it to me!
Learn more about an exciting career in Tech & Data at The Hartford.
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