A local insurance agency found ways to support working women through the pandemic … and ended up pleasantly surprised at how well it worked

by Joanna Dodder Nellans • Photo by Trisha Shaffer

It hasn’t been easy for small business owners to support employee productivity and mental health as they have been forced to deal with the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. Natalie Haertlein, owner of an independent American Family Insurance office in Prescott Valley for 13 years, has been pleasantly surprised at how well some of those forced changes have worked.

With four female employees, including three who suddenly had children schooling at home, how was the Haertlein Insurance Agency going to continue to be responsive to its clients?

“There was no more separation between work and home,” Natalie related during a recent interview. “I couldn’t take my mom hat off.”

Turns out that ideas that once caused Natalie trepidation have become assets to her customers, her employees and her business.

For example, allowing employees to work flexible hours at home enabled them to find ways to successfully juggle their work and home life. That has reduced a lot of their pandemic-related stress, she says.

Since office hours were limited so mothers could be at home with their kids, Natalie realized that drop-in visits from clients would have to end. She feared her clients would be upset. Instead, clients’ time became more productive because agents had time to prepare for their encounters and focus on their needs. Employees were then able to focus better on other work in between meetings. And because some employees might be working at night or even on weekends, customers had more options on meeting times, too.

The agency also implemented new ways to electronically communicate so employees didn’t feel disconnected from their fellow employees. The chat apps ended up helping customers too, because they also could text messages to agents’ phones and computers.

And new virtual goal tracking methods helped productivity, Natalie says.

The Haertlein Insurance Agency was working virtually for a few months last year before moving to limited office hours, and this spring it returned to full office hours. But the other changes forced by the pandemic continue to this day.

“There were a lot of things we found very helpful,” Natalie explains. “As we grow, we want to continue to offer benefits like that.”

Happier employees make Natalie happy that she’s supporting working women – including herself, a single mom with three of her four boys still in school. That’s also why she supports the Prescott Valley Economic Development Foundation (PVEDF) efforts to attract quality employers to this region: “They want businesses and people that have rewarding work, livable wages and quality of life.”