How to survive a long-distance work relationship

by Nicola Middlemiss29 Feb 2016
Scores of kiwi employers have to contend with a nationally-dispersed workforce and the inevitable difficulties that come with it – such as keeping employees connected and communicative – could this company’s unique initiative be a solution?

Andrea Brunner is the HR manager at FMG – New Zealand’s leading rural insurer, where workers are stationed from as far north as Whangarei all the way down to Invercargill – and everywhere in between.

“It definitely is a unique element of our culture and it does make it challenging, having nationally spread employees,” admits Brunner. “We’ve got a big office in Palmerston North with 200 people but in Oamaru there are five people, in Gisborne there’s one person.”

Brunner acknowledges that the issue is an ongoing challenge, one that’s never really going to go away, but says they have found ways to make the long-distance relationship a little easier on everyone involved.

“We’ve got lots of initiatives but one of the biggest initiatives that we do is that every two years we have a full team conference and we get all of our employees together,” she told HRM – the next one is due to take place in March.

“Logistically it’s a challenge because we’ve got to keep the business operating as well in terms of managing our call centres and things like that but we get everybody together, we celebrate success, we look at what we’ve achieved over the last two years, we do our goal setting for the next two years and we have a lot of fun,” says Brunner, who insists the event is highly popular with employees.

“Generally, any new people coming in people always hear; ‘Unlucky, you missed out on the conference, you’ll have to wait two years until the next one,’” she laughs.

According to Brunner, bringing employees together – even if it’s only once every two years – is not only a savvy business decision but a rewarding one too.

“Our underwriting team in Wellington are really critical to people who are on the front line, our advisors, and they need a good relationship with them so being able to actually meet them, rather than just over Skype, is fantastic,” says Brunner.

“What I enjoy from an HR perspective is standing there and watching these relationships form or rekindle, seeing people say; ‘It’s so good to meet you,’ or enabling them to catch up with someone they haven’t seen in a while,” she added.


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