Digital Transformation

Five lessons from Manulife’s remote work transformation [PODCAST]

Manulife’s remote work transformation

This year, most of our work environments look different from before. Although remote work was picking up traction through 2019, no one could have anticipated how important it would be to manage our employees’ health and safety or have a game plan for pivoting to remote work at a moment’s notice. 

On this episode of the Transform It Forward podcast, our host Paul French speaks with Amy MacGregor, VP of Employee Experience at Manulife


When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Amy and her team were more prepared than most. Manulife had disaster recovery plans in place and had already tested most of their technologies and access to virtual private networks (VPN). 

Within three days, they mobilized their entire North American workforce to remote working. This is especially impressive when you think about the number of employees Manulife has across different countries and regions.

How did they make it happen? Here are the five key lessons learned from Manulife’s exemplary COVID transition. 

1. Check in with employees early and often.

Businesses are centered around serving their customers, but you can’t do this if your employees are not set up for success. 

As soon as remote working was initiated, Amy and her team started regular check-ins with team leaders and employees around the world. This was paramount to their success through the pandemic. 

They created Check-In Mondays to talk about everything COVID-related, including new protocols and procedures, and biweekly lunches to connect, with no COVID talk at all.

A leader toolkit was added to Manulife’s COVID microsite, which provided resources for leaders to manage their remote teams. They also offered wellness support and useful links through employee assistance programs. This puts them in a place to make sure they were providing their customers with the best service possible.

2. Leverage your company culture.

Digitally transforming your business through COVID, for example, requires leveraging your company culture. Companies with strong cultures can use their mission and values to guide major changes. 

At Manulife, their company culture is rooted in their mission statement: “decisions made easier, lives made better.” This provided the foundation to keep everyone safe, happy, and moving forward.

For Amy, Manulife’s cultural transformation started in 2018, when Roy Gori stepped into his role as CEO. He declared a bold ambition to be the most digital, consumer-centric global company in the industry. 

Most importantly, he asked all employees to be involved in creating the new company values. When it came time to pivot quickly to remote working, employees resonated with the core values they helped create and worked together to make the transition work. 

3. Get creative to get personal.

Effective transformation requires a personal connection. Don’t get so lost in the day-to-day processes and forget to make time to get to know your employees. The Manulife leadership got creative with virtual cocktail hours, lunch chats, fitness challenges, and even a Manulife’s Got Talent program. This creativity has also lowered barriers to senior management. Amy explains: 

“One thing that we’ve heard employees say is that they’re really valuing being able to see and hear from our senior leadership team. What I’m noticing is the more events we’re having, the more transparent questions we’re getting and the more people are comfortable asking questions of our senior leaders because we’ve made them so real.”

4. Communicate in plain language.

Plain language is the key to making progress. Keep your communication simple so you can keep everyone accountable and on board. 

When Roy became CEO, he spoke in a plain language that employees could get behind, engaging them in the development of the corporate strategy. 

Since the employees created the company values themselves, they could resonate with them and embed them into individual goals. 

Today, every employee knows exactly how instrumental they are to staying on track, especially during a massive transition like company-wide remote working.

5. Curate individual employee journeys.

The future of work will combine digital and in-person. Hone in on your employee journey curated to the individual. Think about how you can integrate learning opportunities to better craft a successful pathway for your team.

“We’re looking at ways that we can integrate our disparate technologies behind the scenes so it looks like one experience for employees – one platform – and it’s really tailored and curated to them and their aspirations, their experience, and where they want to go within their career.”

With 2021 in mind, Amy and her team are preparing to return to the office. At the same time, they want to continue digitizing the employee experience and modernizing company tools. Their goal is to focus more on personalization over customization when curating these employee journeys. 

Listen to the podcast here.