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May 31, 2021

Cigna employee concerns highlight challenges of supervising remote workers

Photo | CoStar Cigna headquarters in Bloomfield.

You are working from home and your Wi-Fi goes down for some reason.

Should the downtime count against your deadlines? Who should be paying for your Wi-Fi, if you mainly use it for work? How can your boss measure your productivity without infringing on your privacy?

Megan Youngling Carannante

These are among the challenges facing many employees and employers since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which sent many people home to do their jobs.

For a group of call-center representatives who work for Cigna, the remote work policies endorsed by the Bloomfield-based insurer have pushed them over the edge.

Minute-by-minute monitoring used in the call-center setting has been transferred to remote work and left many workers feeling harassed and policed, according to a petition posted in March on

“We are tired, frustrated, mentally and physically exhausted,” reads the petition, which has garnered 2,243 of the 3,000 signatures set as its goal.

Remote work has exacerbated tensions as many Cigna reps across the country live in areas without dependable Wi-Fi service and outages are counted against their performance, according to a worker who asked to remain anonymous. Some reps have also had difficulty being reimbursed for Wi-Fi and other equipment needed for remote work, the rep said.

“Cigna takes all feedback seriously, including external petitions such as this one,” the company said in a statement. “We’re proud of the culture at Cigna, but know there’s always room to improve, so we appreciate any and all feedback we receive.”

In response to employee stress during the pandemic, Cigna added 10 additional days of emergency time off for employees, along with more flexible scheduling and grants through a new fund for workers with financial hardships.

Like Cigna, many local companies were forced to transition abruptly to remote work without clear-cut policies and procedures in place, said Megan Youngling Carannante, the Hartford-based co-chair of Pullman & Comley’s labor and employment practice. With some forms for remote work likely to extend indefinitely, employers must plan accordingly.

“There’s going to be an expectation among a lot of employees that some version of remote work may be in the cards for them even when COVID is under control,” Carannante said. “Remote work is here to stay.”

Employers should first create or adapt existing policies to reflect the realities of remote work, Carannante said. Of primary importance is setting performance benchmarks.

“There’s no different standard of performance, whether you’re working remotely or in the office,” Carannante said of an ideal policy. “You should hold your employees to the same standard of performance no matter where they’re working.”

Next, managers need to drill down on whether remote work is appropriate for each employee based on their job functions and whether or not a task can be performed more efficiently and effectively in the office. Then take into consideration how teams can best adapt to remote work: Can the team be efficient with some members working from home? Are some team members better at remote work or supervision than others?

“It’s really going to be about communication among team members,” Carannante said. Additional training can help some supervisors increase their effectiveness in managing remote workers, she added.

Each remote employee should sign a remote work agreement that clarifies issues around job functions and supervision, Carannante said.

“The main purpose of the remote work agreement is to articulate the expectations with regard to the remote work for both the employee as well as the supervisors, so that everyone’s clear,” she said. “The other thing that’s really important is to maintain discretion for the employer — that the employer can modify the policy and change it as they determine is appropriate.”

Eye on employees

As for supervision that can feel excessive, as alleged in the Cigna petition, employers should create policies with balance in mind.

“Employers need to take a look at the remote work situations and see whether or not they’re working, and come up with some sort of way to check in that balances the need to know whether an employee is working without being overly intrusive,” Carannante said. “At the same time there has to be a recognition that performance by a remote employee has the same expectations as when an employee is in the office.”

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