Is Working from Home the Perfect Working Scenario?

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30 July 2020
Keith Raymond

Most have agreed for a variety of reasons including work schedule flexibility and operational cost reduction working from home may be close to the perfect scenario. But the road to perfection is not without some challenges.

Working from home was mandated for most of the country four to five months ago. It seems, from those I have spoken with in and out of the financial services industry, the majority were amazed at how quickly their organization and others pivoted to embrace the new normal. Of course, this is not to say the pivot wasn't without its challenges, VPN bandwidth, acquisition of physical assets like laptops and security concerns were just a few, but all in all the vast majority seemed to have managed through it very well.

About two months into working from home, when the big pivot to a virtualized work force was in the rear view mirror, many insurance carriers were saying how surprised they were with how well they and their employees adapted. Unless you were a parent with young children or in a caretaking situation employee ability to deliver didn’t seem to be affected all that much, on the contrary many noted an added “benefit”. Several insurance carriers and other businesses discovered now that employees were not driving to and from work, that time if not more turned into additional working time for many. The net result based on the initial positive outcome, a number of insurance carriers have announced that they are permanently reducing their corporate footprint and plan for a much larger percentage of staff working from home permanently in the future. There have been several similar announcements since from businesses across industries around the globe. Reuters analysis of quarterly earnings calls over the past week revealed more than 25 large companies plan to reduce their office space in the year ahead, a move designed to reduce the second-largest expense after payrolls at corporations.

Where are we today? Approximately four to five months into working from home and the euphoria of the virtual transformation has subsided. Carriers are now sharply focused on the acceleration of digitization to support the new virtual world, all good! But wait what about the employees who have been going full bore since this started? No getting out of the house for many, if they have school aged children they are schooling from home, if they had day care that’s gone, postponing vacations in hope of the world opening up again soon, working longer days, etc.

Trends that have recently come to light that have been the most challenging for organizations and the virtual work force.

  • COVID fatigue
  • Working longer days
  • Isolation and lack of social interaction
  • Maintaining corporate culture
  • Onboarding and mentoring new staff
  • Vacation time not being used
  • For employee who are parents, a new school year is approaching that looks like it will either start virtually or have some sort of hybrid approach bringing another period where work focus may be impacted depending on the situation

This is not to say working from home hasn’t been a huge benefit to most but some of the side-effects do give insurance carriers and many other employers pause. They are taking a step back and recalibrating focus for a better balance.

  • Increased communication on the importance of stepping away from work periodically throughout the day and being conscious of time.
  • Increased communication on the value of taking an untethered vacation to recharge even if it’s at home.
  • Reviewing onboarding and mentoring plans and introducing automation and collaboration tools to improve transitions
  • Some carriers are now opening corporate offices, at a fixed percentage of capacity, so employees have a place to go and focus if they need it, there choice. Based on one of our recent Snap Polls, those that haven’t opened have plans to do so, either at some point this year or some time as far out as 2021.

In a relatively short period of time working from home went from a low percentage play in the industry to the norm, for now. One projection from our divisional parent, Oliver Wyman, predicts 20-25% of the workforce will be working from home permanently post-COVID, up from a pre-COVID estimate of 4%. A big change with dramatic effects on businesses and the employees that support them. It will be interesting how things shape up by the end of the year and beyond.

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North America