As restrictions begin to lift, many in the re/insurance market will be wondering whether to brush off their smart clothes and look out travel passes for a return to office life, or if remote working is here to stay. Rein4ce invited Paul Leach, People and Transformation Lead at insurance professional services company GreenKite Associates, to share his observations on the future of the workplace.
Companies that have been forced to carry out business remotely are now making decisions about future work arrangements: whether to bring everyone back to the office, let staff stay at home, or a mixture of both.
GreenKite is helping clients figure out working patterns post-lockdown, and we’ve come across different attitudes as bosses consider the pros and cons of working in the office or remotely.
A survey published in late March 2021 by KPMG showed most major global companies no longer planned to reduce their use of office space after the pandemic, though few expect business to return to normal this year.
File hosting service Dropbox has gone the whole hog with remote working, as has asset management company Schroders. Facebook and insurance firm Aviva are opting for the hybrid model, as has professional services network PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Lloyd’s of London is re-opening the underwriting room on May 17, according to Insurance Journal.
Not everyone likes working from home
But not every corporation is a fan of home working – even part-time. Web services provider Yahoo, who you would expect to be all for it, tried remote working until 2013 when it got teams back in the office after finding there was lack of collaboration, innovation, and the risk of sub-cultures arising.
Goldman Sachs’ CEO David Solomon called working from home ‘an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible’, while Jes Stanley, Chief Executive of Barclays, described it as ‘a short-term measure that is not sustainable’.
Research from Harvard and MIT Business School backs these concerns, finding that people pick up much more easily on non-verbal communication when they are face-to-face rather than digitally. And, after an initial upswing, productivity starts to drop.
There are undoubtedly financial pluses to remote working for staff and corporations, with the former saving on commuting fares and the cost of lunches, and the latter on office costs. Companies can also recruit from a wider talent pool, anywhere in the UK or the world, and staff can work more flexibly.
Is productivity affected by where you work?
The hybrid model is popular with staff. A survey of the London market by the Professional Liability Underwriting Society in October 2020 found that more than 70% wanted to work half the week in the office, and most found their productivity had either increased or stayed the same while working from home.
Research in April this year from Ezra, which provides digital coaching, found that just over a half of the UK workforce were confident about returning to work without a fully vaccinated workplace – 80% of UK office workers are not required to be vaccinated before returning to work, with a further 17% unsure on company policy regarding vaccination.
However, there are downsides to remote working, include staff feeling isolated, and the difficulty for leaders to keep people motivated and engaged. It’s also hard for new employees to become immersed in company culture and to get to know colleagues, while younger staff may lose out on valuable mentoring from more experienced hands.
Five key things to consider
Whichever way your company decides to go, here are some general considerations:
- What do you want the office to be – the lynchpin of the organisation, where people meet and innovate and have personal interactions, or a hub for occasional meetings and teamwork?
- Leading in a virtual environment is tricky and will only be successful if you train people to manage virtually. Leaders need to listen more carefully to pick up on staff feeling isolated and lonely, and manage them better to keep them engaged, happy and productive.
- What does flexibility mean for the employee – what do they want to get out of it?
- Staff need to be upskilled to meet the changing needs of customers for online interaction.
- If companies are planning to permanently move to hybrid working, they need to manage several aspects in tandem, including HR, communication, upskilling, amending contracts for homeworking, and ensuring customers get the service they need.
As we contemplate what the post-Covid world of work is going to look like, we can only be sure of one thing: there are no hard and fast rules, and companies will have to figure out what’s best for them and their workforce.