As companies prepare for a post-lockdown return to work, Rein4ce Managing Director Stephen Breen says insurance executives will need to learn new skills once again if they are to successfully lead their teams back into the office.
With the COVID-19 vaccine programme in the UK proving highly effective, businesses are starting to focus on how – and in what form – they might start returning to office work.
Most companies look set to adopt a hybrid model of part-office/part-home working, and executives will face a tough test to get the balance right if they want to keep their business functioning efficiently while maintaining staff morale. Goldman Sachs boss David Solomon last week https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-56192048 rejected the idea of remote working as the “new norm”, labelling it an “aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible”.
What changed during lockdown?
Mass working from home (WFH) saw insurance and reinsurance companies quickly pivot to video platforms like Zoom and Teams to communicate with employees and clients. With staff working remotely, anxious about their health and the future – and often home schooling at the same time – mental health shot to the top of the agenda for business leaders. Empathetic leadership was key to holding teams together during these periods of deep uncertainty, and companies found new ways of working outside the four walls of the office.
What challenges do leaders face?
Now, with lockdown in the UK set to ease going into the summer, more staff face returning to the office – giving leaders a whole new set of challenges. (The situation is different in other parts of the world, of course, but things are looking promising in the UK due to the effective roll out of the vaccine). Many employees have thrived while working at home. They have found they can be just as – if not more – efficient communicating with colleagues and clients around the world using video calls. Gone is the dreaded daily commute, and they have relished the freedom to take more exercise during the day because they are not tied to their desks. How do you persuade them to give up this “aberration” and re-start the miserable daily commute?
The prolonged period away from the office may have damaged some people’s social skills, leaving them worried about re-joining the 9-5. Others might be anxious about using public transport and mixing in large crowds when the virus is far from beaten.
Regardless of Mr. Solomon’s brusque assertion, the entire culture of many companies has changed – and we won’t see a return to business as usual.
What’s not changed?
Some fundamentals have remained the same. Clear messaging and consistent communication were vital going into lockdown – and they are just as important coming out of it.
What’s required now?
Boards will need to sit down with their heads of department and HR teams and try to figure out what the new post-WFH operating model looks like:
- Who needs to come to the office?
- ·How often?
- What is expected of staff?
- Are they set weekly, monthly or quarterly goals – and so long as they deliver, it doesn’t matter where they work?
The next step is to bring in their PR and communications teams and clearly map out the company-wide messages that staff need to hear. The same for goes for the market and the media.
These messages then need to cascade from the CEO down in a consistent fashion using every channel that is appropriate for the business – it could be town halls (virtual and in person); company newsletters; regular video messages from the CEO; podcasts; posts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.
What should PR and Marketing teams be doing now?
The crisis has shown us that every successful executive needs to be a skilled communicator. It’s important that PR and marketing teams start thinking about putting their top executives on regular media training courses to keep their skills up to scratch. This will also involve ensuring the executive team is comfortable using social media. Millennials in the company live and breathe these digital platforms but more senior staff may need some help.
One year on from lockdown, the industry faces another tough transition – but those companies which get their communications strategy right will be in great shape for the new working norm.