The Evolution Of Work

The Future of Work From Home: Now That 2021 Is Here, What’s Next?

Understanding the critical role of company culture

A recent blog by Rob McIsaac, executive vice president of Novarica, examines the impact of COVID-19 on work, employment & corporate culture. Will virtual-offices may just become the new norm. Learn more, and access the complete blog here.

A year ago, no one expected that working from home would be the new norm, nor did anyone imagine that it would extend this long. As the first anniversary of the pandemic approaches, many insurers are continuing to refine work-from-home strategies, analyzing best operating models, and preparing for the post-pandemic world.

During last week’s Virtual Panel Discussion, we explored how working from home will likely evolve through 2021 and how insurers can plan for a future that may look very different from pre-pandemic times.

The Role of Company Culture

Many insurers will remain remote, or partially remote, for the foreseeable future. As insurers move to a new form of “business as usual,” they will have to make key decisions and craft detailed action plans. One of the critical factors that insurers should consider in planning the return to office is company culture.

Insurers are looking at how they have worked in the past and how the new norm of working from home has changed the nature of how people work together. Legacy operating models based on face-to-face engagement may not be the norm in the post-pandemic world.

Operating models will likely be more virtual than ever, and company cultures may need to adapt to embrace this. Alternatively, rigid cultures that can’t, or won’t, change could have an adverse impact on their organization’s ability to attract and retain the talent required to operationalize success in the future.

Hybrid Operating Models

Some have noted that being fully engaged in traditional office environments used to be central to building and maintaining a shared culture. Looking forward, many are recognizing that not only can a hybrid model work, but it can also create powerful new benefits.

Insurers should also be aware of the opportunities and challenges of operating a hybrid model. For example, how will the demand for corporate real estate be altered? If space is used to support hybrid working models, does it alter both the absolute amount and nature of the space deemed essential for work? Instead of a binary model with everyone either in or out of an office space, the future is likely to be both more nuanced and more dynamic, adding another dimension to the word “agile” as plans evolve.

Some carriers say they want to keep the main office while transitioning to work from home permanently for smaller, remote locations. Culture can be resistant to change. For carrier leaders looking to leverage the beneficial new operating paradigms exposed during the pandemic, success will ultimately be dependent on efforts to encourage change at the C-suite level. This is not something that IT organizations can successfully do on their own.

Employee Recruiting, Retention, & Engagement

Now is a chance for us to better understand the challenges and benefits of working from home and listen to employees’ needs...

Insurers have been successful in recruiting and onboarding employees during the pandemic. The ability to recruit talent without geographic boundaries creates both opportunities and challenges. Some are open to the idea of recruiting permanently remote talent, while others think that it does not fit into the company culture.

During our panel, Novarica VP Nancy Casbarro noted that no matter what approach insurers take, they should be aware of the possibility of losing talent if working from home is not an option; employees expect the ability to work from home now, and it will be hard to take that option away.

It is not yet clear how successful insurers will be with future employee retention. One carrier noted that they were both happily surprised with how effective recruiting and onboarding had been during the pandemic, but that it remained to be seen what will come next in terms of retention. Some organizations have begun to more deeply analyze their own employee base to avoid unhappy surprises.

Preparing For The Future

In the first few months of the pandemic, many insurers noted increased productivity. As we approach the second year of the pandemic, however, insurers are concerned about employee health and engagement. Zoom fatigue is real, and a lack of social interaction is isolating some employees. Mental health issues are an increasing concern, labeled by some as a second pandemic. Our panelists agreed that as remote work continues for a longer period, there is a greater need for leadership to check on employees.

It is crucial to regularly communicate with employees and get feedback to ensure that their needs are met. For example, some carriers are providing employees with a second Wi-Fi access point to cover bandwidth issues; others are opening offices with strictly limited seating for employees who don’t have good remote options. Others are increasing the marketing of Employee Assistance Program hotlines to expand visibility.

While many insurers are not setting specific dates for the return to office, they should plan to give advance notice to employees. As one of our panelists noted, “Now is a chance for us to better understand the challenges and benefits of working from home and listen to employees’ needs.” Beyond the pandemic, organizations should keep in mind the demographic shifts already underway in the labor force; organizations that consider the benefits of increased dynamism and flexibility in operating models will likely be rewarded.