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Is working from home actually best for customers and employees?

You will have done well in the last few months if you have avoided talk of the ‘new normal’ and the paradigm shift many of us have experienced in working practices. In many ways, the changes that have been forced upon us are a good thing. People have wanted more flexibility in their lives for some time and the largely positive experiences many businesses have reported in the move to home-working means that flexibility is likely to be the norm once lockdown is over. Long-established institutions, like the London market, have, thankfully, been forced to confront the fact that the world has not fallen apart following the adoption of radical new processes and have been very successful in doing so.

As it turns out, there are plenty of tools available for insurers to do their jobs from home. And for many insurance companies, such as Direct Insurance Group, the working from home model has real potential to become a more permanent fixture.

The maturity of cloud adoption and hybrid environments in the insurance industry has also come at just the right time. Considering brokers and claims handlers specifically, it is reassuring to consider that many have not experienced problems with accessing customer information or being able to properly model risks, thanks to the fact that they are not tied to the legacy systems and green screens that were once commonplace.

But that is not to say that we are entering a new nirvana. Working from home is a great boon for those lucky enough to have access to high quality internet connections and enough space at home to have a dedicated office or workstation. For others, like younger workers, the experience can be a disadvantage.

This reality was brought home to me when I recently spoke to my own insurance broker.

Many people in the insurance industry, as in many financial services professions, live in pricey, inner-city environments. The upshot of this is that people find themselves living with friends, partners, or their families, in small homes where dedicated space to work is an exorbitant luxury. There is noise, people in the background of video calls, internet service interruptions, and Zoom fatigue. Indeed, we have all experienced these things over the past few months. Whilst under current circumstances we are adopting a ‘keep calm and carry on’ attitude, it does not strike me as being a long-term solution.

In my own experience my broker appeared more uncomfortable than me. There were a number of interruptions to our call, and it made me think that, were their company to adopt a long-term work from home policy, it would actually make their job a far less comfortable experience.

Undoubtedly, there are some major upsides for insurers; to decrease their office footprints impacts overheads, and with challenging economic headwinds forecast this will look even more attractive to CEOs and CFOs everywhere. Some forecasts suggest that as much as one fifth of all office space could be abandoned across all businesses, and insurance businesses will certainly be included in this figure. Notwithstanding this, corporate decisions to move to flexible and remote working practices must be people centric.

This relates to customers as much as to employees. Whether my broker or claims handler is in the office or at home should effectively be invisible to me as a customer because, frankly, I do not want to be discussing the specifics of a sensitive claim or disclosing personal information if I can see or hear someone in the background of the video call.

Insurers need to be in offices

There are, of course, often disadvantages for some when major change takes place. This is compounded when, as was the case with nationwide lockdowns, change happens so quickly. The point is that if working from home is here to stay in some capacity, it should not continue in the way it currently exists.

Insurers must think about what their staff need to do their jobs effectively, regardless of where they are, and the move to working from home is probably going to conjure up some difficult questions. For example, if people now need the space and resources for an office space at home, who, in the long term, should benefit from the money saved on rent, energy bills and office technology? Plenty would argue it should not be shareholders or company bosses if businesses want to operate sustainably. It could be argued that employees should see at least some of the benefit either in salaries or allowances for equipment.

As lockdown restrictions start to ease, economies unlock, and the movement of people becomes more ‘normal’, we will have to see whether insurance professionals want to remain at home or whether they will flood back to the office. Whatever work models are chosen, I hope that that employers will support their staff with the tools and resources they need, so they can continue to deliver the vital services they provide to businesses and individuals alike.

 

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Keith Stonell

Keith Stonell

Managing Director, EMEA

Guidewire

Member since

19 Aug 2015

Location

London

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