Adapting how we work is inevitable, but mass working from home might not be the big change that some are predicting.
What the last 9 weeks of lockdown has taught us is that we can adapt in the face of adversity and we can adapt quickly with the right digital infrastructure and social networks in place. However, insurance brokers have faced challenges in terms of motivating staff, managing a drop off in new business and a change in the types of enquiries that their own customers are contacting them with.
Firms are having to reconsider how they add value to their customer relationships to help drive productivity when the challenge of finding new business and growth is hardening. It has been an opportunity for insurance brokers to reposition themselves as risk management consultants, helping customers with their questions and providing levels of advice on cover when previously the role may have had more focus on finding the best premiums and cover.
We have all learned how to communicate better and hopefully we have remembered the value in the skill of verbal communication with an increase in telephone and video calling. Working at distance has meant that leadership teams have had to trust staff more and increase the levels of communication and accountability across the business.
I have read many articles and comments online that suggest that we are now entering a period where this is becoming the ‘new normal’, that suggest offices and working environments will change and shrink (or disappear altogether), but is this change in how we work sustainable in the long term?
There have been challenges from the current pandemic, which sometimes get overlooked:
- Not everyone is happy working from home and there are those who have struggled with isolation.
- We have seen an increase in mental health awareness and training for staff, which might suggest that it is not a positive working change for everyone.
- There are reports that cyber risks are increasing. It is therefore likely that firms will need to start investing more in digital security and commercial communication tools for home workers. Is a home network going to be secure enough in the long-term and will bandwidth be sufficient as firms become more data hungry?
- Whilst video conferencing has been a lifeline to firms, it still has its own challenges. There is still no common video platform which allows us to talk across providers (are we using Zoom, Teams, Hangouts, Webex, Facetime, WhatsApp, etc?) and the solutions that have come out on top during the current lockdown have question marks over security and may not be suitable in the long-term, which means further investment is needed. We also need to consider how video conferencing will adapt in a more professional setting and can it replace face to face meetings where you can adequately read body language and build rapport?
- Is there enough new business being completed during the lockdown? Firms may be managing with zero growth or are resilient enough to cope with a small downturn during the pandemic with the support from Government schemes, but what is the solution for returning to growth and identifying opportunities to develop new revenue streams? Can this challenge be overcome with everyone working from home on their own?
- Whilst training can be delivered online, there are times when face to face training in teams and groups will still be necessary.
- How we measure productivity is also changing in the current climate. Productivity relies on sound performance management and the use of key performance indicators. Whilst our Business Continuity Plans put us in a position to keep trading, the majority would not have considered how firms will continue to measure workloads and the productivity of teams and individuals. Can this be maintained into the future without a physical workplace?
With so much change taking place in such a short time frame then it is probably fair to say that this new working environment is not the new normal. It has given firms a taste for how we can all work more flexibly and I would hope that business leaders can begin to see the benefits that digital transformation can bring in a more planned and thought out manner. There is the chance that there will be a second wave and we will need to be better prepared if it happens again. Questions should be asked about what we have learned from this lockdown, what could we have done better and how might we respond to a future crisis if everyone was working apart?
As we start to come out of lockdown then we need to consider how we plan and react to the challenges ahead. Strategies will need to be put in place: risk will need to be managed differently, people management, talent retention, recruitment and human resources will all need to be managed more carefully, some costs will go up and investment will be needed to support flexible working environments, and cash flow forecasting and sales modelling will have to be monitored closely with an eye on burn rates and profitability.
Added challenges for the insurance industry
For the insurance industry, there will be added challenges. Professional fees are likely to increase. We are already seeing a hardening market and many junior staff have not experienced one before. Training will be more important to help staff develop new skills and, unfortunately, we have to expect that the insurance industry is likely to see a negative impact on its reputation as a result of claims and increasing premiums. Overcoming these challenges will require teamwork, communication and a level of co-working that will not suit having everyone working from home. Complaints will require a diligent root cause analysis if we are to manage the reputation of the industry going forward, and one might question whether this is efficient in a remote working format.
My biggest takeaway from the current pandemic is that we all have the ability to be kind to each other, to help each other and to work together for a common goal. We have shown that we can adapt at pace, yet it is important that we bounce back and use these unprecedented times to make change for good and showcase the value that we can all bring. If that means we must be more flexible in our approach to how we work, then that can only be a positive thing.