Post-COVID habits: The rise of remote work and attracting top talent

A new front has opened in the war for talent: the rise of remote work. In this article in my series on the influence new habits are having on innovation in the insurance sector, I delve into the impact of remote working on productivity.

Flexibility on location and time are the top two traits insurance professionals seek in an employee benefit[1]. Flexibility does not necessarily imply a demand for 100% remote work, but rather more choice around when and where they work.

One standout for me is that the insurance industry has proven to be resilient in how it embraced remote work in the pandemic. For an industry where remote work was mostly not an option, insurers have proven that it is possible to conduct business remotely.

Insurers remote work practices pre-COVID v post-COVID

How important is this change in work behaviour and will it have far-reaching impacts? I believe that insurers who continue with the remote work thinking momentum post-COVID will be in a stronger position to attract top talent over those who revert to pre-COVID behaviours.

There will be people who prefer working from an office exclusively, and people who prefer being 100% remote – don’t forget that it is a spectrum where many sit somewhere in the middle with a mix of office versus remote.  At MBE Consulting we have long advocated a combination of remote vs office and enable our people to work in a way that is most productive for them and ultimately the business. 

Likewise, there will be some insurers where maximum shareholder value is unlocked with office-based work and those insurers who unlock greater value through remote work. Different insurers with different systems capabilities, work cultures and leadership will flourish under different remote vs office combinations.   

A reimagining of a company’s remote work policy has far-reaching implications beyond being a tool to attract top talent. It impacts operating expenditure (office space; home work stations; new digital tools) and employee productivity. Much of the tough work has already been done as teams have been forced to learn how to work remotely and developed habits and tools to stay productive. Insurance executives now have an opportunity to leverage these learnings to unlock substantial shareholder value over the coming years.

As executives look to capitalise on this opportunity, here are some practical insights into how to view the journey ahead.

Communicate with your staff and collect actionable data

The first stop should be regular employee surveys to ask staff what worked, what didn’t and what they would like to see going forward.

Care should be taken in the data collected since it may not be representative of future outcomes. The lockdown includes the learning phase of remote work (all those teething problems and learning to work remotely) and having to do so in the midst of a global crisis. These once-offs are likely to confuse how remote work impacts productivity and staff morale. Allowing for these confounding influences will yield further actionable data for future staff surveys.

There are two obvious outcomes from collecting this internal data:

  1. A better understanding of what staff want
  2. How remote work might impact productivity going forward 

Adopt a productivity dashboard to identify strengths and weaknesses

Lockdown has exposed those weaknesses brought on by not having good processes in place before the pandemic. Strong processes combined with fit-for-purpose IT tools have proven to be even more important in a remote work context.  As specialists in operational, systems and actuarial excellence, we have found that those teams struggling most with remote work productivity almost always have weak processes and are not making use of fit-for-purpose IT tools.

A productivity dashboard identifies where an organisation unit rates on four important metrics:

  1. Processes
  2. IT tools
  3. Skills
  4. Communication

Having a standard dashboard/scorecard across the organisation and then applying it to different organisational elements makes it easier to identify where change is needed and how to focus efforts accordingly. It also creates a powerful narrative that can be picked up throughout the organisation and filter into decentralised decision making.

Regularly revisit and fine-tune your operational excellence

Having identified the status of your organisation’s operational excellence based on data gleaned during the lockdown and allowing for confounding effects, you will be poised to fine-tune the productivity dashboard in a structured and systematic way.

Success in a remote work context relies on having the right tools, processes and skills, and ensuring that communication is effective. There are examples of remote work excellence from other industries, but also from within insurance itself.

Combine financial targets with KPIs

Aligning the process with financial targets (e.g. reducing operating expenses; freeing up capital) is a natural way to drive this process. As financial targets make their way into internal KPIs, overcoming internal resistance is made easier.

MBE’s unique Actuarial Performance Management (APM) Framework provides insurers with the tools to maximise productivity within their actuarial teams and organisation, not just over the short term, but also in the long term, to account for second-order effects such as burn out and inadequate systems.

For support with strengthening the productivity in your actuarial team, contact us today.

[1]The National Alliance Research Academy’s The Pulse of Customer Service in 2017 found that the top most mentioned work trait being flex time. The second most often mentioned benefit was the ability to occasionally work from home. 60% of respondents specifically mentioned these two key benefits.

Tyron Fouche