Former HR director addresses City-based insurance professionals on the future of work post-coronavirus

The Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdown regime is a “kick ass call to action” for insurance companies to reinvigorate working patterns to adapt to “new social norms” once offices re-open.

Addressing members of The City Forum networking group via a webinar this week, Ruth Gawthorpe, chief executive at The Smart Working Revolution, said: “It’s a kick ass call to action. Leaders have really got to step up to the plate.

“Workers will demand more flexible forms of working going forward now and those organisations that don’t give those will quite frankly be left in the dark. There will be some dinosaurs who will want to go back into the office.”

Gawthorpe said that although some job roles do require staff to be physically present, such as builders, hairdressers and plumbers, “for decades traditional leaders have been pushing other office-based roles unnecessarily into this category” – she cited claims handlers and contact centre advisors as examples here.

When prime minister Boris Johnson announced in March that, excepting key workers, staff should work from home, some businesses were quicker to implement remote working than others – Gawthorpe added that this also required a culture change for some business leaders.

“Traditional leaders had to take a leap of faith, almost overnight, and they had to take that leap of faith to trust their people,” she said.

Smart working models

Gawthorpe cited Freedom Group as a best practice example of an insurance firm that was able to move to remote working overnight, as well as Saga, which she was been working with for the past 18 months to fully implement flexible start and finish times, remote working options and annualised hours to cover business peak periods surrounding storm damage.

She advised that any smart working options that are introduced need to match customer demand and align with business peaks and troughs – this may differ as industries enter a post-coronavirus landscape.

Plus, smart working does not always equate to remote working. Gawthorpe explained that insurance leaders have three main strands to consider when implementing a smart working approach:

  • Flexible location: hub locations, remote working, office based.
  • Flexible contracts and hours: part-time, annualised hours, compressed hours, demand-led shifts, gig economy contracts, seasonal work.
  • A combination of flexible location and flexible hours and/or contracts.

Gawthorpe continued: “We’re going to have to restart, rebuild and renew. We’re going to have to think through every role, every worker, every workplace scenario and what it means for a return to work post lockdown.

“Social distancing in the workplace and how you ensure your workforce is inclusive of the vulnerable is going to need to be something that you think about if you a leader. There’s going to be still millions of people who aren’t going to be able to go back into a workplace until there’s a vaccine around. It’s a good chance to look at what your workforce will look like post lockdown.

“In the office, we’re not going to be doing hot desking for a long time to come and you’re going to have to spend quite a bit of money rejigging your office. There’s a lot of things to think about with these expensive offices and whether we’re going to pump any more money into those or whether we can use them for collaboration maybe once a week.”

She added that piloting new measures is important, especially to ensure that leaders incorporate company culture into new working arrangements.

One method that works well for global organisations is called baton passing, where employees pass tasks to other staff members based in different time zones when their shift is completed – this enables 24/7 working.

Personal choice

Gawthorpe emphasised that insurers will need to respect employees’ personal choice when it comes to deciding a time to re-open London offices fully. One webinar attendee highlighted an internal staff survey his firm had conducted, which demonstrated that the majority of staff were still not comfortable with the idea of travelling to the office yet.

Gawthorpe said: “A couple of months ago, your brain was telling you that it was safe to commute. Now your brain is telling you it’s not safe to commute. It’s difficult to argue with your brain because your brain is there to help you to survive. We’ve suddenly gone from thinking that the commute is safe, to saying it’s not safe and actually working from home is safe. There’s going to be a lot of people who will struggle mentally with this and be very, very anxious. The best leaders will understand this.”

The City Forum is a network group of 50 individuals aged between 30 and 50 who work in general insurance in London.